English Verb Tenses
A most complex English grammar phenomenon in easy explanations. Let’s make verb tenses handy.
Tense is a verb form pattern showing an action’s time, how it correlates to speaking moment and other actions/states. English tenses are divided by context into 3 (present, past, future) and by aspect into 4 (simple, continuous, perfect, perfect continuous). So there’re at least 12 tenses in English (more than in many other languages) whose active voice we’re dealing with below.
They mean state, repetition, sequence, often coming with frequency adverbs (never, seldom, sometimes, often, as a rule / usually/normally/typically/commonly, always) and in conditional clauses.
The Present Simple for neutral actions/states.
I often hear English words on TV.
The Past Simple for then actions/states.
It happened when I was 10.
The Future Simple for neutral actions/states ahead.
After the 2nd right turn you’ll see your destination.
They mean process, often coming with time adverbs ((right) now / at the moment / nowadays) and conjunctions (as, while).
The Present Continuous for ongoing actions/states.
What are you talking about?
The Past Continuous for then going actions/states.
The sun was shining.
The Future Continuous for actions/states to be going ahead.
She’ll be asking for more and more…
They mean result, often coming with adverbs like just, yet, already and in time clauses (when, after, before, no sooner).
The Present Perfect for fresh actions/states.
Look what you’ve done!
The Past Perfect for then completed actions/states.
He thought the party had started.
The Future Perfect for actions/states to be completed ahead.
Will you have done the work by lunch?
Perfect Continuous/Progressive Tenses
They mean resulting process, often coming with adverbs like lately / of late / recently and time prepositions by, since, for, during.
The Present Perfect Continuous for ongoing fresh actions/states.
We’ve been waiting here for a whole hour.
The Past Perfect Continuous for then completed long actions/states.
I’d been watching him from my car before he disappeared.
The Future Perfect Continuous for long actions/states to be completed ahead.
By 2020 the family will have been living there for 50 years.
Some also add here past future verb tenses. Others refer to them as cases of the Conjunctive mood.
Past Future Tenses
They mean actions/states ahead from then, often coming in reported speech clauses.
The Past Future Simple for neutral actions/states ahead from then.
We knew we would manage somehow.
The Past Future Continuous for states/actions to be going ahead from then.
They hoped they’d be living together.
The Past Future Perfect for actions/states to be completed ahead from then.
He promised the project would have been finished by the next day.
The Past Future Perfect Continuous for long actions/states to be completed ahead from then.
I hoped the movie wouldn’t have been going on long when I came.
Present and continuous tenses are basic verb tenses as used most often. The Past Perfect, Past Perfect Continuous, Future Perfect, Future Perfect Continuous and past future tenses are dependant as used only with time or other action references.
The default tense is the Present Simple. In narrative monologues past tenses are most common, in descriptive dialogues these are present and future tenses.