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The Simple Present of English Verbs

Conjugated verbs in English express a combination of verb tense, verb aspect, verb voice, and verb mood. Tense, which imperfectly corresponds to time, is the grammaticalized expression of time. Aspect, which corresponds to duration of an action or state, is the grammaticalized expression of temporal structure. Mood is one way to express modality, which is the expression of possibility, probability, necessity, and contingency. Voice is the expression of relationships between predicate and nominal functions such as subject and object. The simple present typically refers to verbs in the present tense, simple aspect, indicative mood, and active voice.

The simple present can be defined as a verb form that expresses a discrete action or event in the present or near future. For example, the sentence The toddler needs a nap contains the verb phrase needs, which is an example of the simple present. The use of the simple present in this example indicates that the toddler is in the state of needing a nap at the present moment.

Formation of the Simple Present

Unlike the majority of verb forms in English, the simple present is formed with a single word rather than a phrase of two or more words. (Most other English verb forms are periphrastic, meaning that a “phrase of two or more words that perform a single grammatical function that would otherwise be expressed by the inflection of a single word”.) Verbs in the simple present are formed either as identical to the base form, which is the infinitive without the p-word to, or by adding an -s suffix to the end of the base form. The verb phrase patterns for the simple present are as follows:

  • first person singular – base – I hurt my shoulder.
  • second person singular – base – You cook fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
  • third person singular – base(s) – She reads fantasy novels.
  • first person plural – base – We empty our own trashcans.
  • second person plural – base – You begin the project on Friday.
  • third person plural – base – Some vegetarians eat fish.

Notice that the verb phrase pattern for the simple present is identical in all persons and numbers except for the third person singular, the spelling and pronunciation for which are available at Third Person Singular Simple Present Verbs. Also note that the anomalous verbs to be, to have, to do, and to go are irregular in the simple present:

  • first person singular – am*, have, do, go
  • second person singular – are*, have, do, go
  • third person singular – is*, has*, does*, goes*
  • first person plural – are*, have, do, go
  • second person plural – are*, have, do, go
  • third person plural – are*, have, do, go

Use of the Simple Present

Because the simple present expresses discrete actions or states at the present or in the near future, the verb form most often occurs in sentences that express the following situations:

  • Discrete actions or states in the present
  • Describe habits and routines
  • State general facts and truths
  • Express thoughts and feelings
  • Describe events in the near future

For example:

  • The puppy wants a treat.
  • The little girl whines every morning.
  • Fish swim in water.
  • I love chocolate.
  • We go to Chicago tomorrow.

The following visual illustrates the uses of the simple present of English verbs:

Simple Present of English Verbs

The simple present expresses discrete actions in the present or near future.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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