Steps for Making Verb Tenses Easier

Many students are concerned about learning the tenses of the English language. They have likely heard horror stories about the irregular verbs and the many exceptions to the rules. It is scary unless a method for approaching the tenses in a step by step fashion is introduced.  Let’s start at the bottom and  a pyramid that shows the similarities in the way that the tenses are constructed.

 Let’s start at the bottom with the foundation and work to the top – that wonderful point where verb tenses are automatic and the student speaks fluently. Oral and written practice using each step before moving on to the next is vital. The students will need to have extensive practice in the whole class group, the small group, and individually as they write. Practice will make the student’s responses automatic and prevent them from thinking about the grammar. No one can consider grammatical structure as they talk. Each step must be automatic before the students can progress to the next. 





 Our pyramid might have these steps:




 1) The Present Tense


Start with the verb “to be”.

Teach the conjugation of the verb “to be”


girl cheers

Is she happy? She is happy.

Are they friendly? Is she happy?

Positive answers: They are friendly. She is happy.

Negative answers: They are not friendly. She is not happy.

Not is placed after the verb “to be”. 


Positive: She’s friendly. They’re friendly.

(There are two ways to make negative contraction with the verb “to be”)

Negative: She’s not friendly They’re not friendly.

Or: She isn’t friendly. They aren’t friendly.

Practice many examples.

2) To Do

Explain that most other verbs use “to do” for the negative.

Practice Questions

Teach the conjugation of the verb “to do”.

Questions: Do they laugh? Does he walk? Do you answer?

Positive: They laugh. He walks. I answer.

(No other verb is needed for the positive answer)

Negative: The verb “to do” is used with the main verb.

They do not laugh. He does not walk. I do not answer.

                                                                          Not  is placed after the verb “to do”.


Does he laugh? He doesn't laugh.

3) Contractions

Positive: He laughs. They walk. I answer. (Same format as with “to be”)


Negative: He doesn’t laugh.  They don’t walk. I don’t answer.

(The contraction is made with the verb “to do”)

Practice many examples.

English verbs are complicated but it helps the students if similar patterns are pointed out. The above outline is just one way of organizing the teaching material. As you read it you may find that it sparks new ideas for you to teach this rather complex subject.

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Modified: September 8th, 2017
Published: May 16th, 2011

Comments (1)

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  1. Adelle says:

    Yes nice tips. I remember I had a particular problem with tense when I was learning English many years back.

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