TOEFL Verb Tenses for Speaking and Writing

Learn TOEFL verb tenses so that you use the right one on the speaking and writing sections of the exam.

TOEFL verb tenses







TOEFL verb tenses on the independent speaking and writing tasks

Independent speaking and writing tasks ask you to use your personal experience. In addition, you can use the experience of others to support your argument. Therefore, you will sometimes use examples from past experience to help explain your ideas. In these cases, you should use past tense verbs as you can see in the following examples:

  • Last year, my roommate and I traveled to New Your City to celebrate the New Year.
  • Two weeks ago, I was preparing for an exam, and I discovered that studying alone was much faster than if I had been studying in a group.

Keep in mind the following about verb tenses and the TOEFL independent speaking and writing tasks:

  • When you use a signal word such as “last year,” “yesterday,” “last week,” and so on, make sure the sentences that follow that phrase use past tense verbs. Being consistent in your verb tenses shows that you have good control of your language use. In addition, consistency in verb tenses also unifies your sentences more coherently.
  • The past perfect (I had graduated by 2021.) and simple past tenses (I graduated in 2021.) can be confusing. If you are unsure, choose the simple past verb tense instead of the past perfect verb tense. The past perfect verb tense is becoming less common in both the written and spoken language. Eventually, it will disappear from the English language. Therefore, ETS will not grade you lower if you neglect to use the past perfect tense when it is needed.
  • Do not use the present perfect tense to discuss an action that has a clear beginning and end in the past: “I have graduated from pharmacy school in 2019.”

The integrated speaking and writing tasks

The integrated speaking and writing tasks have a different purpose than their independent speaking and writing counterparts. Instead of creating content, you are summarizing the most important points in reading and listening passages. Moreover, you organize the speaking and writing tasks to show how the points in the listening relate to the ideas discussed in the reading passage. In these cases, you should use present tense reporting verbs to summarize this information.

  • The reading passage provides three reasons for the dwindling numbers of the grey wolf, and the speaker in the lecture casts doubt on each of those reasons.
  • The reading defines an academic concept called scope creep, and the speaker in the lecture gives two examples to expand on the concept.

To help you with TOEFL verb tenses and the integrated tasks, take note of the following:

  • Use simple present, not present progressive reporting verbs, to summarize the content from the reading and listening passages.
  • Once you begin using simple present tense reporting verbs in the beginning of your response, you should continue with that verb tense. Do NOT use past tense reporting verbs.
  • Remember to use the third person present singular inflection -s when summarizing content from reading and listening passages: “The passage discusses….”; “the speaker believes.”

Good luck to you! Email me if you want to arrange a free Zoom meeting with me to discuss your TOEFL target score and subtotal scores.


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