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Conjugating the verb to be in the present tense


The inflection of verbs for person, number, tense, and mood. Also called a verbal paradigm.

The term conjugation is "relevant to the grammar of Old English, in which there were seven conjugations of strong verbs, but not to Modern English, although irregular verbs can be divided into a number of pattern groups" (Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992).

See also:

From the Latin, "join together"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Conjugation means breaking a verb down into its different forms to show person, number, tense, and voice. . . .

    "All verbs have three basic forms, which are called their principal parts. From these basic forms, you can make up the tense of any verb. The first principal part is the verb itself. This is the part with which you are most familiar: form, change, discuss. The second principal part is the past tense form. The third principal part is the past participle."
    (Karen Schneiter Williams, Basic English Review, 9th ed. Southwestern, 2010)

  • "Frankly (and sadly) most of us learned basic conjugation in foreign-language class. We learned to conjugate verbs in Spanish, French, or Latin. Unfortunately, many people did not learn basic conjugation in English class. Some did not learn correct conjugation. . . .

    "When you conjugate a verb, you have to cover all three aspects of finiteness: time (that's tense), people (that's person, as in first person, second person, and third person), and quantity (that's number, either singular or plural."
    (C. Edward Good, A Grammar Book for You and I--Oops, Me! Capital Books, 2002)

  • Verbal Paradigms: See and Talk
    "Let us consider . . . the verbal paradigm in English to see how a paradigm works. A verb in English has several forms. The verb see has the forms 'see,' 'sees,' 'seeing,' 'saw,' and '(have) seen.' We take the lexical item itself to be see, which we pronounce 'see.' Some of the forms of see are entirely predictable, some are not. When a form is predictable from the morphological paradigm, we say that it is regular; when a form is not predictable, it is irregular. So the form 'seen' is not predictable as the past participle (She has never seen Paris like this), nor is the form 'saw' as the past tense.

    "On the other hand, a verb like talk is completely regular: 'talk,' 'talks,' 'talking,' 'talked,' and '(have) talked.' We want to capture the fact that 'saw' and 'talked' are both past tense forms, even though one is irregular and the other one is regular."
    (Peter W. Culicover, Natural Language Syntax. Oxford University Press, 2009)

  • The Lighter Side of Conjugations
    - "Rupinder continued to dominate the class, but she didn't seem to be learning anything. On a quiz at the end of the week she tried to conjugate the verb wake. Wake, she wrote. Past tense: woke. Past participle: wank. I didn't have the heart to tell her she was wrong."
    (Glenn Dixon, Pilgrim in the Palace of Words: A Journey Through the 6,000 Languages of Earth. Dundurn Group, 2009)


    "I cut class, you cut class, he, she, it cuts class. We cut class, they cut class. We all cut class. I cannot say this in Spanish because I did not go to Spanish today. Gracias a dios. Hasta luego."
    (Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999)
Pronunciation: kon-je-GA-shen
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