Verb Tenses and Forms

The Verb Tenses and Forms program provides an opportunity for students to practice at the word and sentence level with irregular verbs. Students can learn to identify the "principal parts" of over 180 irregular verbs. They can also gain practice in determining which verb tense is correct in a given context in a randomly constructed sentence. conceptual Time Line shows the students how verb tenses might be pictorially represented. Students can get information about the pronunciation and the meaning of many of the irregular verbs in the program: they can listen to these parts, and find out about the final "-s" sound and final "-d" sound in present and past tense forms, respectively. A moving display showing the root and the principal parts of verbs is also available for viewing. A student can also type his/her own verb and the computer will make its best guess regarding the formation of the present, past, -ed/-en, and -ing forms of that "made-up" verb. The program has access to a database of student errors in verb tenses, and can provide sentences for the students to edit.

Opening Screen

As with most of the programs, this one begins with an opening screen that informs the student of the content of the program, while also providing recordings of greetings from some thirty-five different languages. The student can choose the Next button to cycle through the recordings until s/he hears his/her language played. The student clicks on the image of the time-line to actually begin the program.

Main Screen

The program then brings the student to the main screen, where menu choices on the top include Words/Sentences choice, Show All Parts, Time Line, and Editing Practice. The second and third items are grayed out or unavailable at this point in the program. The instructions suggest that the student click on Words/Sentences Choice to begin.


The nearby image shows the screen after the student has clicked on the Words/Sentences Choice, then on Words.

At this point, the student can click on the red list box and select an irregular verb to work with, or s/he can click on the Random verb to let the computer pick one at random, or the student can click on the You type verb button. Since the first two choices are essentially the same, let's see below what happens when the Random verb button is clicked.

After the student has clicked on the Random verb button, the computer quickly selects one of the irregular verbs it knows, and quizzes the student on its present, past, -ed/-en form, and -ING form. In the nearby image, the computer has randomly selected the verb build and presents the quiz for the student in a blue box captioned "You Type;" the computer asks first for the present tense, or -s form.

The student in this case has typed in "builds" and when s/he clicks on the OK button will receive appropriate feedback regarding his/her answer. The computer then proceeds to ask for the past tense form, the -ed/-en participle form, then the -ING participle form.

Show All Parts

After the student has finished typining in answers to the quiz, the menu item Show All Parts becomes available. Clicking on this choice rpovides a screen similar to the nearby image.

Here the student sees the principal parts of the verb (in this case, "build"). The menu choices on the top of this screen indicate that the student can see a moving display of the endings (the final "s" of the -s form appears to detach itself from the green "Present -s form" box and attach itself to the end of the green box containing "builds;" similar events occur for the other principal parts). Clicking on Pronunciation info opens up choices to receive/be tested on pronunciation information regarding the sound of the -s form "builds" (it actually ends in a -z sound); clicking on Listen to parts allows the student to hear a recording of the parts of "build." This is equivalent to clicking on the Play button in the Control sound area of this screen. The student must have a sound card for this option to be audible. Clicking on the choice Definition provides the student with a quick and simple definition of the verb "build."

When the student clicks on Go on, s/he returns to the main screen, where similar activities can take place for another randomly chosen verb, or for one the student selects from the red list box.

You Type Verb

Again at the word level, the student can click on the You type verb button to see if the student can "fool" the computer. The computer can recognize the 181-odd verbs it "knows" are irregular; any other verb is assumed to be regular. Thus, when the computer asks the student for a verb, it is ready for almost anything.

The nearby image shows the screen after the student has clicked on the You type verb button. The computer is waiting for the student to type in the root form of a verb, any verb. Once the student types in a verb and clicks on OK, the computer will analyze that verb and make its best guesses regarding the -s form, the past form, the -ed/-en form, and the -ing form.Let's assume that the student has typed in a make-believe verb, "beezish." The next image shows the screen after the computer has digested "beezish" and is now quizzing the student regarding the -s form. The computer expects "beezishes" as the right answer; it will then go on ask for the past tense "beezished," etc.

When all the principal parts have been solicited, and after Show All Parts has been clicked, the computer would show the student a screen similar to the nearby one, with the principal parts of the fictional "beezish" displayed.

Note here that the definition menu choice is grayed out. This is because "beezish" is a made-up verb, so the computer has no idea what the meaning is. But the option for Pronunciation info is available; although "beezish" does not have a recording of its parts, the computer does know how the -es at the end of "beezishes" is pronounced, as the next screen image suggests:

Similar results obtain for the pronunciation of the past tense form "beezished;" the computer "knows" that the "-ed" at the end is pronounced as a "t" and informs the student of this.

When the student clicks on Go on, s/he returns to the main screen, where similar activities can take place for another typed-in verb.


From the main menu, the student can click on Word/Sentence Choice..Sentence to see another set of menu choices among the sentence-level verb tenses the program "knows." The choices there involve Randomly Selected Tense, Present, Present continuous, Past, Present Perfect, Future and "If" clauses. In the following discussion, let us assume that the Randomly Selected Tense choice was made.

The student would then click on the Random verb button to let the computer pick a verb to be put in a randomly constructed sentence with a randomly chosen verb tense, or the student could choose a verb from the red verb list box.

Assume that the student has clicked on the Random verb button. The nearby image shows a screen that might occur:

The computer has randomly constructed the sentence: "Last year, Charlie (STRIVE) to better mankind. That year seemed to last forever." The box captioned "You Type" appears, and the computer expects the student to determine that this sentence requires the past tense, and that the past tense is "strove." After the student clicks on OK, the computer gives him/her appropriate feedback and explains why the past tense is indicated (the phrases "Last year" and "That year seemed.." are clues).

The choice for Show All Parts then becomes available again; the student would see the principal parts of "strive." The menu choice Time Line is now available, to give a pictorial image of how time is organized on a one-dimensional line and how tense corresponds to that time.

Time Line

After having worked with the sentence described above, the student could click on the Time Line menu option. This would produce a screen similar to the one nearby:

The phrase "last year" pinpoints a time in the past, to the left side of the time-line; it is in a red box. A circle appears at that point on the time-line, registering a point in the past. Below that is the sentence, also in a red box, and shifted to the past "time" side of the time-line (the so-called red shift??). If a sentence had been constructed in the future tense for this exercise, it would have appeared to the right side of the time-line, in a blue box, with the appropriate time adverbial marking the place on the future time-line.

If the verb tense had been present perfect, clicking on the menu choice Move Verb would have resulted in the verb box "stretching" from the past up to the present, to mimic the notion that the present perfect tense indicates an action that began in the past and still has effect in the present.

When the student clicks on Return to program, s/he returns to the main screen, where similar activities can take place for another verb.

Editing Practice

From a large database of student errors, sentences have been added to the program so that students can gain practice correcting Verb Tense errors.

From the main menu, the student clicks on Editing Practice and then sees a screen similar to the nearby image where a (randomly chosen) sentence appears in a large green box with the error highlighted. The instructions in the yellow box ask the student to enter the correction right in the sentence (the computer expects the past tense form had to be typed here).

The student is expected to type in the word "had" and then click on the button Finished editing. The student will then be told if his/her correction is right. The student can click on the menu item See answer to determine how well s/he did, and to read an explanation.

Additional choices in this part of the program allow the student to see a new sentence (by clicking on New sentence), Copy the sentence to the Windows clipboard, and thence to a word processor if s/he chooses, or to return to the main part of the program.

From the main screen, the student can begin any of these activities again.

Prof. G. Dalgish, ESL Supervisor, English Department, Baruch College e-mail: