Test Prep

Making Time for ACT Verb Tenses

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Students often find the English section to be the most daunting part of the ACT. Plenty of them think that if they’re not grammar experts, there’s no way they can do well here — but that’s entirely untrue. Sure, while the English language on its own might be a monster only the most dedicated can master — and even those few individuals debate amongst themselves— ACT English is a different game entirely. The best way you can prep for this section is to know which English rules you must know so you don’t end up worrying about anything that’s not actually being tested when you put your pencil to paper on the big day.

Simple Tense


Let’s start with the most common verb tense you’ll see on the ACT: the simple tense. On the test, you’ll need to prove you can choose from among three forms of the simple tense:

- Past: Last year, the students earned top marks.

- Present: This year, the students have a tougher schedule.

- Future: Next year, the students will begin college.

The key here is to ensure that the verb matches the time of whatever event is being described in the sentence. (The verb must also still agree with the subject of the sentence.) If that’s not the case, cross the answer out and move on! Here are some examples:

- Last year, the students earn top marks.

- Next year, the students began college.

The first doesn’t work because the timeframe is last year but earn is in the present tense. Similarly, the second is predicting an event next year; however, the verb is in the past tense.

Perfect Tense

Now, there’s a reason why the simple tense is considered, well, simple. The perfect tense on the other hand gives you more options in order to place an event in time, and it features three variations — one that corresponds with each of the simple tenses:

- Past perfect: Before I saw the movie on Saturday, I had enjoyed rom-coms. (This makes clear the order of two events completed definitively in the past, one before the other.)

- Present perfect: I have seen every episode of The Office three times. (This describes an event that began in the past and continues into the present, or an event that was completed at some indefinite time before now.)

- Future perfect: I will have gone to the store by the time you arrive. (This describes an event that will be completed at a definite later time.)

The perfect tense won’t appear as frequently on the ACT as the simple tense does, but it’s still a tense you’ll need to know if you want to maximize your score.

Of course, ACT English isn’t all fun and verbs — you’ll have to tackle subject/verb agreement, contraction and comma use, and a few other rules. To brush up on them all, I recommend taking an ACT practice test to see where you could use some focus. From there, use books like our English and Reading Workout for the ACT and Cracking the ACT for a complete breakdown of each concept along with drills and exercises to help you master them all before the big day.