If you've ever taken a second language class, you've heard a lot about conjugated verbs and verb conjugations. In short, a conjugated verb is a verb that has been altered from its base form; but, as with all things grammar-related, it's a little more complicated than that. Let's take a look at how verbs are conjugated and the different things they communicate when they are.
Conjugated verbs are verbs which have been changed to communicate one or more of the following: person, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood, or voice. Those will be explained in detail in just a moment: but first, here's an example of the irregular verb "break" conjugated in several different ways.
Present tense tells us what is happening at the current moment. There are three main present tenses: present simple, present progressive (continuous), and present perfect.
I am breaking
I have broken
you are breaking
you have broken
he, she, it breaks
he, she, it is breaking
he, she, it has broken
we are breaking
we have broken
Past tense indicates that an action has already occurred, and is no longer occurring. Past simple, past progressive, and past perfect are the main past tenses.
I was breaking
I had broken
you were breaking
you had broken
he, she, it broke
he, she, it was breaking
he, she, it had broken
we were breaking
we had broken
Future tenses tell us that something will happen in the future. The main future tenses are future simple, future progressive, and future perfect.
I will break
I will be breaking
I will have broken
you will break
you will be breaking
you will have broken
he, she, it will break
he, she, it will be breaking
he, she, it will have broken
we will break
we will be breaking
we will have broken
As you can see, each different conjugation changes "break" from its base form to tell us when and by whom the action takes place. Conjugated verbs give us a lot of information!
A verb conjugation can communicate a lot of detail about a verb. When a verb is conjugated properly, it can tell us:
- who is performing the action
- how many people are performing the action
- the gender of the person performing the action (not in English)
- when the verb is happening
- whether the action is still happening
Conjugated verbs also tell us about the sentence’s mood and voice, which is important for reader comprehension. Take a look at the different ways conjugated verbs help writers communicate.
It's a bit redundant in English because we almost always state a subject explicitly in our sentences, but still, our conjugated verbs often go with specific subjects. For example, "am" is a present tense conjugation of the verb "be," and it is the form that goes with the subject "I." Using "I" (or "we") also indicates that the speaker is speaking in first person as opposed to second person ("you") or third person ("he," "she," "it," "they").
It is clearer in other languages, but conjugated verbs in English can also sometimes tell us something about how many people are participating in the action of the verb. This is called subject-verb agreement.
For example, singular subjects (he, she, it) in the present simple tense have an "s" added to them when conjugated:
- He sings.
- She reads.
- It rains.
Plural subjects (you, we, they) do not have an "s" on the end:
- You sing.
- We read.
- They play.
English is a little tricky here because "you" can be singular or plural, but in other languages, the differentiation between singular and plural subjects is very clear in the conjugated verb endings.
In some languages, though not English, conjugated verbs can indicate the gender of the subject. Languages that use gender in their conjugation include Russian, Tamil, Arabic, Hebrew, and Bantu languages. Romance languages, such as Spanish, French and Italian, use grammatical gender in their nouns but not their verb conjugations.
The verb tense indicates the time at which the action of the verb takes place. Past tense verbs, for example, tell us that the action took place in the past. Present tense indicates the action is happening at this very moment, or that it happens regularly in the present state of things, or that it is true up to the present moment.
The aspect of a verb tells us the degree to which it is completed. There are continuous (or progressive) aspects that tell us the action is in progress, there are perfect aspects that tell us the action is complete up to a certain point in time, and there are simple aspects that are just that: simple.
Examples of different aspects include:
- present simple - I bake.
- present progressive - I am baking.
- present perfect - I have baked.
The action is the same, but the conjugation lets us know whether the baking is still happening or has already happened. Present, past and future tenses each have four possible aspects.
The sentence mood is like the purpose of the sentence in which a verb is used. The stative (or indicative) mood, for example, is used to make a statement. The interrogative mood is for questions, and the conditional mood is for sentences that pose possible scenarios and the outcomes that depend on them. The imperative mood gives commands or instructions, and the subjunctive mood creates hypothetical situations.
- stative mood - Juan did his homework.
- interrogative mood - Has Juan done his homework?
- conditional mood - Juan should do his homework or he’ll fail the class.
- imperative mood - Do your homework!
- subjunctive mood - If I were Juan, I would do my homework.
You've probably heard people talk about active and passive voice. In active voice, the verb indicates that the subject of the sentence is the one doing the action. In passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action done by someone/something else.
A conjugated verb is a well-explained verb. Conjugating verbs correctly helps readers understand what you’re talking about. For more information about conjugating verbs, check out a helpful list of rules for conjugating verbs properly.