Friday, April 6, 2007

Fundamentals of Teaching Verb Tenses

When teaching verb tenses, verb conjugation is only one part of English grammar. Students can often easily memorize the conjugation for all tenses, but the more difficult part of verb usage is knowing which verb tense to use when.

In addition to conjugation, the two main things you have to teach about verb tenses are “form” and “function.” Here’s an overview of these two things.

Five Forms (using the Present Progressive, for example)

1. Affirmative Usage (e.g., She is eating dinner.)
2. Negative Usage (e.g., She is not eating dinner.)
3. Yes/No Question (e.g., Is she eating dinner?)
4. Short Answers (e.g., Yes, she is. No, she isn’t.)
5. WH- Questions (e.g., Where is she eating dinner?)

Of course, in addition to this, you would teach conjugation (based on the subject pronouns I, you, he, she, it, they, and we). Here’s an example of the verb “dance” conjugated in the Present Progressive (aka Present Continuous, Simple Present Progressive, Simple Present Continuous—depends on the grammar book or the teacher).

I am dancing in the street.
You are dancing in the street.
He/She/It is dancing in the street.
They are dancing in the street.
We are dancing in the street.


Function (of the Present Progressive)

The next important thing is the “function” of a particular verb tense. Knowing the function(s) of a tense helps the student decide which particular verb tense to use.

The Present Progressive’s main function is to describe something that is in process at this very moment (e.g., Right now, I am writing about verb tenses.).

We also use the Present Progressive (or Present Continuous) to talk about things that are happening “these days” or at this time in our lives. For example:

Q: So what are you doing these days?
A: I am teaching English to ESL students.

And the last function (often ignored) is to talk about future plans. For example:

Q: What are you doing tonight?
A: I am cooking dinner for friends.

I’ve picked the easier Present Progressive to illustrate what must be taught for each verb tense. It becomes a little more complicated to teach the function for something like the Present Perfect, but the basics are still the same:

1. Conjugation
2. Form
3. Function

When a student learns these three elements, he or she has mastered English grammar verb conjugation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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