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Today, we as teachers notice that thinking of examples, whether it be in class or for the exam, can be a challenge for almost every student. This presents us with an opportunity to go over the concept of giving examples in general, both in class and in exams. This leads us to talking about different verb tenses, and when we can use them in our examples.

The average student’s most common example will involve using the present simple. For example, imagine the teacher asks you for an example of ‘give back.’ Many examples will look something like this:

~I give back the phone to my friend.

~He gives my pen back to me.

There are multiple problems in the first example. To start, this is not the natural word order. We must separate the two words of the phrase ‘give back,’ and say something like ‘I give my friend her phone back.’ But it still isn’t completely correct. We must remember that we use the present simple for an action we do generally. So let’s ask ourselves the question: Is giving the phone back to my friend an action I do generally?

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The answer, of course, is no. The logic of the sentence tells us that we’re talking about a one-time thing, and this runs contrary to the definition of the present simple. In this case, we could use different tenses, but the past simple makes the most sense according to the logic of the sentence. We are left with: ‘I gave my friend her phone back.”

The same goes for the second example sentence. The change in verb tense that makes the most sense leaves us with an example of the past simple: ‘He gave my pen back to me.

Of course, for both of the above examples, we could use the present continuous.

~I’m giving my friend her phone back.

~He’s giving my pen back to me.

Coming up with example sentences can be difficult, but we just have to think of the logic of the sentence. Are we talking about something in general, or a generally performed action? If so, then it’s the present simple we want. If not, then we need to use something else. If you want to use the present simple, make sure the sentence communicates a ‘general, repeated action’ idea. To accomplish this, we can use phrases like ‘every day,’ ‘each morning,’ ‘when I finish work,’ etc.

Use the exercise to practice what you’ve learned!


A. Edstrom

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