Principal Parts of Verbs

May 21, 2021

Definition: In English there are four principal parts (also called forms) of a verb. These parts are used to form tenses, which tell us when an action occurred. In this lesson you’ll learn the fundamentals about the base verb form, the present and past tenses, and present and past participles. For more in depth information on how to use tenses, visit Lesson 8 and Lesson 10.

Base/PresentPresent ParticiplePastPast Participle

Introduction to the Present and Past Tenses

The base is the most basic (or root) form of a verb, and it plays a very important role in forming the present and past tenses.

Present Tense

The base alone is used for most forms of the present tense, including the first person (I and we), second person (you), and third person plural (they). The only time the base changes is in the third person singular (hesheit). To form the third person singular, just add the letter -s to the end of the base.

Person and NumberExample
First Person
Singular & Plural
(I and we)
I practice piano once a week.
We practice piano every day.
Second Person
Singular & Plural
(You can refer to one person or a group of people.)
You practice piano every other day.
Do you girls practice piano every day?
Third Person
They practice piano on the weekends.
Third Person
She/He practices piano for two hours each day.
Past Tense

To form the past tense, take the base form and add -ed. If the base ends in a silent e, just add -d, not -ed. Unlike the present tense, the past tense always uses the same form regardless of person or number.

walkI/we/you/she/he/they walked 10 miles to the gas station yesterday.
(silent -e)
I/we/you/he/she/they baked fifteen dozen cookies last holiday season.

Introduction to Participles

When used as verbs, participles function as part of a verb phrase and must be accompanied by a helping verb. (There are some other ways to use participles, but you will learn about those in a different lesson.)

BasePresent ParticiplePast Participle
(silent -e)
Present Participles

To form a present participle, take the base form of the verb and add -ing. If the verb ends in a silent -e, drop the -e and add -ing. Present participles are used in the progressive tenses, which combine a form of to be (amiswas, etc.) with a present participle.

My sister is walking to school today.
My brother was watching television when I came home.

Past Participles

Past participles are formed the same way as the past tense—by adding -ed to the base (or just -d if the base ends in a silent -e). Past participles are used in the perfect tenses, which combine a form of to have (havehashad) with a past participle.

They have hiked this trail many times before.
Before leaving, we made sure we had walked the dog.