For the GMAT, there are primarily four forms or tenses you should learn for verbs. You should also be familiar with when each form is used. It’s annoying and time-consuming, but even the best English speakers should review this occasionally. Remember that all verbs begin with the infinitive, so we’ll start with the infinitive of “to smile.”
This is the most common form and the easiest for us. I like to tell my students to just assume the verb is simple unless you know otherwise. Typically, these are used when an event happened, is happening, or will happen only one time and then it’s over.
- Simple Past: I smiled
- Simple Present: I smile / He smiles / They smile
- Simple Future: I will smile
- Past Perfect: I had smiled
The PAST PERFECT tense is only used when you are discussing something that happened in the past before something else happened in the past. For example, “Yesterday, I had walked my dog before I talked to my mom.” There will always be EITHER A) two verbs in the sentence (one Past Perfect and one simple Past) or B) something that points to two different times (By, Before, By the time, After, Once)
- “I had already talked with Janie when Tom came by.“
- “By 4:30, I had already talked with Janie.“
Notice, you could also say “Yesterday, I walked my dog before I talked to my mom.” So use of the Past Perfect is not always required. Especially if you have words that clearly lay out the timing (i.e. “before” in our example). Using the Past Perfect often suggests a connection between event one and event two. For our first example (“I had walked“), one might think it is somehow important that you had finished walking the dog first. Maybe you talked about the dog. Maybe you need a timeline for when the dog went missing. I don’t know, but it sounds like they are related. For the second example (“I walked“), you might just be listing out what you did in order.
On the GMAT if you have a sentence that meets the requirements (Simple + Perfect or Timing Word) and past perfect is an option, run with it.
- Present Perfect: I have smiled / he has smiled
Present Perfect is used when the event happening started in the past and is continuing to happen (or its consequences are still felt) today. For example: “I have gone home for the weekend.” While I may not still be on the train, the event of my being at home is still happening until the weekend is over.
- “Marcus has opened his store for the day.“
- “Oliver and James have joined the sports team this semester.“
- Past Conditional: I would smile. . .
Conditional verbs, like the subjunctive, are formed by taking the infinitive verb (without the “to”) and adding the word “would” to it. “The teacher believed I would win.” Be careful with this one. The Conditional must match with a PAST tense verb. It’s only talking about views of the future made in the past.
If you are talking about beliefs of the future held today, use the PRESENT and FUTURE tenses “The teacher believes I will win.”
- Progressive: I am smiling
The Progressive tense is formed by combining the correct form of the verb “to be” + Present Participle (present tense ing). “I am eating dinner” “They are watching football.” This tense is used to describe an event happening RIGHT NOW. Notice that it is a special event happening right now – we don’t use it for things that are always true or happening, for future actions (things that will happen in the future, not now), or or general definitions / descriptions of things.