The past tense can be tricky to wrap your head around. Luckily, this article (and a range of others) is here to help you understand it. We’ll look at the past tense of “speak” today and try to figure out how the two different past tense forms work with it.
Spoke or Spoken: Which Is Correct?
“Spoke” is the simple past tense and is correct when we want to talk about someone “speaking” in the past. “Spoken” is the past participle form of “speak,” which needs an auxiliary verb like “have” alongside it in a sentence before it is grammatically correct.
We can’t use the past participle on its own. Without an auxiliary verb, it makes no sense. These examples will show you what we mean about each verb form:
- We spoke on the phone the other day.
- You have spoken your truth today, and I appreciate you letting me hear it.
You might benefit from referring to this information to help you remember which form works where:
When Is “Spoke” Correct?
The simple past tense is easy to use, so we’ll start by explaining it.
“Spoke” is correct when used with a pronoun. Any pronoun works, and it means that someone or something was “speaking” in the past.
There is nothing more that can be done to affect the outcome of the “speaking” event.
- I spoke
- She spoke
- We spoke
- He spoke
The verb form “spoke” stays the same no matter which pronoun you use. It’s a good way to learn about the verb since it remains uniform.
Example Sentences Using “Spoke”
Naturally, the simple past tense is just that; it’s “simple.” We can show you how you might use it in the following examples:
- We spoke on the phone last night.
- You spoke to my father about my behavior!
- We spoke about this already, and I hope you can forgive me.
- She spoke a lot of nonsense when I was there!
- You spoke too much, and I decided to leave.
- I spoke with you about this before, so why haven’t any changes been made?
“Spoke” is the simple past tense, which works alongside a pronoun. We use it to talk about “speaking” in the past, with no possible way to do anything more about the event in the present.
When Is “Spoken” Correct?
“Spoken” is the more complex of the two. The past participle of any verb often comes with extra rules, and it doesn’t work on its own in any sentence structure.
“Spoken” is correct because it’s the past participle, meaning we need an auxiliary verb like “have” to turn it into the perfect tense. There are three possible perfect tenses we can use when writing with the past participle (past, present, and future).
The verb form of “spoken” never changes, no matter what perfect tense you write in. Instead, you should change the verb form of the auxiliary verb to indicate which perfect tense is being used.
- Past perfect: Had spoken
- Present perfect: Have spoken
- Future perfect: Will have spoken
As you can see, “have” changes tense based on the perfect tense case we use.
The past perfect uses “had” because it’s the past tense of “have.” It means that an event happened in the past and might still impact something in the present.
The present perfect uses “have” because it’s the present tense verb form. It means that someone started “speaking” previously and continues to do so in the present.
The future perfect uses “will” alongside “have” to show that the thing hasn’t happened yet. It creates hypothetical future scenarios based on the actions someone carries out in the present.
Example sentences using “Spoken”
We’ll split the examples into three sections so you can understand what each of the perfect tenses does to the verb format.
- She had spoken to you about this already, but apparently, she didn’t get through to you.
- We had spoken before about the issues, and I’m disappointed to learn you did nothing to correct them.
“Had spoken” is the past perfect tense. It means that someone has “spoken” in the past about an issue, but the issue still has some kind of relevance or impact on a present event that’s taking place.
- They have spoken with their lawyers and refuse to make any more comments on the disaster.
- I have spoken to you about this, and I really hope you fix it soon!
“Have spoken” is the present perfect tense. It means that someone has started “speaking” in the past and continues to do so or is just finishing doing so in the present. They could have started ages ago, or they could have started only a few seconds ago (context-dependent).
- If you’re not careful about what you say next, I will have spoken to your teacher by the end of the day.
- We will have spoken to your parents later tomorrow due to the parents’ evening we are hosting.
“Will have spoken” is the future perfect tense. It means that a future event will be made possible based on what the actions of someone in the present are. Usually, an “if” clause is present in this tense to indicate how the hypothetical event might take place.
“Have Spoke” Vs. “Have Spoken”
“Have spoken” is correct because the past participle (“spoken”) requires an auxiliary verb like “have,” which turns it into the present perfect tense. “Have spoke” is never correct because “spoke” requires no auxiliary verbs (it is only the simple past tense).
- Correct: We have spoken about this already, and my answer is no.
- Incorrect: They have spoke for a long time. I hope everything is okay in there.
“Spoke” and “spoken” are the two past tense forms of “to speak.” We use “spoke” as the simple past tense, which doesn’t have complicated rules. “Spoken” is the past participle, and we need to remember the auxiliary verb forms and rules when using it in the perfect tense.
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Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.