Common mistakes in English grammar tenses

Written by james holloway Google
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Common mistakes in English grammar tenses
Correct use of tenses is a challenging but essential part of English. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

English, with its large vocabulary, wide range of tenses and huge number of exceptions and irregular words, can be a difficult language to learn. Even speakers of more grammatically complex languages can struggle with the correct use of English tenses. Some tense mistakes are so common that even native speakers frequently make them.

Inconsistent tense

One of the simplest and most common tense errors is inconsistent tense. Inconsistent tenses are particularly common in writing, where different parts of a paragraph may be written hours or even days apart, allowing the writer to forget the original tense. A sentence that begins in the past tense should seldom finish in the present. This is particularly common with quotations; although the text being quoted was written in the past, it is commonplace to cite in the present tense and to refer to the text in the simple present throughout.

Irregular verbs

Speakers of other languages learning English for the first time often curse the number of irregular verbs they have to memorise. While many verbs take the ending "-ed" in the simple past, others do not. To an outsider, it can be hard to detect any rhyme or reason. If the past tense of "speak" is "spoke," why isn't the past tense of "squeak" "squoke?" If we say "froze" as the past tense of "freeze," why isn't "snoze" the past tense of "sneeze?" Unfortunately for these students, there's nothing to do but memorise the variant forms.

Present continuous tense

One common mistake, especially among foreign students, is incorrect use of the present continuous tense for a phrase that should use the simple present. The present continuous describes actions that are currently ongoing but will end soon -- "I am going to school" describes a student currently on the way to school. By contrast, the simple present - "I go to school" - describes a state of being. Many new English speakers incorrectly use the present continuous in place of the simple present.

Auxiliary verbs

Many English language students struggle with the role of auxiliary verbs in tenses, perhaps because they translate word-by-word from their native languages, which sometimes do not use auxiliary verbs in the same way. In English, an auxiliary verb controls the tense of a statement. In the statement, "I did not go to work yesterday," the main verb "go" remains in the infinitive, while the auxiliary verb "do" is in the past tense. Many new English speakers would incorrectly write "I did not went to work yesterday," putting both verbs in the past tense.

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