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Tenses in English Grammar

Introduction

grammarLearning the tenses in English grammar is a real challenge for ESL (English as a second language) and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students.  There are 16 tenses in English.  Tenses change the verb, for example, by adding ‘ed,’ or ‘ing’ on to the end of the verb.  The rules for verb conjugation are not consistent, which means many verbs follow the ‘-ed”‘ rule (e.g., visit -> visited; open -> opened), while others follow no rules (e.g., make -> madecome -> came, etc.).

The infinitive form of a verb is the most basic (first) form of the verb, for example, ‘to run’.  The infinitive definition of a verb will be the first one listed in a dictionary.

Present Tense Past Tense Past Participle
Break Broke Broken
Bring Brought Brought
Build Built Built
Burn Burnt Burnt

Present Continuous (I am doing)

This tense is used to describe an action that is on at or around the moment of speaking. An example is, “Michelle is driving to work now.” This sentence means  Michelle is driving at the time of speaking.

Exercise: Conjugate the verb work and add to the sentence

‘You’re  …………..  hard today.’

Present Simple (I do)

We use the present simple to talk about things in general.  We use it to say that something happens all the time or repeatedly, or that something is generally right.

I/we/you/they drive/work/do etc.

he/she/it drives/works/does etc.

Example: Doctors take care of their patients in hospitals.

Remember: I work, but she works.  I teach, but she teaches.

Exercise: Conjugate the verb speak and add to the sentence

Bob ____  English very well

Present Continuous (I am doing)

We use the continuous for things happening at or around the time of speaking.  The action is not complete

Example:  The soup is boiling.

Present continuous and present simple (I am doing, and I do)

We use the simple for things in general or things that happen repeatedly

Example: Soup boils at 100 degrees Celcius.

Present Continuous and present simple (I am doing, and I do)

We use continuous forms for actions and happenings that have started by not finished

Example: I’m hungry, and I want something to eat.

Past Simple (I did)

Things that happened in the past

Example:  Mozart was a musician.  He died in 1791.  He started composing at the age of five.

In the example  was/died/started  are all past simple

Past Continuous  (I was doing)

Things that happened in the past and ended in the past.

Example:  Last week, Andrew and Simon were playing tennis.

Was/were -ing is the past continuous.

Present perfect (I have done)

The present perfect simple: have/has + past particulate

Example: Bill is looking for his key.  He has lost them.  Have/has lost is the present perfect simple

Present perfect continuous (I have been doing)

We use the present perfect continuous for an activity that has recently stopped.

Example: It has been raining.  Have/has + been + verb + ing

Present perfect continuous and simple (I have been doing, and I have done)

Example: Cathy’s clothes are covered in oil.  She has been fixing her car.

Past perfect (I have done)

When talking about things that happened in the past.  The past perfect simple is had + past participle (gone/seen/finished etc.)

Example: Andrew went to the party last weekend.

Past perfect continuous (I have been doing)

You can say that something had been happening for a while and then something else happened.  The action finished in the past and related to another past event.

Example: I was exhausted when I got home.  I’d been working hard all day.

Present continuous (I am doing – with a future meaning)

Use the present continuous for action just before you begin to do it.

Example: He is going to the barber on Tuesday.

Simple future (will and be going to)

Use the simple future to state something is going to happen in the future

Example:   Jill will finish his work tomorrow

Future continuous (starts in the future and continues in the future)

Example: I will begin studying at five.

Future Perfect (an activity that is completed in the future)

Example:  I will have graduated in July

16 Tenses in English

1. Present Simple Tense Subject + Verb + es/s He brushes his teeth.
2. Present Continuous Tense Subject + is/am/are + Verb + ing I am brushing my teeth.
3. Present Perfect Tense Subject + has/have + Verb He has made his bed
4. Present Perfect Continuous Tense Subject + has/have + been + Verb(+ing) + since/for He had been living there for two years
5. Past Simple Tense Subject + has/have + Verb He has made his bed
6. Past Continuous Tense Subject + was/were + Verb He was watching television
7. Past Perfect Tense Subject + had + Verb I had finished washing the clothes
8. Past Perfect Continuous Tense Subject + had + been + Verb(ing) He had been watching television
9. Simple Future Tense Subject + will/shall + Verb I shall watch television
10. Future Continuous Tense Subject + will/shall + be + Verb(ing) He was watching television
11. Future Perfect Tense Subject + will have + Verb He will have played tennis
12. Future Perfect Continuous Tense Subject + will have + been + Verb(ing) He will have been watching television for 30 minutes
13. Past Future Tense Subject + would + Verb I would leave in one hour
14. Past Future Continuous Tense Subject + should/would + be + Verb(ing) I would be leaving in one hour
15. Past Future Perfect Tense Subject + should/would + have + Verb She said that she would be leaving in one hour
16. Past Future Perfect Continuous Tense Subject + should/would + have + been + Verb She said that she would have been leaving in one hour

Test your knowledge on the English Language Tenses

Welcome to the Tenses in English Grammar quiz

Select the sentence in the Past Simple tense
Select the sentence written in Present Perfect tense
Select a sentence in the Simple Future tense
Select a sentence in the Present Progressive tense
Present simple

 

Summary

Learning tense in English grammar will be challenging for ESL students.  Learning the 16 tenses will require practice and patience. The fastest way to learn tenses is by diligent practice, working through exercises and examples. The book English Grammar in use by Raymond Murphy would be my personal choice for learning tenses in English grammar.  Murphy’s book is an exercise book, where the student can work through hundreds of examples and exercises.  Betty Azar’s book contains many more examples and exercises and would be my second choice.  The blue book of grammar is a handy reference guide with exercises and examples, good to have in your back pocket for when you get stuck and quickly need a grammar reference.

 

 

English Grammar in Use by Raymond Murphy
The blue book of Grammar by Jane Straus
Understanding and Using English Grammar by Betty Azar understandingEnglishGrammar

Aaron Skudder

7 Comments

  1. Wow! Thanks for this post, never seen any of its kind. I am from Nigeria and in my years of schooling I have only ever heard of four types of tenses amazing there are up to 16, this is something I need to show my friends. Thanks so much again teacher, I am now able to improve on my use of English perfect.

    • Thanks for your comments Rahye.  I wish you the best in learning English and success with your online business.

      regards

      Aaron

  2. Grasping a foreign language and be fluent in writing correctly takes practice, patience, and effort. Writing with wrong grammar can make a completely different meaning and it fails the purpose.

    I love the sixteen tenses with the examples that makes the learning so easy. The book really is an excellent Grammar learning book. I am sure this site will make the students’ life easier.

    • Thanks for your comments.  I hope that my content is useful to you.

      kind regards

      Aaron

  3. Hi Aaron! I’m glad I found your site. I’m an engineer in my early 30’s and I never imagined I would be writing so much in English. I jumped into affiliate marketing and now have a couple of sites running. But because I never ever had to write in English (actually never having studied English apart from high-school and a subject at University) I’ve been struggling a bit with it. I have arrived to the point were I know that studying English is a necessity if I want to seriously continue building content for my sites. So I’m thankful I started learning tense in English grammar with your post. I know it will require practice and patience. And down the road I know the English Grammar book by Raymond Murphy will be a good investment.

    • Hi Henry

      You should read the articles ‘clear and concise writing’, ‘common grammatical mistakes in writing’ and read the book ‘On writing well by William Zinnser’.  Those resources would be the most useful to you.

  4. My first language is german and I was terrible in English at school. Only when I moved to Australia I was forced to learn the language and I love it. It is such a nice sounding language. I was also not aware of 16 different tenses and most of the time I just speak by ear. I am sure I still make plenty of mistakes but this really helps. Thank you, kindly.

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