It’s that time of the year again where we put lights in the windows and try to bring good cheer, so I’ve got a new Christmas-themed exercise for you. In the style of the popular Christmas Mess exercise I shared before, the following is a short Christmas story that tests different verb usages.

Complete the text by choosing the correct tense or verb form for the verbs in brackets to complete the text. Some numbers could have multiple options, and some require negatives. The answers are given below.

The Gift of Time – Verbs Exercise

Every Christmas, Barry 1. _________ (go) to the homeless shelter and 2. _________ (spend) an evening 3. _________ (serve) soup. He worked in an office most of the time, 4. _________ (build) databases, and looked forward to the holiday when he could use his free time to help others. His motto was, “Good things 5. _________ (happen) to good people.”

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Barry’s boss, Wilson, came to say, “The system 6. _________ (run) slowly, I need you to stay late and fix it.”

Barry 7. _________ (want) to go to the homeless shelter that evening. He said, “I 8. _________ (can) stay late. The server 9. _________ (be) fine for a few days.”

Wilson 10. _________ (disagree). He said, “If the system’s not fixed now, you 11. _________ (have) a job after Christmas.”

How could he be so cruel?

“You 12. _________ (understand),” Barry said. “I go to the homeless shelter every Christmas. They 13. _________ (count) on me.”

“Bah, humbug!” Wilson 14. _________ (shout). He 15. _________ (become) incredibly upset, and his face 16. _________ (get) red. “I 17. _________ (wait) for this server to be fixed since last week. You 18. _________ (leave) early, that’s final.”

“Have a heart!” Barry 19. _________ (plead). “It’s Christmas!”

“Christmas is a miserable time,” his boss replied. “Every year it is the same. Shops 20. _________ (sell) nonsense, horrible music 21. _________ (play) on the radio, and me, alone, 22. _________ (wait) to go back to work!”

“Alone?” Barry said with surprise. “Aren’t your family 23. _________ (be) there?”

“No! My wife 24. _________ (take) the children to Devon this morning, to see her parents. Who has time for Devon? There’s work to be done!”

“Oh no,” Barry shook his head. “Our work 25. _________ (continue) after Christmas. Nothing is more important than spending time with the ones you love. Sir, I 26. _________ (suggest) you make time to go to Devon to be with your family.”

Wilson was not impressed. “I 27. _________ (buy) my wife a new car, and the children a hundred toys, isn’t that enough?”

“But you 28. _________ (not / enjoy) the holiday with them!” Barry cried in dismay. “They are your family. They want one thing more than any other: to spend time with you. Sometimes time is the best gift you can give.”

It was clear that Wilson’s heart 29. _________ (already / soften). Barry’s words made him emotional. The boss nodded and said, “I 30. _________ (do) it. I 31. _________ (go) to them! And you, go to your homeless people!”

Barry did, 32. _________ (complete) his Christmas tradition of helping others at the homeless shelter. He was proud that he 33. _________ (also / help) Wilson enjoy the holiday.


  • 1. went
  • 2. spent
  • 3. serving
  • 4. building
  • 5. happen
  • 6. is running
  • 7. had wanted (to show sequence, though simple ‘wanted’ can also work)
  • 8. cannot / can’t
  • 9. will be fine
  • 10. disagreed
  • 11. will not have / won’t have (aren’t going to have may also work)
  • 12. don’t understand
  • 13. are counting
  • 14. shouted
  • 15. was becoming (for the process, though past simple could also work)
  • 16. was getting (as above)
  • 17. have been waiting
  • 18. are not leaving / will not leave / are not going to leave
  • 19. pleaded
  • 20. selling (20-22 show frustrating repetitive actions)
  • 21. playing
  • 22. waiting
  • 23. going to be
  • 24. took / has taken
  • 25. will continue
  • 26. suggest
  • 27. bought / have bought
  • 28. are not enjoying / will not enjoy / are not going to enjoy
  • 29. had already softened
  • 30. will do
  • 31. will go
  • 32. completing
  • 33. had also helped

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