Verbs and verb tense - Graduate Writing Center

Nested Applications
Verbs and Verb Tense

Verbs and Verb Tense


Why do we write sentences at all? —To convey that something has happened (or is happening, or will happen). That something could be an action, or it could simply be a state of being; either way, it's the job of verbs to tell readers what's going on.

There's a wide variety of verbs out there to help your sentences communicate the action as precisely as possible, and, indeed, incisive verbs are an important property of concise writing.

Likewise, verbs come in an array of tenses, each of which locates events in a different slice of time and indicates whether an action is completed or ongoing.

In academic writing, different disciplines, document genres, and even document sections are governed by norms regarding how the various verb tenses are used. This handout covers some of the most common considerations; for more information on verb tenses, make a coaching appointment or see the links below—and, as always, consult your department's faculty and literature if you have questions about field-specific standards of usage.
 

Verbs as Nouns: Gerunds, Infinitives, and Nominalizations

In addition to being communicators of action, verbs can also take the form of nouns. There are three categories of verb-derived nouns: gerunds, infinitives, and nominalizations.

1. A gerund is the present participle (-ing) form of a verb when used as a noun; gerunds express the act of doing something:

Simulating the network architecture is a preliminary means to assess its latency.

Compare these examples, which use the present participle not as a noun but as part of a verb (in past progressive tense); note that this construction can sometimes leave out words but should still be paired with the appropriate tense:

  • While we were simulating the network architecture, we noticed an additional source of latency.

  • While simulating the network architecture, we noticed an additional source of latency.

  • Simulating the network architecture, we noticed an additional source of latency.

  • We simulated the network architecture, noticing an additional source of latency. We then adjusted . . .

This use of the participle sometimes results in dangling modifiers, so make sure that the subject really is the thing performing the action!

2. Infinitives—the “to” form of verbs—can also be used as nouns:

  • To err is human; to forgive, divine.” —Alexander Pope (The infinitives here are grammatical subjects.)

  • My goal is to finish Chapter IV by Friday. (Here, the infinitive is a predicate nominative—the thing equivalent to your goal.)

3. Nominalizations are nouns that capture the concept expressed in a verb or the existence of an action; many (but not all) nominalizations have common endings like -ion, -ment, and -ence:

Recent years have seen a diminishment in the adherence of certain states to the terms of the International Convention on Bagpipe Emissions Reduction.

“Diminishment” is the noun form of the verb “diminish”; “adherence,” of “adhere”; "convention," of "convene"; “emissions,” of “emit”; and “reduction,” of “reduce.”

Although nominalizations are common and grammatically valid, they can obstruct clarity if not used carefully; see the nominalizations section of our “Clarity” page for details.

 

Verbs and Verb Tense Links

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All-Topics Index


The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at writingcenter@nps.edu if we are missing something!

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A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z

A

abbreviations

abstracts

academic writing

acronyms

active voice

advisor, selecting and working with

apostrophes

appointment with GWC coaches, how to schedule

argument

article usage

assignments, understanding them

audience

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B

body paragraphs

brackets, square

brainstorming

building better sentences tips

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C

capitalization

citations

citation software

citation styles

clauses

clarity

clustering

coaching, about

coaching, how to schedule

colons

comma splices

commas, FANBOYS

commas, introductory

commas, list

commas, nonessential / nonrestrictive information

commas, Oxford

commas, serial

commonly confused words 

compare-and-contrast papers 

concision

conclusions

conjunctive adverbs

coordinating conjunctions

copyright and fair use

critical thinking  

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D

dangling modifiers

dashes

dependent clauses

dependent marker words

display equations

double submission of coursework

drafting

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E

editing your own work

editing: outside editors

em dash

en dash

exclamation points

executive summary

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F

FANBOYS

FAQs

first person, use of in academic writing

footnotes

fragments

free-writing

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G

gerunds

grammar

group writing

GWC appointment, how to schedule

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H

homophones

hyphens

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I

ibid.

incomplete sentences

independent clauses

introductions

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J

Joining the Academic Conversation

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L

LaTeX

library liaisons

lists, syntax of

literature reviews 

logic and analysis 

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M

making a GWC appointment

mathematics

memos

methodologies

misplaced modifiers

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N

nominalizations

note-taking

noun clusters

numbers

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O

organization

outlining

Oxford comma

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P

paragraph development 

parallelism

paraphrasing

parentheses

parts of speech

passive voice

periods

persuasion

phrases vs. clauses

plagiarism, how to avoid through citations

plain language

polishing

prepositional phrases 

prepositions

pronouns

publishing

punctuation

purpose of research

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Q

questions

quotation marks 

quoting

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R

reading with intent

redundancies                                                                

reference software

reflection papers 

research

research questions

reusing papers

reverse outlining

revision

roadmaps                                            

run-on sentences 

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S

scheduling a GWC appointment

self-citing

semicolons

sentence fragments

serial comma

signal phrases

significance

so what?

sources, engaging with / critiquing

sources, evaluating the reliability of

sources, citing

spelling

standard essay structure

STEM / technical writing 

style

subject–verb agreement

subjects, grammatical

subordinating conjunctions

summarizing

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T

technical writing

that vs. which

thesis writing

thesis advisor, selecting and working with

thesis process overview

thesis process tips

thesis proposals – common elements                                                     

thesis statements

this, that, these, those

tone, professional

topic sentences 

transitions

types of papers

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U

United States or U.S.?

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V

verbs and verb tense

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W

which vs. that

Why write?

writer’s block 

writing process

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Z

Zotero

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