An English verb in paradigm form

Let’s see what an English verb does. For all the grammar most fl teachers like to teach, I see evidence that they often don’t have a full picture of this grammar.

Let’s take a carry-out boy working in a grocery store and going out to the parking lot to push carts back into the store.


The boy pushes carts.


The boy pushed carts


The boy pushed a cart

The boy pushed carts all day and then went home


is pushing

So now we have three different forms for PUSH- the stem, the -ed and the -ing.

NB -ing also is used as a deverbal i.e. a noun made from a verb, as in ’Pushing carts is hard work’.

Predicting the future

He will push carts tomorrow instead of bagging groceries


Will he push carts for me = does he want to? Usually in 2nd person ’Will you push the cart for me?’

Then we want to bring past action into the present for the effect the action has on the present:

The boy has pushed carts …… before (so he can do it well)

….. all day (so he is tired now)

If the pushing went on before some other action in the past, we get:

The boy had pushed carts all day…… when the manager asked him to work a second shift.

Predicting an action in the past:

The boy will have pushed carts all day if his relief doesn’t get here before 5:00.

(I just heard someone on the radio say “…. they will have made the decision to…” referring to a country whose decision-making process was being talked about, the issue of what we will find out about it later, so something like “When we uncover the process, we will see that they will have made the decision…..”)

*The boy will have had pushed carts all day.

Here the * shows such a formulation is not English.

Now we can introduce an aspectual marker: -ing for imperfective aspect

The boy is pushing carts (I’m watching him do it)

The boy is pushing carts tomorrow (that’s the plan = planned action)

The boy was pushing carts ….. for a living but got tired of it.

The boy was pushing carts….. when the car struck him

NB The boy pushed carts when the car struck him’ means something different, it marks a SEQUENCE of actions, whereas the imperfective -ing indicates on-going action punctuated by a perfective action (struck).

This is where learners studying languages like Spanish have problems because the sentence The boy pushed carts can be either perfective or imperfective, depending on the context. If the perfective is used in the example “The boy pushed carts when the car struck him”, it means that once he was struck by the car, he started pushing the carts. In order to get the imperfective in English, we are forced to use the -ing form. That must confuse learners of English, too.

The boy will be pushing carts tomorrow = The boy is pushing carts tomorrow.

The boy has been pushing

The boy had been pushing

The boy will have been pushing

all = the periphrastic forms above with ’have’ except now they are all clearly -ing imperfective, on-going action.

Now, using the verb ’to be’ and the -ed form of the verb, we can go to the passive

The boy is pushed

The boy was pushed

The boy will be pushed

The boy has been pushed

The boy had been pushed

The boy will have been pushed

The boy is being pushed

The boy was being pushed

?The boy will be being pushed

*The boy will have been being pushed

The * means it doesn’t occur in English; the ? means it does occur but in standard grammar manuals may be labeled ’marginal’.


The only places in which the subjunctive differs in form from the indicative is in the 3rd person sg of the simple present plus any auxillary verb, be and have, used in forming the paradigms. So, eg

She requests that the boy push

She requests that the boy be pushed

She requested that the boy push

She requested that the boy be pushed

NB that the subordinate clause uses the present subjunctive. Cf. She saw that the boy pushed & She saw that the boy was pushed whereas in other languages a past subjunctive would be used cf Sp ella pidio que el muchacho empujara instead of empuje.

If contrary to fact clauses give us ’If the boy pushed’ i.e. no difference BUT ’if the boy were pushed’ for ’the boy was pushed’

A somewhat archaic form has: ’If the boy be pushed’

The conditional, which is a mood, not a tense, uses ’would’ in Am English (’should’ in British, as in ’I should push if I were you’):

The boy would push

The boy would be pushed

The boy would have pushed

The boy would have been pushed.

The boy would be pushing

The boy would have been pushing

The boy would have been being pushed NB sounds like a stretch but occurs commonly .


The use of modals like ’would’ take the place of endings in highly inflected languages like Spanish, Russian, Latin, etc. Thus:

The boy would push carts (if he could) = conditional

The boy would push carts (even when it was raining) = past narrative imperfective

The boy can push carts

The boy could push carts

The boy may push carts

The boy might push carts

The boy need push carts (most speakers would not use ’need’ as a modal)

The boy dare push carts (most speakers would not use ’dare’ as a modal)

The boy shall push carts (considered formal)

The boy should push carts (obligation)

The boy must push carts

The boy dare not push carts and ’need not push carts’ reflect the waning modal status of ’dare’ and ’need’; “he dare not” occurs but not “he dare do it”.

However, we do hear “I don’t know if he dare do it”. In “I don’t know if he need do it” note that if we ’demodalize’ need, we have to use the ’to’ infinitive of the dependent verb, i.e. “I don’t know if he needs to do it”.

(In British Eng there is a different use of should = If I were you, I should push carts = Am Eng If I were you, I would push carts. But Am Eng does use ’should’ in this sense in what I like to call the suggestive mood: Should you push a cart, the manager will dock your pay = if you …..)

When any of these is made negative or made into a question, we have more complexities e.g. He does not push carts. Does he not push carts = Doesn’t he push carts.

He might not push carts, he was not pushing carts. Was he not pushing carts BUT Wasn’t he pushing carts…. so contractions can change word order.

I have included some non-existing forms marked by an * to bring to the attention of native speakers the possibilities of all these combinations. To us, this may all be a bit ho-hum until we begin thinking of non-existent alternatives like “He could have had been pushed.” Remember, the past passive progressive, The boy was being pushed, did not exist before the 18th century and then had a hard row to hoe to gain acceptance.

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