GMAT Verbal: Commonly Tested Verb Tenses

February 16, 2011
Bret Ruber

Grammar is tested most notably in the sentence correction portion of the GMAT and is important for the essay section as well.  One of the keys to correct grammar is using the correct verb tense, whether it is in writing an essay or identifying an error in a sentence correction problem.

On the GMAT, six verb tenses appear regularly.  While this seems like a lot at first, three of them are fairly straightforward.  These are the past, present and future tenses.  For example, in the past tense you would state, “I went,” in the present tense you would state, “I go” and in the future tense you would state, “I will go.”

However, tenses can become a bit trickier when the other three appear.  The first of these is the present progressive tense.  The present progressive tense is used for actions happening continuously in the present and end in ‘ing’.  This tense is most common in sentences that use the word ‘being’ in place of ‘are’ or ‘is’.  The present progressive tense is considered to be awkward by the GMAT; while on occasion it will show up in a correct answer, it should be avoided whenever possible.

The next tense for which to look out is the past perfect tense.  The past perfect tense is used to refer to events that happened in the past before other events that also happened in the past.  This means that the past perfect is used in sentences in which events occurred at two different points in the past.  One of these events must be preceded by the word ‘had’ to be correct. For example, if you had already eaten dinner and then went to a movie you would say, “we had eaten dinner before we went to the movie.”

The final verb tense to be aware of is the present perfect tense.  The present perfect uses the words ‘have’ and ‘has’ – the difference between these is based on whether the subject is singular or plural – and is used in two situations.  First, it is used for things happening in the past and continuing into the present, such as in the sentence, “I have been studying for the GMAT.”  Second, it is used to refer to events that occurred at an indeterminate point in the past, such as in the sentence, “I have been to California.”  From this sentence, we know that at some point you were in California, but we have no way of knowing when that was. 

While you do not need to be able to label or identify these tenses on the GMAT, errors related to these tenses are common in Sentence Correction questions, and becoming confident with working with these tenses and common mistakes will greatly help your speed and accuracy on test day. For more tips like these, see Kaplan’s GMAT Video on Verb Tenses.

Bret Ruber Bret has been teaching for Kaplan since 2005, and has helped over 1000 students with their GMAT preparation. He spent three years teaching in Manhattan, where he served as an Elite Teacher and a full-time instructor, before moving to London, where he is now the GMAT Master Teacher for Kaplan’s London Center. As the GMAT Master Teacher, Bret trains, observes and mentors teachers, in addition to continuing his own teaching and tutoring, and has taught courses across Europe, including Italy, Ireland, and Germany. Bret contributes to Kaplan’s GMAT curriculum on an on-going basis, and was also a contributor to Kaplan's 2010 GMAT course.

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