Tenses in English can be divided into three groups – present, past and future.
Within each group there are several variations of each tense, all of which serve a different purpose and require changes to the verb forms used. Perhaps one of the most common verb forms is the infinitive “to be”: I am, you are, she is (present tense), I was, you were, she was (past tense) and so on. Let’s look at the tenses in more detail.
Present simple (verb + s/es in third person)
This is used to talk about the here-and-now, plus things done on a regular basis or preferences:
I am in the office. I walk to work. I read books. I like chocolate.
Present continuous (am/is/are + present participle)
You can use this tense to talk about the here-and-now as well as plans for the future. The “ing” form (gerund) of the verb is always used after the infinitive “to be”:
I am reading a book – please be quiet. I am travelling to Scotland tomorrow.
Present perfect (has/have + past participle)
This tense is used to talk about experiences in our lives – what we have or haven’t done. Here, the time when we did things is not important:
Have you ever travelled to Scotland? He has never liked chocolate. She has read the book.
Present perfect continuous (has/have + been + present participle)
We use this tense to show that something was started in the past and is still ongoing, that is, it hasn’t finished yet. Note that a time scale (hours, days, weeks etc) is always included:
He has been travelling for five hours. She has been reading the book all day.
Past simple (verb +ed, also irregular verbs)
This shows what we did in the past: He walked to the office. She liked the book.
Past continuous (was/were + present participle)
This tense often “sets the scene” for recounting a story. We use it to describe an action that took place at a specific period of time. It is often joined with “while” or “when”:
I was watching television when he called. I was reading a book while he cooked dinner.
Past perfect (had + past participle)
We use this tense to talk about an action that had been carried out in the past prior to another past action:
I missed the bus because it had left early. I wasn’t hungry – I had eaten at home.
Past perfect continuous (had been + present participle)
This tense describes something that began in the past and continued up until another point of time in the past:
They had been waiting over an hour for the bus when it finally arrived.
Future simple (will + verb) and (am/is/are + going to + verb)
We normally use either “will” or “be going to” in this tense, both of which talk about a task being carried out at a specific time in the future:
I will travel to Scotland tomorrow. I am going to travel to Scotland tomorrow.
Future continuous (will be + present participle) and (am/is/are + going to be + present participle)
We use this tense to show that a longer action in the future will be interrupted by a shorter action, also taking place in the future. This can be an actual interruption or an interruption in time. This tense also has two different forms:
I will be waiting for you when you arrive in Scotland tomorrow. I am going to be travelling all day tomorrow.
Future perfect (will have + past participle) and (am/is/are + going to have + past participle)
This tense states the idea that something will happen before another action in the future. It can also show that something will occur before a certain time in the future. Once again, there are two forms:
You will have travelled for many hours by the time I meet you in Scotland. I am going to have waited for hours by the time your plane lands.
Future perfect continuous (will have been + present participle) and (am/is/are + going to have been + present participle)
This tense is used to show that something will continue up until a specific event or time in the future. "For ten minutes," "for three weeks," and "for two years" are all durations in time which can be used with this tense:
I will have been working on this project for over a week by the time the director arrives tomorrow. I am going to have been working on this project for nearly three hours by the time the meeting begins.
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