Conjugation

Conjugation is something you'll be personally familiar with and something you do daily. In fact, in most of our written and verbal communication, no matter the purpose or audience, we're likely to use conjugation. 

Conjugation Conjugation

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Table of contents

    Conjugation is not a word we typically use in conversation, so we'll explore conjugation in English, its meaning in grammar, and some conjugated verb examples. We'll also cover the types of conjugation and how each one is formed.

    On that note, are you ready to get going?

    Conjugation Meaning in Grammar

    Let's begin our conjugation exploration by looking at conjugation's meaning in grammar.

    Conjugation refers to the process of altering the form of a verb by inflecting it. Inflecting a verb means changing its spelling, adding an affix to the end of the word, or accompanying the main verb with an auxiliary verb.

    The purpose of conjugation is to highlight the grammatical function of a verb within a sentence.

    For instance:

    Here are some ways in which you can conjugate the verb "drip":

    • past tense: "dripped"
    • present tense: "drip" (or "drips" for third person singular)
    • present continuous tense: "dripping"
    • future tense: "will drip" (notice the use of the auxiliary verb will )

    Conjugation in English

    Verb conjugation in English can tell us six key things about a verb:

    • Person and number: who is performing the action, e.g., first person singular (I am), third person plural (they are), etc.

    • Tense and aspect: when the action happens and what state of completion it is in. E.g., "He is playing" vs. "He played."

    • Mood: the role the sentence plays can be determined by the verb. E.g., "I demand he pay the bill" vs. "I demand he pays the bill."

    • Voice: whether the subject is doing the action or having the action done to them. Voice can be active (the subject is performing the action) or passive (the subject has the action done to them)

    Active voice: The monkey ate the banana.

    Passive voice: The banana was eaten by the monkey.

    Conjugation, monkey eating a banana, StudySmarterFig 1. The monkey actively ate the banana

    In some other languages, such as Italian, conjugation can also show the gender of the person or object (in some languages, objects have genders) performing the action.

    In Italian, there is no neutral gender for objects; all objects are gendered. For instance. "table" in Italian is masculine (il tavalo), whereas a "chair" is feminine (la sedia).

    Modern English is a gender-neutral language (in that nouns do not have inherent genders – e.g., chairs and tables are genderless), so gender cannot be indicated through conjugation in English.

    Auxiliary Verbs

    In order to conjugate a verb for particular purposes, it is sometimes necessary to supplement the verb with an auxiliary verb.

    An auxiliary verb is added to the main verb to conjugate a verb into the simple future tense. For example, "eat" becomes "will eat."

    The primary auxiliary verbs be, do, and have are used to conjugate main verbs to show tense and person.

    "She has visited the museum before."

    Here, the auxiliary verb has shows the perfect aspect. Letting us know the action is completed.

    Types of Conjugation

    As we mentioned, conjugation allows verbs to change to fit the purpose of a sentence and ensures grammatically correct sentences are formed. Verbs change to show tense and aspect, person and number, mood, and voice. Let's look at each of these in more detail now.

    Tense and Aspect

    Many people think of English as having only three tenses: past, present, and future. Indeed, these are the simple tenses. However, it might surprise you that English has 12 verb tenses, which are created when we combine tense with aspect. These verb tenses are shown through conjugation and are as follows:

    Past Tenses

    • Simple past: usually formed by adding -d, -ed, or less commonly -t to the verb (e.g., "chased," "jumped," "slept"). Irregular verbs are conjugated by changing their spellings completely (e.g., "make" becomes "made")

    • Past continuous (past + ongoing aspect): formed by combining the past tense of -to be with the present participle of a verb (e.g., "was having")

    • Past perfect (past + completed aspect): formed by combining the simple past with "have," "has," or "had" (e.g., "have looked," "has made," "had said")

    • Past perfect continuous: formed by combining -had been with the present participle of the verb (e.g., "had been hoping," "had been working")

    Present Tenses

    • Simple present: keep the root form of the verb and add -s (e.g., "runs")

    • Present continuous (present + ongoing aspect): formed by combining the verb -to be with the present participle of the verb (e.g., "is waiting")

    • Present perfect (present + completed aspect): formed by combining "has" or "have" with the past participle of the verb (e.g., "has played")

    • present perfect continuous: formed by combining "has been" or "have been" with the present participle of the verb (e.g., "have been eating")

    Future Tenses

    • Simple future: formed by combining "will" or "shall" with the root form of a verb (e.g., "will cook," "shall try")

    • Future continuous (future + ongoing aspect): formed by combining "will be," or less commonly, "shall be" with the present participle of the verb, ending in -ing (e.g., "will be racing," "shall be presenting")

    • Future perfect (future + completed aspect): formed by combining "will have" with the past participle of the verb (e.g., "will have paid," "will have finished")

    • Future perfect continuous: formed by combining "will have been" with the present participle of the verb, ending in -ing (e.g., "will have been driving," "will have been reading")

    Person and Number

    Person is concerned with who or what is performing the action in a sentence. Number is pretty self-explanatory and concerns how many people (or objects) perform the action. Number can refer to either singular or plural.

    When we combine person and number, we get a total of 6 possible combinations (three categories of person multiplied by two categories of number):

    • first person singular: I
    • first person plural: We
    • second person singular: You
    • second personal plural: You
    • third person singular: He, She, It, They
    • third person plural: They

    The person and number used in a sentence will impact the auxiliary verb and/or main verb that follows the pronoun. The most common example we can look at now is the verb to be.

    • first person singular: I am
    • first person plural: We are
    • second person singular: You are
    • second personal plural: You are
    • third person singular: He is
    • third person plural: They are

    Another key rule to remember is the conjugation of main verbs when using the third person singular. We always add an -s to the end of the main verb.

    I play

    You play

    They play

    We play

    He/she/it plays

    Mood

    Mood tells us about the way in which an action is being performed. In conjugation, there are three key moods to be familiar with:

    • indicative: conveying information; indicating something (e.g., "I moved the table.")
    • subjunctive: conveying wishes, demands, requests, and suggestions (e.g., "I would move the table.")
    • imperative: conveying direct commands or requests to a specific person (e.g., "Please move the table.")

    Voice

    Voice is concerned with whether the action is being performed by the subject (active voice) or being done to the subject (passive voice).

    When using the active voice, the main verb remains the same. However, when using the passive voice, we conjugate the main verb into its past participle form (aka verb 3).

    • Active voice - "The girl ate the burger."
    • Passive voice - "The burger was eaten by the girl."

    Conjugated Verb Examples

    To sum up our exploration into conjugation, here are some examples of how we can conjugate a single verb into each of the 12 verb tenses by combining aspect. The verb we're going to use is "study."

    Past Tenses

    • Simple past: Sally studied for the test.
    • Past continuous: Sally was studying for the test.
    • Past perfect: Sally had studied for the test.
    • Past perfect continuous: Sally had been studying for the test.

    Present Tenses

    • Simple present: Sally studies for the test.
    • Present continuous: Sally is studying for the test.
    • Present perfect: Sally has studied for the test.
    • Present perfect continuous: Sally has been studying for the test.

    Future Tenses

    • Simple future: Sally will study for the test.
    • Future continuous: Sally will be studying for the test.
    • Future perfect: Sally will have studied for the test.
    • Future perfect continuous: Sally will have been studying for the test.

    Conjugation, studying woman, StudySmarterFig 2. Using conjugation, we can talk about Sally's studying in different time contexts.

    Verb conjugation chart

    To put the topic of conjugation to rest in this article, let's finish with some verb conjugation charts for visual reference:

    TENSEMETHODCONJUGATED FORM
    Simple Past"study" + -ed ("y" becomes "i")studied
    Past Continuous-was + "study" + -ingwas studying
    Past Perfect-had + "study" + -edhad studied
    Past Perfect Continuous-had + -been + "study" + -inghad been studying
    TENSEMETHODCONJUGATED FORM
    Simple Present"study" + -s (irregular form -ies)studies
    Present Continuous-is + "study" + -ingis studying
    Present Perfect-has + "study" + -ed (irregular form -ied)has studied
    Present Perfect Continuous-has + -been + "study" + -inghas been studying
    TENSEMETHODCONJUGATED FORM
    Simple Future-will + "study"will study
    Future Continuous-will + -be + "study" + -ingwill be studying
    Future Perfect-will + -have + "study" + -edwill have studied
    Future Perfect Continuous-will + -have + -been + "study" + -ingwill have been studying

    Conjugation - Key takeaways

    • Conjugation refers to the process of altering the form of a verb by inflecting it so that it fits with the purpose of a sentence.
    • Inflecting a verb means changing its spelling, adding an affix to the end of the word, or accompanying the main verb with an auxiliary verb.
    • Conjugation can tell us about: person, number, tense, aspect, mood, and voice.
    • English has 3 simple tenses: past, present, and future.
    • Each of the 3 simple tenses can be combined with aspect to create the 12 verb tenses in English.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Conjugation

    What is conjugation in English grammar?

    Conjugation refers to the process of altering the form of a verb by changing its inflections in order to clarify the tense, number, and person involved with that verb.

    What is another word for "conjugation"?

    There is no direct synonym for "conjugation" but if you're looking for words with similar meanings, you could consider "amalgamation", "adaptation", or "fusion". 

    How do you find a conjugated verb?

    You can find a conjugated verb by checking to see if the verb is in its root form or not. Any verb that is not in its root form will have been conjugated. 


    For example, the verb "run" is the root form of this action. "ran", "may run", "was running", "runs" etc. are conjugated forms of the verb.

    How do you conjugate verbs in the English present tense?

    Conjugating a verb in the English present tense depends on what present tense you want to conjugate it into.


    • simple present: keep the root form of the verb and add -s
    • present continuous: combine verb -to be with the present participle of the verb, ending in -ing
    • present perfect: combine "has" or "have" with the past participle of the verb
    • present perfect continuous: combine "has been" or "have been" with the present participle of the verb

    What are the 3 steps to conjugate a verb?

    • select the verb you want to conjugate
    • identify the root form of the verb
    • add the necessary inflections (endings) to the root form, as well as any necessary auxiliary verbs

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of these descriptions best fits "auxiliary verb"

    What kind of verbs tell us about context, such as likelihood, ability, requests, obligation, advice, or permission?

    What are the three simple tenses?

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