Three Verb Tense Mistakes Commonly Made By Non-Native Speakers

Common English verb mistakes made by non-native speakers

English is an international language, spoken around the world by people of all ages and walks of life. Despite the wide variety of people interested in learning and perfecting the English language, there is a surprisingly consistent set of mistakes made by second- or third-language speakers. If you find that you frequently misuse English verb tenses, in particular, check this list and make sure you haven’t been falling into any of these three extremely common verb tense pitfalls.

1) The Simple Present Tense

The most common verb tense mistake is probably using the simple present tense (I talk, she runs, etc.) to describe an event occurring in the present moment - something that is currently happening. The simple present is actually used to describe things that happen frequently or repeatedly, as well as things that are generally true at all times.

For example:

“I talk to my mother (often).”

“She runs for exercise (every day).”

“Two plus two equals four.” (A factual statement.)

2) The Present Continuous Tense

In contrast, the tense used to describe events that are currently happening is known as the present continuous tense (I am talking, she is running, etc.). The present continuous uses the auxiliary verb “to be” (conjugated for the subject/s) before the verb, as well as adding the suffix “-ing” to the end of the main verb itself. This describes something that has already started happening, and that is continuing into the present.

For example:

“I am talking to my mother (right now).”

“She is running (right now).”

3) The Past Continuous Tense

Another common mistake in conjugation involves the past continuous tense, which is used to describe things that happened in the past but continue without completion into the present. In this case, “present” refers to the time of the event under discussion, NOT the actual present. The past continuous is conjugated using the past participle of “to be” (conjugated for the subject/s) as well as adding the suffix “-ing” to the main verb itself. This is most often used to discuss an action or event’s interruption, in which case it is followed by the word “when” and then by the interrupting action (which includes a subject and a verb properly conjugated in the simple past tense).

For example:

“I was talking to my mother when my phone’s battery died.”

“She was running when she hurt her ankle.”

Alternatively, this tense can be inverted by starting with the word when, then placing the clause in the past continuous after a comma. This can be used to make the sentence sound more natural, to add variety to your sentence structure, or when the clause in the simple past contains more important information:

“When my phone’s battery died, I was talking to my mother.”

“When she hurt her ankle, she was running.”

The inverted sentence can be made to sound even more natural by omitting the word “when” and replacing the comma with the word “while”:

“My phone’s battery died while I was talking to my mother.”

“She hurt her ankle while she was running.”


These are only a few common examples, and English has many tenses; find a good English grammar resource, of which many are available online and elsewhere, and refer to it any time you are not 100% sure that you have properly used the correct tense.