Thursday, 20 August 2009


From the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition

A verb has five properties: voice, mood, tense, person,
and number.

Active and passive voice
Voice shows whether the subject acts (active voice) or is
acted on (passive voice)—that is, whether the subject
performs or receives the action of the verb. Only
transitive verbs are said to have voice. The clause the
judge levied a $50 fine is in the active voice because the
subject (judge) is acting. But the tree’s branch was
broken by the storm is in the passive voice because the
subject (branch) does not break itself—it is acted on by
the object (storm). The passive voice is always formed by
joining an inflected form of to be (or, in colloquial usage,
to get) with the verb’s past participle. Compare the ox
pulls the cart (active voice) with the cart is pulled by the
ox (passive voice). A passive-voice verb in a subordinate
clause often has an implied be: in the advice given by the
novelist, the implied (or understood) words that was come
before given; so the passive construction is was given.
Although the inflected form of to be is sometimes implicit,
the past participle must always appear. Sometimes the
agent remains unnamed {his tires were slashed}. As a
matter of style, passive voice {the matter will be given
careful consideration} is typically, though not always,
inferior to active voice {we will consider the matter

Progressive conjugation and voice
If an inflected form of to be is joined with the verb’s
present participle, a progressive conjugation is produced
{the ox is pulling the cart}. The progressive conjugation
is in active voice because the subject is performing the
action, not being acted on.

Mood (or mode) indicates the way in which the verb
expresses an action or state of being. The three moods
are indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. The indicative
mood makes statements or asks questions {amethysts
cost very little} {the botanist lives in a garden
cottage} {Does that bush produce yellow roses?}. The
imperative mood expresses commands or requests and
usually has an understood you as the sentence’s subject
{give me the magazine} {take good care of yourself}.
The subjunctive mood expresses an action or state not as
a reality but as a mental conception. Typically, this means
that the subjunctive expresses an action or state as
doubtful, imagined, desired, conditional, or otherwise
contrary to fact {if I were wealthy, I could travel} {I
wish I had some alternatives}. It also often expresses a
suggestion {I suggest that you be early} or a
requirement {the requirement that all exams be
completed by 2:00 p.m.}. The subjunctive appears in the
base form of the verb (be in the example just given),
instead of an inflected form. Note that not every if takes a
subjunctive verb: when the action or state might be true
but the writer does not know, the indicative is called for
{if I am right about this, please call} {if Napoleon was
in fact poisoned with arsenic, historians will need to
reconsider his associates}.

Tense shows the time in which an act, state, or condition
occurs or occurred. The three major divisions of time are
present, past, and future. Each
division of time breaks down further into a perfect tense
that indicates a comparatively more remote time: present
perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.

Present tense
The present-tense form is the infinitive verb’s stem (with
an added s in the third-person singular), also called the
present indicative {walk} {drink}. It primarily denotes
acts, conditions, or states that occur in the present {I
see} {you understand} {the water runs}. It is also
used (1) to express a habitual action or general truth
{cats prowl nightly} {polluted water is a health
threat}; (2) to refer to memorable persons and to works
of the past that are still extant or enduring {Julius
Caesar describes his strategies in The Gallic War} {the
Pompeiian mosaics are exquisite}; and (3) to narrate a
fictional work’s plot {the scene takes place aboard the
Titanic}. This third point is important for those who write
about literature. Characters in books, plays, and films do
things—not did them. If you want to distinguish between
present action and past action in literature, the present
perfect tense is helpful {Hamlet, who has spoken with
his father’s ghost, reveals what he has learned to no
one but Horatio}. The present continuous
tense denotes continuing or progressive action and
consists of the present tense of the verb to be plus a
present participle {the children are swimming} {the
water is evaporating}.

Past tense
The past tense is formed by inflection (see 5.100); the
basic inflected form is called the past indicative {walked}
{drank}. It denotes an act, state, or condition that
occurred or existed at some point in the past {the
auction ended yesterday} {we returned the shawl}.

Future tense
The future tense is formed by using will with the verb’s
stem form {will walk} {will drink}. It refers to an
expected act, state, or condition {the artist will design a
wall mural} {the restaurant will open soon}.

Present perfect tense
The present perfect tense is formed by using have or has
with the principal verb’s past participle {have walked}
{has drunk}. It denotes an act, state, or condition that is
now completed or continues up to the present {I have
put away the clothes} {it has been a long day}. The
present perfect is distinguished from the past tense
because it refers to (1) a time in the indefinite past {I
have played golf there before}, or (2) a past action that
comes up to and touches the present {I have worked
here for eighteen years}. The past tense, by contrast,
indicates a more specific or a more remote time in the

Past perfect tense
The past perfect (or pluperfect) tense is formed by using
had with the principal verb’s past participle {had walked}
{had drunk}. It refers to an act, state, or condition that
was completed before another specified past time or past
action {the engineer had driven the train to the
roundhouse before we arrived} {by the time we
stopped to check the map, the rain had begun falling}.

Future perfect tense
The future perfect tense is formed by using will have with
the verb’s past participle {will have walked} {will have
drunk}. It refers to an act, state, or condition that is
expected to be completed before some other future act or
time {the entomologist will have collected sixty more
specimens before the semester ends} {the court will
have adjourned by five o’clock}.

A verb’s person reflects whether the act, state, or
condition is that of (1) the person speaking (first person, I
or we), (2) the person spoken to (second person, you), or
(3) the person or thing spoken of (third person, he, she,
it, or they).

The number of a verb must agree with the number of the
noun or pronoun used with it. In other words, the verb
must be singular or plural. Only the third-person presentindicative
singular changes form to indicate number and
person {you sketch} {she sketches} {they sketch}.
The second-person verb is always plural in form, whether
one person or more than one person is spoken to {you
are a wonderful person} {you are wonderful people}.