Learning Tenses: Top tips to get past, present & future right
How do you mix past, present, and future tense without making your reader or listener giddy? What is the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘perfect’ tense? Verb tenses inform us how an action relates to time and can create a lot of confusion if used incorrectly. Read this simple guide for answers to these questions and more:
The following table illustrates the proper use of verb tenses:
|Simple Present||Simple Past||Simple Future|
|I read nearly every day.||Last night, I read an entire novel.||I will read as much as I can this year.|
|Present Continuous||Past Continuous||Future Continuous|
|I am reading Shakespeare at the moment.||I was reading Edgar Allan Poe last night.||I will be reading Nathaniel Hawthorne soon.|
|Present Perfect||Past Perfect||Future Perfect|
|I have read so many books I can’t keep count.||I had read at least 100 books by the time I was twelve.||I will have read at least 500 books by the end of the year.|
|Present Perfect Continuous||Past Perfect Continuous||Future Perfect Continuous|
|I have been reading since I was four years old.||I had been reading for at least a year before my sister learned to read.||I will have been reading for at least two hours before dinner tonight.|
The simple present is a verb tense with two main uses. We use the simple present tense when an action is happening right now, or when it happens regularly. Depending on the person, the simple present tense is formed by using the root form or by adding ‑s or ‑es to the end.
I feel great! Pauline loves pie. I’m sorry to hear that you’re sick.
The other is to talk about habitual actions or occurrences.
Pauline practices the piano every day. Ms. Jackson travels during the summer. Hamsters run all night.
Common Verbs in the Simple Present
|Infinitive||I, You, We, They||He, She, It|
|to ask||ask/do not ask||asks/does not ask|
|to work||work / do not work||works / does not work|
|to call||call / do not call||calls / does not call|
|to use||use / do not use||uses/does not use|
|to have||have/do not have||has/does not have|
The Verb to Be in the Simple Present
|Infinitive||I||You, We, They||He, She, It|
|to be||am / am not||are / are not||is / is not|
Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect tense refers to an action or state that either occurred at an indefinite time in the past (e.g., we have talked before) or began in the past and continued to the present time (e.g., he has grown impatient over the last hour). This tense is formed by have/has + the past participle.
These examples show how the present perfect can describe something that occurred or was the state of things at an unspecified time in the past.
Correct I have walked on this path before.
Correct We have eaten the lasagna here.
The important thing to remember about the present perfect is that you can’t use it when you are being specific about when it happened.
Correct I have put away all the laundry.
Incorrect I have put away all the laundry this morning.
The present continuous verb tense indicates that an action or condition is happening now, frequently, and may continue into the future.
The Present Continuous Formula: to be [am, is, are] + verb [present participle]
Aunt Christine is warming up the car while Scott looks for his new leather coat. They are eating at Scott’s favorite restaurant today, Polly’s Pancake Dinner.
Simple Past Tense
The simple past is a verb tense that is used to talk about things that happened or existed before now. Imagine someone asks what your brother Wolfgang did while he was in town last weekend.
Wolfgang entered a hula hoop contest.
He won the silver medal.
The simple past tense shows that you are talking about something that has already happened. Unlike the past continuous tense, which is used to talk about past events that happened over a period of time, the simple past tense emphasizes that the action is finished.
Wolfgang admired the way the light glinted off his silver medal.
Past Perfect Tense
The past perfect, also called the pluperfect, is a verb tense used to talk about actions that were completed before some point in the past.
We were shocked to discover that someone had graffitied “Tootles was here” on our front door. We were relieved that Tootles had used washable paint.
The past perfect tense is for talking about something that happened before something else. Imagine waking up one morning and stepping outside to grab the newspaper. On your way back in, you notice a mysterious message scrawled across your front door: Tootles was here. When you’re telling this story to your friends later, how would you describe this moment? You might say something like:
I turned back to the house and saw that some someone named Tootles had defaced my front door!
Simple Future Tense
The simple future is a verb tense that’s used to talk about things that haven’t happened yet.
This year, Jen will read War and Peace. It will be hard, but she’s determined to do it.
Using the Future Continuous Tense
The future continuous tense, sometimes also referred to as the future progressive tense, is a verb tense that indicates that something will occur in the future and continue for an expected length of time. It is formed using the construction will + be + the present participle (the root verb + -ing).
The simple future tense is a verb tense that is used when an action is expected to occur in the future and be completed. For example, let’s suppose you have a meeting tomorrow at five o’clock.
At five o’clock, I will be meeting with the management about my raise.
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