Tenses

Most of the time, you know which tense to use for a verb. But you may not know just how to describe an action that doesn’t fall neatly into one time slot. And that’s where GMAT is going to test you. You must know where to use perfect tenses; where to avoid them. They will also confuse you with series of actions where it becomes even more difficult to determine the tense sequence. I have prepared a solid article which will cover everything you needed to know about tenses on the GMAT.

What Time is it?

PRESENT TENSE

present-tense

  • Habitual actions (regular activities):
    • Mukul exercises every day.
    • Leaves fall in winter.
  • Universal truth, well known fact:
    • Sun rises in the east.
  • To describe characters, events, or other matters in an aesthetic work, such as a painting, a piece of music, a work of literature, a movie, or a television show:
    • In the first chapter of Far from the Madding Crowd, Gabriel sees the beautiful Bathsheba, but she does not see him
  • To describe an opinion or idea:
    • In the Marxist vision of history, the ruling classes ceaselessly oppress the working class.
  • To indicate that a condition or situation is likely to last:
    • Kids love candy.
  • To describe a future action that is definitely predictable:
    • The museum opens at 10 p.m.

PRESENT PROGRESSIVE

present-progressive-tense

  • To indicate that an action or state is occurring at the time of the writing:
    • The sun is setting now.
    • Mukul is writing this article.
  • To indicate a gradual process (need not be taking place right now):
    • Traditional art is dying.

PRESENT PERFECT

present-progressive-tense

  • Past action touching the present:
    • have just finished writing this article.
  • An action or state begun in the past but extending into the present:
    • Scientists have begun to explore the possibility of worm holes.
    • Since the invention of airbags, many lives have been saved.
  • An action performed at some unspecified time in the past:
    • have seen the Taj Mahal.
The words just and already are often used with the present perfect.

PROGRESSIVE FORM OF THE PRESENT PERFECT

present-progressive-tense

  • When you want to emphasize both the continuity of an action from the past into the present and the likelihood of its continuing into the future:
    • I have been writing this article for 2 days now.
    • The cost of petrol has been increasing at a staggering rate.

PAST

present-progressive-tense

  • An action or state that was definitely completed in the past:
    • Man landed on the moon in 1969.
    • India got its independence in 1947.
  • To report actions repeated in the past but no longer occurring at the time of the writing:
    • I always watched movies on fridays. (not anymore)

PAST PROGRESSIVE

present-progressive-tense

  • To emphasize the continuity of a past action:
    • His actions were becoming unacceptable.
  • To state that one action was being performed when another occurred:
    • was talking on the phone when the battery suddenly died.

PAST PERFECT

present-progressive-tense

GMAT Favorite

  • An action or state completed by a specified time in the past:
    • By the end of last week I had collected two thousand stamps.
  • One past action or state was completed by the time another occurred:
    • By the time I called her, she had already taken a cab to my place.
    • I suddenly realized that I had left my keys at home.
  • To report an unfulfilled hope or intention:
    • Mukul had planned to travel to Agra, but his car broke down while he was still in Fatehpur Sikdi

ROGRESSIVE FORM OF THE PAST PERFECT

present-progressive-tense

  • To indicate that the first of two past actions or states went on until the second occurred:
    • Before I got married, I had been eating junk food most of the time.

FUTURE

present-progressive-tense

  • A future event or state that will occur regardless of human intent:
    • The sun will rise at 6:35 tomorrow morning.
    • will be thirty on my next birthday.
  • To indicate willingness or determination to do something:
    • Mukul is determined that he will score higly on the GMAT.
  • To report what will happen under certain conditions:
    • If there is sunshine while it is raining, you will see the rainbow.
  • To indicate future probability:
    • The price of petrol will increase

FUTURE PROGRESSIVE

present-progressive-tense

  • An action or state will be continuing for a period of time in the future:
    • A decade from now, every one will be surfing the web.
  • To say what the subject will be doing at a given time in the future:
    • Next year I will be studying at Stanford.
    • Also, I will be helping prospective students.

FUTURE PERFECT

present-progressive-tense

  • An action or state will be completed by a specified time in the future:
    • At the rate I am spemding, I will have exhausted all my earnings before the end of next month.
  • An action or state will be completed by the time something else happens:
    • By the time my MBA is completed, the recession will have gotten over.

PROGRESSIVE FORM OF THE FUTURE PERFECT

present-progressive-tense

  • An activity or state will continue until a specified time in the future:
    • By this time tomorrow, I will have been working on this for more than twenty-five weeks.

Misusing Tenses

1. USE THE COMMON PRESENT—not the present progressive—to report what happens regularly:

  • Usually my day is starting at 7:00 A.M. -> Usually my day starts at 7:00 A.M. (CORRECT)

2. USE THE PAST PERFECT—not the simple past—for action completed by the time something else happened:

  • By the time the game ended, many of the spectators left. -> By the time the game ended, many of the spectators had left. (CORRECT)

3. USE THE PRESENT PERFECT—not the past—for action continuing into the present:

  • Ever since the steel plant closed, the town suffered. -> Ever since the steel plant closed, the town has suffered. (CORRECT)

Odds & Ends

Do not use the perfect tenses when the simple tenses will do. Remember that the GMAT prefers simplicity!

  • I think that ancient peoples HAD BELIEVED in many gods. (INCORRECT) ->I think that ancient peoples BELIEVED in many gods. (CORRECT) (Only one event…no need of a perfect tense)

Although they may look strange, have/has had, and had had are correct verb construc­tions. If the verb to have is itself in the perfect tense, then:

  • HAS/HAVE (PERFECT)+ PAST PARTICIPLE (TO HAVE) = HAS/HAVE HAD
    • He HAS HAD many hamburgers.
  • HAD (PAST PERFECT)+ PAST PARTICIPLE (TO HAVE) = HAD HAD
    • My girl friend left me, because I HAD HAD no money. (past perfect of “have no money” = “had no money”)

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