Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt    

Lesson 10: Dr. Verb's Three Tenses, Number, and Persons

Now, Dr. Verb," said Judge Grammar, the next day, "we have well examined this that you call your 'Song of the verb To be.'"
Future, Present, and Past Tense

"Conjugation, my lord, if you like," said Dr. Verb, bowing.

"I do like, certainly," replied the Judge. "Conjugation is a much better word than song—longer and more respectable, and in every way more suited to Grammar-land. Con-ju-ga-tion—this conjugation of the verb 'to be.' We require you to explain it."

"With pleasure, my lord. You see, it is divided into three verses."

"Verses!" exclaimed Serjeant Parsing. "You know it is not to be called a song, Dr. Verb."

"Quite so, quite so," said Dr. Verb, bowing again. "Well, Tenses, then. It is divided into three tenses, the Present Tense, the Past Tense, and the Future Tense, which mean the present time, the past time, and the future time; and your lordship knows that all time must be either present time, or past time, or future time. Just as when you are reading a book. There is the part you have read, that is the past; the part you are going to read, that is the future; and the part you are reading now, that is the present."

"We understand," said Judge Grammar; "but pray explain why you divide your verbs into these three parts."

"To show how my verbs change when they have to mark the present, past, or future time. You see, the verb 'to be' takes am for the present, was for the past, and adds on will or shall for the future. I am in the present time talking to your lordship. I was in the past time talking to your lordship. I shall be in the future time talking to your lordship."

"Indeed, I hope not," cried the Judge, putting his hands to his ears. "Pray do not go on forever talking to me. I have heard quite enough of your voice already. Step back, and allow Mr. Pronoun to take your place, and explain the rest of the conjugation to us."

"Allow me to say one thing more," said Dr. Verb. "Please, Mr. Parsing, whenever you see a will or shall, or any other little verb put in to show the time, will you remember that it is only a little helping verb, used to make up the tense of some other verb, and therefore, to be counted in with that, and not taken alone."

"Just give an example of what you mean," said Serjeant Parsing; "I do not quite understand."

"I mean to say that when you see 'he will go,' you must take will go as part of the verb to go; and when you see am coming, was dancing, has eaten, had fought, you must take them as parts of the verbs to come, to dance, to eat, to fight. The first words, am, was, has, had, are very good and respectable words by themselves, of course; but when they are used with another verb, they are never offended if you just take them as part of that other verb."

"Thank you. I will remember," said Serjeant Parsing, laughing. "Now please to stand back, and allow Mr. Pronoun to answer.—Mr. Pronoun, pray why do you use these particular six words, I, thou, he, we, you, and they, to make up Dr. Verb's tenses?"

"I use I and we" answered Pronoun, "to stand for the first person; thou and you to stand for the second person; and he and they to stand for the third person."

"What do you mean by the first person?" asked Serjeant Parsing.

"My lord," answered Mr. Pronoun, turning to Judge Grammar, "may I ask you who is the first person in Grammar-land?"

"I am, of course," answered the Judge.

"That is what I find all my friends answer," said Pronoun. "When I ask them who is the most important, the first person in the world to them, they say I am; so my little I stands for the person who is speaking about himself, and I call it the first person."

"Then who is the second person?" asked the Judge.

"You are, my lord," answered Pronoun, bowing politely.

"You said just now that I was the first person," said the Judge.

"Yes, my lord," replied Mr. Pronoun, putting his hand on his breast; "I first, and you second."

"But it ought to be I first, and you second," said the Judge, angrily.

"That is exactly what I said, my lord," repeated Pronoun. "I first, and you second."

The Judge was getting so angry, that Pronoun's friends began to tremble for his head, when suddenly Dr. Syntax rose and said: "The first person is always the person speaking, and the second is the person spoken to. Let everyone in the court say, 'I am the first,' and we shall all be right, and all satisfied."

"I first, we first," they all shouted; "and you, you, you, only the second."

The noise was tremendous, and the Judge, finding himself only one against a number, thought he had better turn the subject; and clapping his hands loudly, to call for silence, he called out:

"But if we are all firsts and seconds, pray where is the third person to go?"

"Oh, the third person," said Pronoun, contemptuously, "is only the one we are talking about. He may not be here, so it cannot matter if we call him only the third person."

"And what is the use of your having pronouns to stand for all these three persons in Dr. Verb's tenses?" asked Serjeant Parsing.

"Dr. Verb and I agree together to alter our words according to the person they represent," said Mr. Pronoun. "When my pronoun is in the first person, Dr. Verb has to make his verb in the first person too. He has to say am when I have put I, and are when I have put we. I is, or we art, would make Dr. Syntax there very angry."

"And he would be rightly angry," replied the Judge. "You know that very well."

"Oh, I am not complaining, my lord," answered Pronoun; "I was merely stating a fact. Of course, I am rather pleased than otherwise that Dr. Verb should have to alter his words to make them agree with mine. My pronouns show the person (that is why, you know, they are called personal pronouns), and then Dr. Verb has to make his words agree with them."

"Very fine!" remarked Serjeant Parsing, "But tell us, Mr. Pronoun, why, when there are only three different persons, you should have six different pronouns in each tense?"

"Three of them are for the singular number, standing for only one—I, thou, he," replied Pronoun; "and the other three are for the plural number, standing for as many as you like—we, you, and they."

"Singular number only one, I, thou, he; plural number more than one, we, you, they;—that is it, is it not, Mr. Pronoun?" asked Serjeant Parsing.

"Yes, sir," replied Pronoun, "that is it exactly; I could not have explained it better myself. And whatever number the pronoun is, that the verb must be also."

"You mean that when the pronoun only stands for one thing or person, then both it and the verb that comes after it are said to be in the singular number: is it not so?" said Serjeant Parsing.

"Quite so, Mr. Parsing," said Pronoun, delighted; "the verb has to agree with the pronoun in number, just as it has to do in person. If my pronoun stands for only one, then it and the verb are called singular number; but if my pronoun stands for more than one thing, then it and the verb are said to be in the plural number. You quite understand me, I see, my dear Mr. Parsing, and I am sure you will take care to see that the verb always agrees with me in number and person."

"Whenever it is proper that it should," replied Serjeant Parsing, gravely.

"But it ought always to agree with my words when we are conjugating a verb together," said Pronoun, eagerly; "that is the very reason why it is useful to conjugate verbs. In every tense you have the first person, second person, and third person in the singular number; and the first person, second person, and third person in the plural number; and then you see how the verb alters each time to agree with the pronoun."

"It does not alter every time," put in Dr. Verb; "in some tenses it hardly alters at all. Just listen,—' I had, thou hadst, he had, we had, you had, they had; I lived, thou livedst, he lived, we lived, you lived, they lived; I sang, thou sangest, he sang, we sang, you sang, they sang; I rang, thou rangest, he rang, we rang, you rang, they rang.'"

"That will do, that will do, Dr. Verb," cried the Judge. "We have had your talking in the past tense, we do not want it in the present tense, and if we should happen to require it in the future tense, we will let you know another time. Instead of talking here, you had much better go to Schoolroom-shire, and help the people there to write out the present, past, and future tenses of the verbs you have mentioned—to have, to live, to sing, to ring; and show them how the words alter, not only to mark the different times, but to agree with Mr. Pronoun's words in number and person."

"I shall be most happy, my lord," said Dr. Verb; "but Mr. Pronoun must come too, to help me."

"With great pleasure, my dear Doctor," said Mr. Pronoun, gaily: "there is no one in Grammar-land I can work with so easily as you, because you agree with me so beautifully."

Then, bowing to the Judge, he and Dr. Verb walked out of the court, arm-in-arm, humming the present tense of the verb to be, and the Schoolroom-shire people, with their help, easily wrote out the four verbs mentioned.

You may find the Judge's request for writing out the verbs in the Lesson Guide.

    Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt Grammar-Land by M.L. Nesbitt    

Lesson 10: Dr. Verb's Three Tenses, Number, and Persons


Over the two weeks:

  • Read or review the lesson each week.
  • Complete the assigned enrichment activities for each week.


In Grammar-land, the judge and his court first discuss conjugated verbs. Conjugation is defined as varying the form of a word to express tense, gender, number, mood, or voice. Next, the court examines (simple) present, past, and future tense. Present tense refers to something happening now, past tense refers to something that happened in the past, and future tense refers to something that will happen in the future. Finally, they talk about first, second, and third person. First person is used to refer to the speaker or writer of the sentence (I, me, my, we, our). Second person refers to the reader or audience of the sentence (you, your). Third person refers to someone other than the speaker/writer or reader/audience (he, she, it, they, them, their, his, hers, theirs).


Activity - Week 1: Conjugate the Verbs

Conjugate the verbs per the Judge's request.

For example - to grab

  • Simple present singular - He grabs
  • Simple present plural - They grab
  • Simple past - grabbed
  • Future - will grab


  • to have
  • to live
  • to sing
  • to ring

Activity - Week 2 Part 1: Play the 'Conjugate That Verb' Game

Conjugate the given verbs from their current tense into their other two tenses.

For example - She runs (simple present tense) would be converted into the following:

  • She ran (simple past tense)
  • She will run (future tense)

Conjugate the following verbs into their other tenses:

  • He played (simple past tense)
  • They will dance (future tense)
  • You write (simple present tense)
  • We sing (simple present tense)
  • She studied (simple past tense)
  • I will swim (future tense)
  • He ate (simple past tense)
  • They will walk (future tense)
  • You talk (simple present tense)
  • We move (simple present tense)
  • She laughed (simple past tense)
  • I will bake (future tense)

Activity - Week 2 Part 2: Identify First, Second, or Third Person

Identify whether each of the sentences is written in first (I, me, my, we, our), second (you, your), or third person (he, she, it, they, them, their, his, hers, theirs).

  • I am going to the woods.
  • You must try harder next time.
  • We are hoping to have a pleasant time.
  • They ran down the hill.
  • She sprinkled the egg with salt.
  • He's won many awards.
  • It flew up to the roof of the house.
  • Our warm coats were packed in the car.
  • We shall be starting in half an hour.
  • Your daughter loves to eat cherry popsicles in the summer.