Most verbs start in their simplest form – the Infinitive. The Infinitive is created by combining the word “to” with the way the verb would look in a dictionary or thesaurus.
Examples of INFINITIVE:
- To Laugh
- To Cry
- To Hope
- To Swim
The infinitive is used in a variety of ways in a sentence. They can be used as the subject of a sentence – “To live quietly is all I ever wanted.” They can be used as the direct object of a verb – “I wanted to live quietly.” They can be used to express purpose or explain the reason why something happens – “I moved to China to live quietly.” When used to express purpose or reasoning, you can sometimes introduce the infinitive with “in order to__” or so as to__.” “I moved to China in order to live quietly“
When studying idioms, you’ll realize that some verbs require an infinitive to come as the Direct Object when the clause is formed a certain way – “I appeared to live quietly.” Some of the verbs often requiring an infinitive include:
- X does not care to ____ *
- Tends to _____
- Would like
I think of these as the “My Wish is a Command” phrases. Usually these appear in four contexts:
- Person A is informing Person B of their wishes or feelings about doing something (often to get them to do something or agree with them). “Mike did not care to hear my story” = Mike didn’t want to hear it and I need to shut up. “They would like to eat at 7:00pm” = They want to eat at this time and want Person B to either agree or to do something about that (i.e. set the table at 6:30).
- Person A is trying to convince Person B to do what they want. “Sarah asked Tom to___” “The government forbade us to _____.” “The university is persuading its students to____.”
- Person B is responding what Person A wants. “I refused to go home” = I told someone no – what they want is NOT reality. “Annie promised to eat better food.” = Annie agreed to do what they wanted.
- Person A’s wishes are successfully or unsuccessfully becoming reality. “Nick failed to meet our demands.” = Our wishes were not met. “Jessie attempted to climb Mount Everest.” = She wanted to climb and she did. “Harlan learned to make pottery” = Either he wanted to learn or Person B wanted him to learn so he went to class. Either way, someone’s desires became reality.
Kind of manipulative no? At least they are forthright about it all. Here’s what I want and you should accommodate my wishes. Two of the few exceptions* to notice (because they’re an awful lot like “Forbid”) are the words “prohibit” and “ban” “Prohibit” and “Banned” will be followed by “from _____ing”; while “Forbid” is followed by “to ____.” “The government prohibited/banned us from driving while intoxicated.” “The government forbade us to drive while intoxicated.”
The word “able” (or its close relative “ability”) is an annoying idiom on the GMAT strongly tied to the infinitive. Although in conversational English, you might hear “His ability for grabbing the audience during a speech is just amazing”; it’s technically WRONG on the GMAT. If you see “able” or “ability” on the GMAT – assume it needs to be followed by “to ____” “His ability to grab the audience during a speech is just amazing.” “He is more than able to swim across the lake“. Another tricky word connected to “able” but different is “capable“. Usually, “capable” is followed by “of ____ing” rather than the “to ____” form. “He is more than capable of swimming across the lake.”
Sometimes ADJECTIVES can be followed by infinitives as well. Often this happens when you are expressing emotions or opinions about doing something. “I was happy to help.” “It seems dangerous to climb at night.” “We were lucky to stay alive.” Some common examples include:
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.
You’ll hear the word Subjunctive in two place in GMAT review. The formation of the verb depends on its use in a sentence.
The “Hypothetical” use of the Subjunctive is by far the most common way this form appears in modern English. Hypothetical means “it’s possible” or “maybe.” Hypothetical sentences take the form “If ____, then ____” or “_____ must happen, or else _____” “If” this condition occurs, “then” this result is possible.
For the hypothetical sentence, the subjunctive form is created by using the PAST TENSE of the verb. “I ate“. “If children ate their vegetables, they would grow taller.” If you need to use the verb “to be,” the subjunctive is “were.” “If you were home tomorrow, we could have a sleepover!” If you need to, combine it with an INFINITIVE. “If children were to eat their vegetables, they would grow taller” “If you were to go home tomorrow, we could have a sleepover!“
The hypothetical sentence will use a subjunctive in the “If” part of the sentence, but only IF A) there is no sign that the “If” must happen today or in the past and B) the result would occur in the future and C) there is no certainty that either will happen. Note that “may” and “can” suggest something is more likely than not. “Would” and “could” suggest more unlikely than likely. (*Don’t ask me why, that’s just how they interpret it on the GMAT)
- “If Mary eats this fruit, she loses weight.” – NOT subjunctive. (this is guaranteed to happen when the “if” part is fulfilled. Every time. Also, the result is set in the present.)
- “If Mary eats this fruit, she may lose weight.” – NOT subjunctive (“may” or “can” suggests that normally, this would happen. So little uncertainty.)
- “If Mary eats this fruit tomorrow, she will lose weight.” – NOT subjunctive (about the future, but no uncertainty here. If x happens, then y).
- “If Mary ate this fruit, she would lose weight.” – SUBJUNCTIVE! (She could eat it anytime in the future. The result thus would also happen in the future. It is also not guaranteed that Mary will eat the fruit or that she will thus lose weight. “Would” suggests more unlikely than likely)
When the GMAT gives you a hypothetical sentence, remember that you must use the subjunctive verb in the IF part of the sentence.
The second use of the Subjunctive is closely related to the Infinitive form. The subjunctive is created by taking the infinitive form (to jump) and eliminating the “to” portion -> “jump.”
- To swing -> Swing
- To laugh -> Laugh
- Was, Were, Are -> Be
As with version #1, you can also combine “were” + Infinitive for this version. This form of the Subjunctive is used in mainly two situations:
- When you are expressing that something should or could or you wish would happen. Very similar to the hypothetical in that there is no guarantee that it actually will happen.
- “I hope that you eat the apple. “
- “I suggest that you come to my house“
- “I would appreciate it if you were to visit our grandmother.”
- When you are acting like an annoying older sister by telling people what to do. Here, although you are making it a sentence, what you are really expressing is a command. (And you could certainly write it as a command). Because it’s just a nice way of phrasing a polite demand, you use the same verb you would use in a real command (the Subjunctive).
- “I recommend that you eat the apple.” – Sounds a lot like “Eat the apple!”
- “The teacher ordered that the students be ready for a pop quiz.” = “Be ready for a pop quiz!”
Please note the importance of “that” for this version. This version always follows a certain pattern (clue!):
- Verb + That + (subject + Subjunctive)
If you don’t have the “that” in there, it isn’t subjunctive. For example, in the sentence “The teacher ordered that the students be ready for a pop quiz” we know that it is subjunctive because it includes the word “that.”
But what about the following sentence: “The teacher ordered the students to be ready for a pop quiz.” = OK, but it uses the infinitive “to be” instead of the subjunctive because there is NO “THAT“!
*Just be careful which verbs are command verbs and which are not. For example, “I forbid” requires an infinitive “I forbid you to ____” instead of a subjunctive.
Present Participles are created by taking the infinitive form of the verb (to smile), drop the “to” and add “-ing.” (“Smiling“). Present participles modify nouns, for example in the form of an adjective – “The smiling man.” Because present participles can be easily combined with other words to form a phrase, it actually goes farther than adjectives can. For example, “The man, smiling a hello to his wife, arrived at the party right on time.” See, a simple adjective couldn’t add that much information – but a Present Participle Phrase can.
Past Participles are usually created by taking the Past Perfect tense of the verb (Had Smiled) and dropping the “had.” You should remember that Past Perfect is the tense we use when comparing two events in the past – “Before the clock struck twelve, I had smiled at my brother.” So for “To Smile,” it becomes (“Smiled“).
Now you’ll probably notice that this looks a LOT like the Simple Past tense of the verb (I think of this as the normal past tense – “I smiled“). Unfortunately, that’s not always going to be true. For many verbs, both the Simple Past and the Past Perfect are the same, making Past Participles easy. But a lot of verbs are irregular – meaning that their form changes between the Simple Past (SP) and Past Perfect (PP) tense. Some examples (You can find a more complete list here) include:
- To Arise (SP – Arose | PP – Had Arisen)
- To Catch (SP – Chose | PP – Had Chosen)
- To Fly (Sp – Flew | PP – Had Flown)
- To Drink (Sp – Drank | PP – Had Drunk)
- To Ride (Sp – Rode | PP – Had Ridden)
Like Present Participles, Past Participles are used to create Participle Phrases – “The man, heard yelling at his wife, apparently lost it and went berserk.”Try to remember that when a verb is functioning as a noun modifier, especially in an adjective form, it should be the Present or Past Participle form.
Gerunds look very similar to the present participle (“smiling”) but instead of modifying a noun, gerunds actually are nouns (in function at least). “Smiling makes me tired” -‘smiling’ is the subject of this sentence, and thus, must be a noun. As a noun, gerunds don’t always have to be the subject; they can also function as the direct object of a sentence. “You should practice smiling for the camera.”