Tense

There are only three basic tenses in the English language: the past, the present and the future:

1- The past tense is used for anything that happened before this moment in time.

2- The present tense is used for anything that happens right now or for general statements.

3- The future tense is used for anything that will happen at some point later on.

Each ‘basic tense’ has four other tenses or sub-tenses, Simple, Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous.

1- Present Simple – I do

2- Present Continuous- I am doing

3- Present Perfect- I have done

4- Present Perfect Continuous- I have been doing

5- Past Simple- I did

6- Past Continuous- I was doing

7- Past Perfect- I had done

8- Past Perfect Continuous- I had been doing

9- Future Simple- I will do

10- Future Continuous- I will be doing

11- Future Perfect- I will have done

12- Future Perfect Continuous- I will have been doing

First you are taught the ‘simple’ tenses as these are generally used first when learning a language. ‘I’m English’, ‘My name is John’ and so on. There are three main ‘simple tenses’, Present Simple, Past Simple and Future Simple.

1- Present Simple is used for-

The simple present tense is mostly used for three things:

1- To describe things that is permanent or unchanging.

2- To describe how often something happens.

3- To talk about scheduled events.

To use this tense, add an -s to the end of the verb when ‘he’ or ‘she’ is doing the action (he speaks, she eats etc). Use the unchanged verb when anyone else is doing it (we speak, I eat).

Sentences – Subject + Main Verb + Object or Subject + Base form of Verb + Object

Example –  (i). He loves to play basketball.

(ii). He goes to school.

(iii). Does he go to school?

2- Past Simple is used for-

1- To describe an action that has already happened or is finished.

2- To describe an action that is no longer true.

The past simple is used in a very similar way to the present simple. Regular verbs are used with –

Sentences – Subject + Main Verb + Object or Subject + Past Simple Form (or 2nd Form of Verb) + Object

Example – (i). I saw a movie yesterday.

(ii). I didn’t see a play yesterday.

(iii). Last year, I traveled to Japan.

3- Future Simple is used for-

1- To talk about future plans.

2- To talk about what you will do sometime in the future.

To use this tense we simply add ‘will’ or ‘be going to’ (‘be’ is the ‘verb to be’). Do you know when and which one to use correctly, to be honest you shouldn’t worry about that too much as they basically mean the same with only a slight difference, ‘I will call you later.’ means the same as ‘I’m going to call you later’.

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object or Subject + Will + Base or 1st form of Verb + Object

Example – (i). She’ll write the e-mail after lunch.

(ii) Don’t lift that. You’ll hurt yourself.

(iii). I’ll see you tomorrow.

4- Present Continuous is used for

Talking about something ongoing that’s happening now or in the near future. Example: ‘You are reading this article now and you are meeting a friend later.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb or Subject + (is/am/are) + Present Participle Verb (Verb + ing)

Example – (i). I am writing articles on different topics.

(ii). He is reading various kinds of books.

(iii). They are playing football now.

5- Past Continuous is used –

To describe a continuous action that got interrupted in the past. Example: ‘I was talking on the phone when you rang the doorbell.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object or Subject + (Was/Were) + Present Participle Verb (Verb + ing) + An Object

Example – (i). The sun was shining every day that summer.

(ii). As I spoke, the children were laughing at my cleverness.

(iii). The audience was applauding until he fell off the stage.

6- Future Continuous is used-

1- To talk about things that might be interrupted in the future.

2- To say what will be happening at a specific time in the future.

You simply add –ing onto the verb after ‘will’ or ‘be going to’. Examples: ‘I will be waiting for you at the train station.’ or ‘I will be having dinner at six.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object or Subject + Will Be + Present Participle Verb (1st form of Verb + ing) + Object

Example – (i). Michael will be running a marathon this Saturday.

(ii). Eric will be competing against Michael in the race.

(iii). I will be being stressed tomorrow during my science test.

Perfect tenses are: Present Perfect, Past Perfect and Future Perfect

Perfect tenses are typically used to talk about actions that are completed in the present or a particular point in the past or future. They are formed with the relevant tense of the auxiliary verb to have and the past participle of the main verb.

7- Present Perfect is used for-

1- An action or situation that started in the past and continues in the present. ‘I have lived in New Zealand since 2008.’ (means I still live here)

2- An action performed during a period that has not yet finished. ‘He has been to the cinema twice this week.’ (means this week is not over yet)

3- A repeated action in an unspecified period between the past and now. ‘I have visited New York several times.’

4- An action that was completed in the very recent past, expressed by using ‘just’. ‘I have just finished my duty.’

5- An action when the time is not important. ‘I have eaten all the burger.’

We form this tense with the correct form of ‘to have’ plus the past participle of the verb, see above examples in 1-4.

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object or Subject + (Have/Has) + Present Participle Verb (3rd form of Verb) + Object

Example – (i). Has lived: She has lived here all her life.

(ii). Have written: They have written three letters already.

(iii). Have worked: I have worked here since I graduated school.

8- Past Perfect is used for-

1- An action that was completed or finished before another was completed in the past.

We use this tense with the past form of the verb ‘to have’ had, plus the past participle of the verb. Examples: ‘I had walked five kilometres before lunch.’ or ‘I had run a marathon before entering the London Marathon.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object or Subject + Had + Past Participle Verb (3rd form of Verb) + Object

Example – (i). I had not eaten at that restaurant before today.

(ii). Samantha hadn’t had time to explain her side of the story.

(iii). My friends hadn’t ever gone to France.

9- Future Perfect is used for-

To talk about a completed action sometime in the future.

This is formed with the simple future of the verb ‘to have’ (will have) + the past participle of the main verb. Examples: ‘You will have finished this report by this time next week.’ Or ‘Will you have finished by 3pm?’ or ‘Won’t you be late at 6.15?’

Sentences – Subject Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object or Subject + Will Have + Past Participle Verb (3rd form of Verb) + Object

Example – (i). She will have cooked dinner.

(ii). He will have arrived.

(iii). We will have met Julie.

10- Present Perfect Continuous is used for-

To talk about something that started in the past and is continuing at the present time. The present perfect continuous is formed using has/have been + the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending): Example ‘I have been reading Under the Yoke now for a month.’ or ‘I haven’t been feeling well lately.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Time-Reference or Subject + Have Been/ Has Been + Present Participle (Verb + ing) + Time-Reference

Example – (i). He has been reading the book for two hours.

(ii). They have been playing football for an hour.

(iii). She has been finding the dress since morning.

11- Past Perfect Continuous is used for-

To talk about a continuous action that was completed at some point in the past. This tense is formed with the modal ‘had’ plus ‘been’ plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending): Example ‘I had been working in the garden all morning.’ or ‘I have been writing this report all afternoon.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object + Time-Reference or Subject + Had Been + Present Participle (Base form of Verb + ing) + Object + Time-Reference

Example – (i). He had been drinking milk out the carton when Mom walked into the kitchen.

(ii). I had been working at the company for five years when I got the promotion.

(iii). Martha had been walking three miles a day before she broke her leg.

12- Future Perfect Continuous is used for-

To talk about actions that will continue up until a point in the future. The future perfect continuous is formed using will + have + been + the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending): Example: ‘In an hours’ time I will have been working over thirty minutes.’ or ‘When I turn fifty, I will have been driving for thirty-three years.’

Sentences – Subject + Auxiliary Verb + Main Verb + Object + Time-Reference or Subject + Will have Been + Present Participle (1st form of Verb + ing) + Object + Time-Reference

Example – (i). At five o’clock, I will have been waiting for thirty minutes.

(ii). When I turn thirty, I will have been playing piano for twenty-one years.

(iii). On Thursday, I will have been knowing you for a week.

There are several methods to remember these 12 tenses easily, but to me, the best way is to think of a pyramid, the base has four sides; each side is a sub-tense, Simple, Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous. Then each side of the pyramid has three edges, each edge being the basic tenses.

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