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Sentence Correction: Tenses on GMAT





Here is a set of free short videos for stepwise preparation of Tenses on GMAT. For a more detailed treatment of the topic, you may want to opt for our GMAT online course or our GMAT test series of 15 mock tests.


A Simple Approach for 12 Different Tenses



As we begin with our playlist on tenses, we would like to highlight the importance that this topic carries on the GMAT. Tenses are tested in many different questions, in the GMAT sentence correction section. Thus, to perform well on this part of the GMAT, you will need a firm understanding of the different tenses, their forms, classification, and usage. Before we get into the specifics, we will go over a simple approach to remembering the 12 tenses and their relation to one another.

The Approach


No doubt, during your primary schooling, you must have spent a fair amount of time on tenses, a fundamental aspect of grammar. During that time you might have found yourself confused by the sheer number of tenses and their distinct functions. This confusion is quite common, and more than understandable, as tenses are not limited to only “past, present, and future”; there are also a number of sub-tenses, based on function and usage. Understanding this confusion, we have developed a simple way to remember the different tenses, using a branching pattern. Please go through the strategy, described below, very carefully. Doing so will allow you to better understand and contextualize the other information on tenses, presented on this page.

First, take Tenses to be the base of the branching pattern that we mentioned above. Now, we split this base into the two major types of tenses. These tenses are the Simple Tense, which is the default tense, and the Perfect Tense, which is used in certain particular circumstances. At this point, through simple common sense, we know that there will be three further sub-divisions in both of these tenses, for the past, present, and future. Therefore, we now have six tenses:

Simple Present Tense

Simple Past Tense

Simple Future Tense

Present Perfect Tense

Past Perfect Tense

Future Perfect Tense

Up till now, we have covered the simple and perfect tenses, in all three of their forms. From your earlier studies, you might recall that there is one tense form that we have not included in our pattern, yet, the continuous form. Every one of the above-mentioned tenses has a continuous form, as well, meaning that there are six tenses more tenses, bringing the total up to 12. These tenses are the:

Simple Present Continuous Tense

Simple Past Continuous Tense

Simple Future Continuous Tense

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Future Perfect Continuous Tense

This was our approach to remembering the 12 tenses. Below, we have also prepared a visual representation of this approach, in the form of a flow chart, covering the 12 tenses. Please study it carefully, and use it as a guide.
12 Different Tenses


Simple Tenses



Tenses are a very high scoring concept, within GMAT sentence correction. However, this concept is very nuanced and complex, often posing a significant challenge to GMAT candidates. Thus, in order to take advantage of this concept’s high scoring nature, you must develop a firm understanding of of tenses. Here, we will cover the nature and use of the three simple tenses of the English language, Simple Past, Simple Present, and Simple Future. To begin with, we will take look at the differences between simple and perfect tenses.

Simple Tense Versus Perfect Tense


The primary distinction between the simple and perfect tenses, on the GMAT, is is that the simple tense is the preferred tense, meaning that by default the simple tense of the appropriate word is used. Therefore, most sentences will employ the simple tense, and the perfect tense will be reserved for certain, specific cases. Later on, on this page, we will describe these cases in detail. However, presently, we will restrict our focus to understanding the three simple tenses.

Simple Present Tense


The simple present tense has more uses than any other, meaning that it is the most commonly used tense. Please go through the following examples to understand the uses of the simple present tense.

1. To indicate actions taking place in the current time frame.
Example 1 - John is a student of geography.

2. To indicate habitual actions.
Example 2 - John plays squash after college.

3. To state universal truth.
Example 3 - The moon revolves around the Earth.

Simple Past Tense


Compared to the simple present tense, the simple past tense is much rarer. This tense form is used for only one purpose, to indicate actions that have already concluded by the time of speaking.

Example 4 - John studied at the Harvard Business School.

Simple Future Tense


As is the case with the simple past tense, the simple future tense tense is used for one purpose, to denote actions that are supposed to take place in the future.

Example 5 - Jack will join his family business.
Please keep this information in mind, while attempting your GMAT sentence correction. Doing so will enable you to better grasp the correct tense forms in GMAT sentence correction questions and more effectively eliminate incorrect answer choices.


Simple Continuous Tenses



Here, we will cover the form, nature, and usage of the Simple Continuous Past Tense, Simple Continuous Present Tense, and Simple Continuous Future Tense.As mentioned elsewhere on this page, tense is a concept that is frequently tested and very high scoring on the GMAT. So, be sure to pay close attention, understanding tenses will help make your life on the GMAT much easier.

Simple Continuous Tenses


The simple continuous tense can be recognized by the use of the “verb+ing” form. The “ing” verb form indicates that an action is continuous, over a period of time. Thus, it is clear that the simple continuous tenses are used to describe events and actions that take place over a period of time, whether they took place in the past, are currently ongoing, or will take place over a period of time in the future. We will now take a look at each of the three forms of simple continuous tense.

Simple Present Continuous Tense


The simple present continuous tense is used to indicate actions that are ongoing at the time of the sentence being spoken/written. Let us illustrate, through this example:

Example 1 - Jack is studying at the Harvard Business School

Simple Past Continuous Tense


The simple past continuous tense is used to describe actions that have concluded by the time the sentence was written/spoken but took place over a period of time. Please consider the following example to understand this form better:

Example 2 - Two years ago, Jack was studying at the Harvard Business School.

Simple Future Continuous Tense


The simple future continuous tense is used to indicate events and actions that have yet to take place and will take place over a period of time, when they do. Please consider the following example to understand this form better:

Example 3 - Two years later, Jack will be joining his family business.
Please do take care to fully absorb the information presented here, as the simple continuous tenses are often confusing, as they refer to event that take place across time.


Present Perfect Tense



To tackle GMAT sentence correction questions, it is especially important that you pay close attention to the perfect tense forms. Perfect tense forms are not very common, compared to simple tense forms, but they are more complex. The perfect tense is only used under certain peculiar circumstances, making it difficult to identify exactly where it has been applied appropriately and inappropriately. Here, we will cover the form and use of one particular form of the perfect tense, the perfect present tense.

Present Perfect Tense


We will begin by understanding the correct form of the present perfect tense. Understanding this form will make it easy to identify the use of this verb form, as it always includes either the word “had” or “have”, depending upon whether the verb is singular or plural. . This tense is used to indicate events that ended at some point in the past but have certain applicability to or continue to remain relevant in the present. Please go through the following examples, to understand this concept better.

Example 1 - Donald Trump has won the presidential election.
As we proceed, please remember that this article was written in 2017. The information presented in this sentence remained relevant up till that point in time, as Donald Trump was still the President of the United States. Thus, the present perfect tense is the correct verb form to use, as the information presented had a continuing effect on the present.

Now let us consider another example, to serve as a contrast to Example 1.

Example 2 - Barack Obama has won the presidential election.
The information presented here, Barack Obama’s electoral victory, does not impact the present directly. Thus, the appropriate tense to use is the simple past tense, which is typically the default tense.

Another use of the present perfect tense is referring to events that concluded immediately before the sentence was spoken or written. Once again, please refer to the example below for further clarity.

Example 3 - Students have come.
As a hypothetical, please consider the students to have just arrived, before this sentence was spoken/written. In this case, we will not utilize the simple past tense to say that "Students came". We will use the present perfect tense because the event has just concluded.


Present Perfect Continuous Tense



As we have covered, on this page, the perfect tense forms are only used in certain circumstances that must be understood, if one is to correctly identify their usage on GMAT sentence correction questions. Here, we will cover the form and use of one particular form of the perfect tense, the perfect continuous tense.

Present Perfect Continuous Tense


First, we will examine the a look at the form of the present perfect continuous tense. This tense can be identified by the use of the helping verb "has been", in the case of singular subjects and "has been", in the case of plural subjects. The purpose of this tense is to describe events that began in the past and continue into the present. Please go through the following example, to understand this concept.

Example 1 - Since June last year, Jack has been learning to play guitar.
In this sentence, an ongoing event, “Jack learning to play the guitar”, is mentioned. We are informed that this event informed began at a fixed point in the past "June last year".Thus we can say that the present perfect continuous tense is the correct tense to apply here, as the sentence refers to an event that began in the past but continues in the present.

This tense is also used to indicate events whose time frame is not definite.

Example 2 - John has been to Canberra.
This sentence describes an event, John going to Canberra, but does not ascribe any definite time period that it occurred in. Thus, the present perfect continuous tense can be used here.


Past Perfect Tense - Use of "Had"



Here, we will cover the form and use of one particular form of the perfect tense, the past perfect tense. Please pay close attention, as the circumstances in which this tense is employed are quite complex and sentence correction questions involving this tense form require great care to tackle.

Past Perfect Tense


In this section, we will first learn how to identify the usage of the past perfect tense. The identifying feature of this tense form is the use of the helping verb “had”. This use is absolutely crucial to identifying the past perfect tense, o the GMAT. The past perfect tense is used when there are two actions in a sentence that occur at two different points in the past; the past perfect verb, marked by the word "had" is used to denote the action that takes place further in the past. Please go through the following example to understand this concept, fully.

Example 1 - Although the professor had completed the lecture, students stayed in the classroom.
In example 1, two actions are referred to, both of which happened in the past. These two actions are the professor completing the lecture and the students staying in the classroom. As the professor’s action occurred first, it is appropriate to use the past perfect tense to refer to it.

Exceptions


Having covered the basics of the past perfect tense, we will now go over some exceptions to its usage. Please consider the following sentence.

Example 2 -I had left before you arrived.
As there are two actions happening in this sentence, "I" leaving and "you" arriving and because one happens before the other, the logical assumption here is that it is correct to use the past perfect tense. However, this is not actually the case. Example 2 is actually an incorrect sentence, as it uses the word “before”, alongside the past perfect tense. The word "before" clearly indicates which action happened first, so the use of the present perfect tense is redundant. The correct sentence would be:

Example 3 - I left before you arrived.
Let us take up another example:

Example 4 - Although the lecture had got over at 3 pm, students stayed in the classroom until 4 pm.
As you may have noticed, example 5 is quite similar to example 1. However, this sentence is incorrect, due to its inclusion of definite timings. These timings make the use of the past perfect tense redundant, by clearly indicating which event came first. The correct sentence would be:

Example 5 - Although the lecture got over by 3 pm, the students stayed in the classroom until 4 pm.


Use of Two "Hads" simultaneously



Perfect tenses are a challenging concept to master, owing to the highly specific circumstances and rules, surrounding their use. Here, we will cover, in detail, at one of the very interesting nuances of past perfect tense usage. Please pay close attention, as understanding nuanced circumstances, such as this one, will improve your performance on the GMAT, greatly.

An Interesting case of Past Perfect Tense


The usage of the past perfect tense is identified by the use of the word "had", or “have”, as per the order of the verb. As a result, sentences that employ the past perfect tense can often have constructions that seem a bit strange. Please go through the following example, for greater clarity.

Example 1 - Jack told me that he had had a Ferrari.
Example 1 uses the word “had”, twice in succession, for seemingly no reason. Thus, most GMAT candidates would assume that this sentence is incorrect, if they encountered it as a sentence correction answer choice. However, this sentence is actually correct, as the two instances of the word "had" serve different purposes. While the first “had” is used as part of the past perfect tense structure, the second had is used to show possession. To elaborate, the first “had” indicates that Jack owned the Ferrari in the past and told the speaker that he owned it, even further in the past and the second “had” indicates that Jack possessed a Ferrari, at some point in the past. The usage of this "had" can be compared to the usage of "had" in a sentence such as "I had breakfast."

We will now explore this concept a bit further, through these examples.

Example 2 - Jack told me that he had a Ferrari.
Before we begin with the explanation, please take a moment to see if you can determine whether this sentence is correct. Here we must take into account the exact meaning of this sentence, which is that Jack told the speaker that he had a Ferrari, at the time of speaking but not prior to it. Example 2 is a correct sentence but it has a different meaning than Example 1 does.

Example 3 - Jack told me that he has a Ferrari.
Example 3 has yet another meaning. The use of the word "has", here, suggests that Jack currently possesses a Ferrari; thus, the meaning of the sentence is that Jack told the speaker that he possesses a Ferrari.

As you can see, quite clearly, none of these sentences are incorrect. All of them follow the grammatical rules, associated with the past perfect tense and the use of the word “had”’ they all simply have different meanings.


"Future Perfect" and "Future Perfect Continuous"



Here, we will cover the form and use of two perfect tense forms, future perfect and future perfect continuous.

Future Perfect Tense


First, we shall try to understand the form of the future perfect tense. The use of the future perfect tense can be identified by the use of the helping verb "will have". The future perfect tense is a rather peculiar one that you will not encounter on the GMAT, very often. The rarity of this verb form can be ascribed to the highly specific circumstances in which it is used, to describe an action that will be begin in the future and be completed at a point further in the future.Please go through the following example to understand this concept better.

Example 1 - Lily will have completed her homework by 7 pm.
In example 1, the verb "will have completed" denotes that a certain action, completing the homework, will have ended by 7 pm, from the perspective of a point, further in the future.

Future Perfect Continuous Tense


Now we will cover the form and use of the future perfect continuous tense, identifiable by the use of the helping verb "will have been" and the "ing" verb form. The future perfect continuous tense is the least used, in GMAT sentence correction, out of the twelve tenses of the English language, as the circumstances that require its usage are most peculiar. Thus, you are very unlikely to encounter this tense, during your GMAT; nevertheless, be sure to understand its usage fully. This tense is used to denote actions that will be ongoing, at some point in the future. Please go through the following example, for greater clarity.

Example 2 - By the time Mary graduates, Jack will have been learning to play the guitar.
Let us break example 2 down a bit. In this sentence, the speaker talks about a specific point in time, characterized as the time that Mary graduates. The speaker then refers to an action, Jack learning to play the guitar, which will have begun at some point prior to Mary’s graduation and will be ongoing at that point.


Perfect Continuous Tenses



Even among the perfect tenses, the perfect continuous tenses are considered especially challenging, as they combine the unique circumstances associated with the perfect tenses with continuous actions. In this section we will cover the use and form of the three perfect tenses, on the GMAT. Please pay close attention, as this topic is quite complex, and understanding it here will be of great help to you on the GMAT sentence correction.

Perfect Continuous Tenses


Let us begin by taking a look at the form of the perfect continuous tenses. These tenses can be identified by the use of the words "has/have/had+been", depending upon whether it is the past, present, or future form. These particular phrases are indicative of the perfect continuous tenses because "has/have/had" reflect the perfect tense and the use of the word "been" reflects continuity. We will now go over the use of the three perfect continuous tenses, individually.

Present Perfect Continuous Tense


The purpose of the present perfect continuous tense is to describe actions that began in the past and continue into the present, meaning that the action began in the past and has not ended at the time of speaking. Please go through the following example to understand this concept, better.

Example 1 - Jack has been learning to play the guitar for two years.
Example 1, refers to an action, Jack learning to play the guitar. This action is said to have begun at a point in the past, two years before the sentence was written/spoken, and is ongoing in the present.

Past Perfect Continuous


The past perfect continuous tense is used when there are two actions in a sentence, both continuing over a period of time and both take place in the past, albeit at different points. Once again, please read the following example to understand this concept.

Example 2 - Jack had been working hard on the proposal when the deal was called off by the management.
In example 2, two continuous actions are described; these are Jack working hard on the proposal and the deal being called off by the management.While both event take place in the past, Jack’s actions are described as having been ongoing at the point when the project was cancelled, meaning that they came first. Thus, the past perfect continuous tense will be used to refer to this action.

Future Perfect Continuous Tense


The future perfect continuous tense is a fairly unique and rare one. This tense is used to refer to actions that will begin in the future and then continue over a period of time.

Example 3 - By the time Mary graduates, Jack will have been learning to play the guitar.
In example 3, the speaker speaks from the perspective of some point in the future, the time Mary graduates, to say that at that time there will be an ongoing event taking place, Jack learning to play guitar.



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