Can You Name the Tenses in This English Verbs Quiz?


By: Laura DeFazio

7 Min Quiz

Image: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

About This Quiz

When you think of verb tenses, the first thing that comes to mind might be those foreign language classes you took in school. The teaching of second languages usually involves a more theoretical approach than all that pointing and parroting, constant immersion and downright necessity that constitute a baby's first language-learning experience. Plus, with the knowledge that everyone already has a language under their belt, a teacher of a second language has the tools to explain the underpinnings in a way that can't really be done through pantomiming. 

(So, while a native English speaker might be a dab hand at conjugating Spanish verbs, they could find themselves hard-pressed to identify what's happening in their native tongue.)

First of all, "tense" is often confused with "mood." "Tense" refers to time. The three basic tenses are past, present and future. (Well ... *some* grammar nerds say that the future isn't actually a tense in English due to the way it's constructed ... but ignore that for now.)

Tenses are subdivided into "aspects." These convey how the speaker of the sentence perceives an event temporally, in relation to themselves and to other actions they're speaking about. The main aspects are "simple" (if a tense has a simple aspect, it's often just referred to as plain "past," "present" or "future"), progressive (which is alternatively called "continuous"; think "-ing" words), perfect (using the auxiliary — "helping" — verb have/had) and perfect progressive (just ... all of the things.)

Is your head spinning yet? This is all rather difficult to explain without context, but taking the quiz should clear things up in no time! Let the learning begin!

"We are running the marathon ..." Good for you. Now, which verb tense did you just use?

This sentence is indeed in the first-person plural ("we"), but that refers to the subject, not the verb. It's present tense because it's happening now, and specifically it's present progressive (rather than present simple, i.e. "We run the marathon") because the action is still in progress/uncompleted.


We'll keep this question simple. Which tense is used for the verb "to sing" in the sentence, "Dennis will sing in the choir tomorrow"?

"Will sing" indicates that Dennis' singing takes place in the future, not the past or present. In terms of option #4, the subjunctive is often referred to as a tense, but it's actually a mood, one that indicates subjective thought (i.e., "I don't think Dennis will sing.") It's more commonly taught in other languages where it more significantly affects conjugation.


"She had been working on her book for four years before she decided to scrap it and start from scratch." Yowch. We feel for ya, girl. Which tenses are used in this sentence? (For the verbs "to work" and "to decide," that is.)

"She had been working" is the past perfect progressive; it indicates that in the past, she was continuously working for an amount of time that ended. (In this case, when she decided to start over. "Decided" is the past simple tense, indicating a discrete event at a moment in time.)


An e.e. cummings poem begins: "since feeling is first/he who cares about the syntax of things/will never wholly kiss you." ... We confess to caring a bit about the syntax of things, though, and we'd like to know the tense of the verb "to kiss."

The usuage of auxiliary verb "will" indicates the future tense. The additional presence of the adverb "never' and adjective "wholly" complicate the syntax of the sentence a little bit, but this is still the future simple. (If you ignore them, "will kiss" is the main thing.)


We created this quiz because we'd heard there might be a market for people wanting to test their knowledge of English verb tenses. If that's the case, can you tell us how the verb "to hear" is conjugated here?

"We'd heard" (or, without the conjunction, "We had heard") is an example of the past perfect. The "perfect" aspect is used to highlight the temporal relationship between hearing about a market and creating a quiz.


"By the time night falls, I will have been studying for eight hours." Can you tell us which tense the verb "to study" falls under in the context of this entire sentence?

"I am studying" would be present progressive. Add the auxiliary verb "have" and past participle of "to be" to make "I have been studying," and the sentence becomes present perfect progressive. Finally, launch the sentence forward in time by making it "I will have been studying," and that's future perfect progressive.


Can you identify the tense used in the statement, "I will wait for you"?

Putting "will" before an appropriately conjugated verb makes the future tense. Some grammar buffs contend that English really only has two tense categories — past and present — because the future requires an auxiliary word; they say future is really a subcategory of present. However, for practical purposes, it's taught to English language learners as its own tense.


A certain author operating under the pen name Lemony Snicket once advised us, "Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them." Do you know the tense here of the verb "to bring"?

Although the tense might elude you at first because of the imperative (command) mood and all the negative words, if we convert the sentence mentally to the simpler ("Someone has brought a book with them"), it becomes clearer. The auxiliary word "has" indicates the present perfect.


"We've been waiting for this bus forever!" Surely an exaggeration, but which tense is used here?

This is present perfect progressive. The present progressive (also sometimes called "present simple progressive") would be, "We've waited for this bus forever." In some contexts, the two tenses have the same meaning. In others, they have different meanings, or at least different connotations.


Author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston once wrote, "I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows with a harp and sword in my hands." What verb tense is she using?

The present perfect tense expresses something that happened in the past that specifically affects the person's state of being in the present. It's constructed by combining the auxiliary verb (helping verb) "to have" with the past participle of the main verb. (In this case, "been" and "stood.")


"They have had the opportunity to correct their answers." Do you know which tense is employed in this sentence?

The present perfect is sometimes tricky at first glance because the main verb ("had," in this case) is conjugated in the past tense. The tense indicates a past occurence that, in the context it's being spoken about, is being directly applied to the present. In this particular case, the auxiliary and main verbs are both "to have," which adds extra confusion.


When he told you, "I'd never been happier than the day I met you," did you know the first tense he used?

"I had never been happier," is a statement in the past perfect using the auxiliary verb "to have" and the past participle of the main verb "to be" (been). "To be" is an irregular verb; most past participles are formed by adding -ed to the base. (For example: walk + ed = walked.)


Alright, see if you can wrap your brain around this tongue-twister: "His address addressed addresses addressing his address." Now, can you tell us the tense of the main clause? (A "main clause" is the part of a larger sentence that could stand alone as a complete sentence.)

So many nouns ..."His address" is the subject of the sentence, and "addressed" (a verb in the past simple tense) describes the action it performed. "Addressing" is a progressive verb (which is clearer if you add "that were" or perhaps "that are" just before it), but the latter part of the sentence cannot stand alone the way "His address addressed addresses" can.


A lyric from a Nick Cave song goes: "The night expands, I am expanding/I watch your hands like butterflies landing." He conjugates the verb "to expand" in two different tenses — what are they, respectively?

Both "the night" and the speaker ("I") are expanding in the present tense. For whatever reason (cadence, rhyming, artistic license), Cave chooses to express the former in the present simple as a more general statement, whereas with the latter, he uses the present progressive to call attention to the fact that expansion in the process of happening at this very moment.


Are you acing this quiz? Do you know which tense that question was in?

If you're thrown by the interrogative mood (which here means, "the fact that we gave you a question rather than a statement to evaluate"), you can make the sentence easier to grapple with by reversing the subject and verb: "You are acing this quiz." (There's a vote of confidence for you!)


One of the more famous Shakespeare lines begins, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more." ... Yikes. Which tense(s) here useth the bard?

That's right; for all the flowery language and dark notions, this is strictly present simple. ("Life's," "struts," "frets," "is" ...) Bonus points if you knew that this was from Macbeth, the title character lamenting the death of his wife.


"Will you be requiring two keys?" the concierge asked. Which tense is that?

Although it's posed as a question, this is still future progressive. An easier way to think about it is to rephrase it as, "You will be requiring two keys." It uses the auxiliary words "will be" and the present participle of the verb "to require."


Known for his uncanny descriptions of people, Mark Twain once characterized someone by explaining, "She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot." (Huh.) Do you know the tense he's using?

Vivid and ludicrous in content though it may be, this sentence is pretty simple in terms of verb conjugation. Twain is speaking in the past tense. It's not progressive, perfect or perfect progressive; "she was" is the past simple conjugation of "she is."


Can you identify the tense used in the sentence, "I was rapidly getting sick of coming up with grammar questions"?

The pasr progressive is formed using the auxiliary (i.e., "helping") verb "was" plus a verb ending in -ing. In this case, there is an adverb modifying the verb phrase "getting sick of." This sentence is a blatant falsehood that does not represent the views of the author or website.


"You have never taken a better quiz in your life." Quite. Can you tell us which tense that was?

Nothing "simple" about that phrase. At least, not in the grammatical sense. That's an example of the present perfect tense (which is also sometimes just called the "perfect" tense.)


George Santayana once famously said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Which tense did he use?

Haha ... Did we trick you? The writer/philosopher was talking about the past in the present. (The present simple, to be exact.) He was warning us about being regressive, hoping we'd be progressive and (on an unrelated note) his full name was originally Jorge Augustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana.


Carlos Santana once famously said, "Got a black magic woman, got a black magic woman, I've got a black magic woman ..." Which tense did he use?

We know the musician is singing in the present tense ... after that, it gets a little murky. The use of the auxiliary verb "to have" combined with a past participle of the verb "to get" would indicate that this is present perfect. However, "I've got" is a colloquialism (and when he just says "got," it's short for the same) that's used as a synonym for "I have," which is present simple. Debate among yourselves.


Climate scientists warn that we will pay for the damage we're doing to the planet. Can you identify the principal tense used in that warning?

"We will pay" is the future simple. You know, simple, direct, supported by scientific evidence ... Later in the sentence, we have "we're doing," which is conjugated in the present progressive.


"We heard about the meteor shower; we'll be looking at the sky all night." Do you know which verb tenses are used here?

"We heard" is an example of the simple past tense, and "we'll be looking" is the future progressive. Watch out for those trick options that say "simple perfect" or "simple progressive"; "simple" is by definition a tense that is neither perfect nor progressive. In many cases, "simple" won't be stated at all (it's redundant), but it's been used over the course of this quiz for clarity.


"Where were you at 5 o'clock last night?" the detective asked. (You don't have to answer that ... but do you know the verb tense used?)

The interrogative mood (question format) can throw people, but the key part of this question for identifying the verb tense is "... were you." If you reverse these, you get "you were," a straightforward example of a simple past verb phrase.


An oft-quoted passage from the Bible reads, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Which verb tenses are present? (... No pun intended.)

"I walk" is an example of the simple present tense, whereas "I will fear" is an example of the simple future tense with the auxiliary "will" added to the main verb. This is from Psalm 23:4 of the Christian Old Testament and is also present in the Hebrew Bible.


Winston Churchill once said, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." Which tenses are used here, respectively?

"Will" is used as an auxiliary with the verb "to be" in the simple future statement "History will be kind." Then, "I intend" is a simple statement in the present tense. ("To write" is in its infinite form, not a tense, because it is a secondary part of the sentence here.) It's always sobering to remember that winners write history ...


Your friend tells you, "I will have been in my program for almost 10 years by the time I finally get my degree." (Yikes!) Which tense are they using?

Identifying the future perfect tenses often gives people pause because of all the auxiliary words (will, have). "I have been" would be the present perfect, and "will" bumps the timeframe up to the future. This one might be additionally confusing because the past participle of the verb "to be" (been) is irregular. If your friend had instead said, "I will have been studying in my program for almost 10 years," that would be the future perfect progressive.


This is a tricky one: Can you identify the English verb tense out of the following choices?

"Continuous" is a synonym for "progressive," a tense that we have dealt with extensively over the course of this quiz. The other three, although they are indeed types of verb conjugation, are technically "moods" rather than "tenses." Tenses are concerned with time, whereas moods (as quoted from are concerned with "the manner in which a thought is expressed."


You've just moved to a new city and you're trying your best to find a job in this dismal economy. Your great aunt is trying to plan a visit next month. She asks, "Will you have been working by then?" Do you know which verb tense this is?

This is a somewhat unwieldy way to ask whether you'll still be bumming around by the time she arrives, but it is grammatically correct. "You have been working" is the present perfect progressive, and adding the "will" makes it future perfect progressive. (And adding the question mark makes it a question ...)


You're telling your son the story of the time you got food poisoning at a funeral. "What had you been eating beforehand?" He asks. Can you identify the verb tense?

The use of the perfect aspect is indicated by the auxiliary verb "had." (Remember, "tense" as a broad category denoting whether the action occured in the past, present or future, and "aspect" is a sub-category specifying the action's temporal relationship to the time the speaker's speaking, other events, etc.) If this had been present perfect (there's another use of the past perfect for you), the auxiliary would have been be "have."


"Picture yourself in 10 years," your hokey spiritual guru says. "What will you have been doing the past decade?" Do you know which tense that was in the question?

As with many sentences that employ the future continous (especially interrogative sentences, better known as "questions") this is a little clunky. However, a grammar whiz like you can surely wrap your brain around it with a little focus.


"We're almost positive we know who the culprits are ... but how did they do it?" the private eye asked. Can you identify the tenses used, respectively, in the two parts of the sentence?

The sentence begins with "We're" (or "We are.") That's present simple. The second part, the question, is past simple, indicated by the conjugated verb "did" and the lack of auxiliary words like "will" and "have/had."


"But who will meet you when you get off the plane?" the parent asked their child. "And what tense was that?" (Can you answer the second question?)

Questions involving words like who, what and when can be confusing at first glance because the subject isn't immediately clear. Nevertheless, saying "who will" is, for our purposes, grammatically the same is saying "he will," "she will," "I will," etc.


"But why will you be sleeping then?" the child asked, following a lengthy explanation as to why they couldn't open their Christmas presents at 5 a.m. Despite their youth, this kid properly used ... which tense?

"Why will you be sleeping?" can be converted for our sleuthing purposes to, "You will be sleeping." The word "will" points to the future tense. "Be sleeping," an act in progress, shows that the aspect of the tense is progressive.


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