SAT Test Prep
ESSENTIAL GRAMMAR SKILLS
Lesson 9: Tricky Tenses
The tense of a verb is what indicates its place and extent in time. There are two common situations in which tenses can be tricky: those with “perfect” verbs and those with “timeless” verbs.
You use the perfect tenses whenever you need to indicate that some event is completed before some other point in time. (Here, the word perfect means complete, not flawless.) They are usually relative tenses, that is, they show a particular relationship to another verb or reference to time within the sentence. All perfect tenses use the helping verb to have, as in we had walked , we have walked, and we will have walked.
The past perfect tense shows that an event had been completed before another point in the past. You can think of it as the “past past” tense.
By the time we arrived at the reception, Glen had already given the toast.
When a sentence contains two past-tense verbs, check whether one event was completed before the other. If so, the earlier event should be given the past perfect tense.
The present perfect tense, unlike the other perfect tenses, usually does not show completion, but that an event either extends from the past to the present or occurs at an extended or unspecified time in the past. You can think of it as the “past plus present” tense or the “unspecific past.”
She has been so nice to me.
(This means she was nice to me and also she still is nice to me. It combines past and present.)
We have taken only two tests this semester.
(The taking of the tests did not happen at one specific time, but over an extended time in the past.)
The future perfect tense shows that something will have been completed before some time in the future.
By Friday, we will have completed the entire project.
Participles must be “perfect,” too, when they indicate an action completed before another action.
Having walked all night, we were desperate to find rest at dawn.
(The walking was completed by dawn, so the participle is “past perfect.”)
When you need to discuss a theory, an artistic work, or a general nonhistorical fact, the verb that describes it is “timeless” and should take the present tense by default.
The believing is in the past, since Zeno’s long gone, but the theory is timeless.
Concept Review 9: Tricky Tenses
1. When are the perfect tenses used?
2. What kinds of ideas are conveyed by “timeless” present-tense verbs?
Circle the correct verb in each of the following sentences.
3. Glen (came/has come) to work exhausted this morning because he (stayed/had stayed) up all last night.
4. Already, and without (spending/having spent) so much as an hour on research, Dale (wrote/has written) the first draft of her essay.
5. (Developing/Having developed) the first compressed-air automobile, he (hoped/had hoped) to reveal it to the world at the exposition.
6. Shakespeare’s tragedies (were/are) concerned with the deepest aspects of the human condition.
The meaning of the following sentence is ambiguous.
His legs ached because he ran farther than he ever had [run] before.
Rewrite it using the correct tenses to indicate that
7. The aching started before he finished running: _______________________________________________________
8. The aching started after he finished running: _________________________________________________________
Fix any tense problems in the following sentences.
9. Right after school, we had gone to Mario’s for a pizza and a few Cokes.
10. Finding no evidence against the accused, the detective had to release him.
11. Being captured by the rebels, David soon began to fear he would never escape.
12. When I got home, I wrote an essay on the baseball game that I saw that afternoon.
Worksheet 9: Tricky Tenses
Correct any tense errors in the following sentences.
1. By the time the committee had adjourned, it voted on all four key proposals.
2. In the evening, we had a nice meal with the same group of people we skied with that afternoon.
3. By the time I am done with finals, I will write four major papers.
4. Being nominated for office, Ellen felt that she had to run an honest campaign.
5. It surprised us to learn that Venus was almost the same size as Earth.
6. Reading The Sun Also Rises, I feel as if I’ve learned a great deal about bullfighting.
7. Most Oscar nominees claimed that they were happy simply to be nominated.
8. When the epidemic struck Rwanda, the entire population had suffered.
9. I have never felt so free as when I am running.
10. Centuries ago, physicians had believed that illnesses were caused by imbalances in bodily fluids.
11. David has been the president of the club ever since it was founded.
12. Over the last several years, real estate values increased by over 20%.
13. Students often worry excessively about grades and will forget about actually understanding the concepts.
14. We need not bother to patch the hull now that the entire boat had been inundated.
15. By the time we arrived at the tent where the reception would be held, the caterers set up all the chairs.
16. We will have been in this house for three years in February.
Answer Key 9: Tricky Tenses
Concept Review 9
1. when showing that an event was completed before another event, or, in the case of the present perfect tense, when showing that an event occurs over an extended time in the past or extends from the past to the present
2. theories, general nonhistorical facts, and works of art
3. Glen came to work exhausted this morning because he had stayed up all last night. (The staying up was completed before he came to work.)
4. Already, and without having spent so much as an hour on research, Dale has written the first draft of her essay. (The word already establishes the current time as a reference point. Since the verbs indicate actions completed prior to now, they take the present perfect tense.)
5. Having developed the first compressed-air automobile, he hoped to reveal it to the world at the exposition. (He must have developed it before he could hope to reveal it.)
6. Shakespeare’s tragedies are concerned with the deepest aspects of the human condition. (His works are still available to us, so they get the present tense.)
7. His legs ached because he was running farther than he ever had before.
8. His legs ached because he had run farther than he ever had before.
9. Right after school, we went to Mario’s for a pizza and a few Cokes. (No need for past perfect.)
10. Having found no evidence against the accused, the detective had to release him. (The search for evidence was completed before the release.)
11. Having been captured by the rebels, David soon began to fear he would never escape. (The capture occurred before his fear set in.)
12. When I got home, I wrote an essay on the baseball game that I had seen that afternoon. (The writing happened after the seeing.)
1. By the time the committee adjourned, it had voted on all four key proposals. (The voting was completed before the adjournment, so it should take the perfect tense.)
2. In the evening, we had a nice meal with the same group of people we had skied with that afternoon. (The skiing was completed before the meal, so it should take the perfect tense.)
3. By the time I am done with finals, I will have written four major papers. (The writing will be completed before the finals.)
4. Having been nominated for office, Ellen felt that she had to run an honest campaign. (The nomination must be completed before the running can start.)
5. It surprised us to learn that Venus is almost the same size as Earth. (Facts take the present tense.)
6. Having read The Sun Also Rises, I feel as if I’ve learned a great deal about bullfighting. (Since the learning occurred over an extended time in the past, the present perfect tense is appropriate; since the reading was prior to or simultaneous with the learning, it must also be in the perfect form.)
7. Most Oscar nominees claimed that they were happy simply to have been nominated. (The nominating must have been completed if they are happy about the outcome.)
8. When the epidemic struck Rwanda, the entire population suffered. (Since the suffering occurred when the epidemic struck, the two verbs should have the same tense.)
9. I never feel so free as when I am running. (This expresses a general fact, so it is “timeless.”)
10. Centuries ago, physicians believed that illnesses were caused by imbalances in bodily fluids. (Since this expresses a theory that has been disproven, it is not “timeless,” but relegated to the past.)
11. David has been the president of the club ever since it was founded. (Correct)
12. Over the last several years, real estate values have increased by over 20%. (The increase occurred over an extended time in the past.)
13. Students often worry excessively about grades and forget about actually understanding the concepts. (Tense consistency requires the present tense.)
14. We need not bother to patch the hull now that the entire boat has been inundated. (The present perfect is needed to show the connection to the present, which is implied by the present-tense verb bother.)
15. By the time we arrived at the tent where the reception would be held, the caterers had set up all the chairs. (The setting up was completed before we arrived.)
16. We will have been in this house for three years in February. (Correct)