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Forming the Simple Present Tense of English Verbs: Spelling Changes and Pronunciation

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

The following article explains the formation of the simple present tense of English verbs, including spelling changes and pronunciation.

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    Simple Present

    The simple present tense is used in English to describe habits and routines, to state general facts and truths, and to express thoughts and feelings. For example, the simple present tense drinks in my puppy drinks milk everyday describes a habit, rises in the sun rises in the east states a general fact, and likes in my mother likes dark chocolate expresses a feeling.

    More specifically, the simple present tense refers to verbs in the simple aspect, present tense, indicative mood, and active voice. All forms of English verbs in the simple present tense are identical to the base form except for in the third person singular:

    SimplePresent 

    The following sections discuss the forms of the simple present tense in the third person singular as well as other irregular English verbs in the present tense. The final section explains the pronunciation rules for verbs in the simple present tense in the third person singular.

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    Spelling Changes

    The third person singular simple present morphological suffix for most English verbs is simply -s, which is added to the end of the base form. (Morphemes are the smallest linguistic units with semantic meaning. The morphological suffix -s signals a verb is conjugated in the third person singular simple present when suffixed to the base form of a verb.) The base form of an English verb is the infinitive without the preposition to functioning as an infinitive marker. For example, the following chart identifies the infinitive, general simple present, and third person singular simple present forms of some common English verbs:

    • Infinitive – General – Third Person Singular
    • to eat – eat – eats
    • to drive – drive – drives
    • to know – know – knows
    • to listen – listen – listens
    • to make – make – makes
    • to read – read – reads
    • to see – see – sees
    • to write – write – writes

    However, if the base form of the verb ends with s(e) or c(e) [s], z(e) [z], sh [š], ch [č], or dg(e) [ĵ], then the third person singular simple present morphological suffix is -es. For example, the following chart identifies the infinitive, general simple present, and third person singular simple present forms of some common English verbs ending in s(e) or c(e) [s], z(e) [z], sh [š], ch [č], or dg(e) [ĵ]:

    • Infinitive – General – Third Person Singular
    • to dance – dance – dances
    • to judge – judge – judges
    • to kiss – kiss – kisses
    • to realize – realize – realizes
    • to refuse – refuse – refuses
    • to teach – teach – teaches
    • to wash – wash – washes
    • to watch – watch – watches

    If the base form of the verb ends with a consonant followed by a y, then the y changes to an i and is followed by the third person singular simple present morphological suffix is -es. For example, the following chart identifies the infinitive, general simple present, and third person singular simple present forms of some common English verbs ending in a consonant followed by a y:

    • Infinitive – General – Third Person Singular
    • to apply – apply – applies
    • to carry – carry – carries
    • to copy – copy – copies
    • to fly – fly – flies
    • to party – party – parties
    • to rely – rely – relies
    • to study – study – studies
    • to try – try – tries
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    Other Spelling Changes

    Four other English verbs have irregular spelling changes in the simple present tense. All forms of the copular verb be are irregular:

    • Infinitive – to be
    • First person singular – am
    • Second person singular – are
    • Third person singular – is
    • First person plural – are
    • Second person plural – are
    • Third person plural – are

    The verbs have, do, and go have irregular simple present verb forms in the third person singular. The vowel sound changes in do, and the suffix -s or -es is added to the end of all the verbs.

    • Infinitive – to have
    • First person singular – have
    • Second person singular – have
    • Third person singular – has
    • First person plural – have
    • Second person plural – have
    • Third person plural – have

    For example, you have much hair, but he has none.

    • Infinitive – to do
    • First person singular – do
    • Second person singular – do
    • Third person singular – does
    • First person plural – do
    • Second person plural – do
    • Third person plural – do

    For example, we do all the work while she does nothing.

    • Infinitive – to go
    • First person singular – go
    • Second person singular – go
    • Third person singular – goes
    • First person plural – go
    • Second person plural – go
    • Third person plural – go

    For example, they go to the movies, and it goes, too.

    These irregular spelling changes must simply be memorized.

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    Pronunciation

    Although the morphological suffix for third person singular verbs in the simple present tense is -s, or -es, the suffix is pronounced differently depending on the sound of the last syllable of the verb. If the last syllable of the verb sounds like:

    • s, se, ce [s]*
    • z, ze [z]
    • sh [š]
    • ch [č]
    • j, dge [ĵ],

    then the suffix is pronounced as a voiced ez [әz]. For example:

    • faces [fesәz]
    • misses [mIsәz]
    • dozes [dozәz]
    • hushes [hәšәz]
    • catches [kætčәz]
    • nudges [nәĵәz]

    If the last syllable of the verb is a voiceless sound, then the suffix is pronounced as an unvoiced s [s]. Voiceless sounds are produced by not vibrating the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. The voiceless, or unvoiced, sounds in English are:

    • p, pe [p]
    • t, tt, te [t]
    • k, ck, ke [k]
    • f, gh [f]
    • th [θ]
    • h [h]
    • y [j]

    For example:

    • breaks [breks]
    • counts [kaunts]
    • drinks [driŋks]
    • hopes [hops]
    • likes [laiks]
    • sits [sIts]

    If the last syllable of the verb is a voiced sound, then the suffix is pronounced as a voiced z [z]. Voiced sounds are produced by vibrating the larynx, or voice box, in the throat. The voiced sounds in English are:

    • m, me [m]
    • n, ne [n]
    • ng [ŋ]
    • b, be [b]
    • d, de [d]
    • g, ge [g]
    • v, ve [v]
    • th [ð]
    • w [w]
    • r, re [r]
    • l, ll, le [l]

    All vowels in English are also voiced sounds. For example:

    • calls [kalz]
    • destroys [distroiz]
    • gives [gIvz]
    • moans [monz]
    • sobs [sabz]
    • tries [traiz]

    *The letters in brackets are the sounds written in the International Phonetic Alphabet preceded by some spellings of the sounds in written English.

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    For information on other verb forms in English, please read the article The English Verb System for ESL Students.

References

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