Learning 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 -> made, come -> 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|
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
Perfect continuous otherwise known as Progressive perfect (I had been doing, I have been doing, I will have been doing)
An action that was once going on but has completed.
These actions can either be in the past, present or future
- 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
- 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. Had + been + verb + ing.
- Future perfect continuous (I will have been doing). We use the Future perfect continuous to describe something that we will have been doing. Will + have + 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.
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
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|