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General Info About Verb Tenses

Verb Tenses and Their Use

Using verb tenses in English can cause some problems for those who study the language because it is commonly believed that the system is rather complicated. In fact, there is nothing too difficult. In English, as in most languages, there are three main tenses to locate the events in time - present, past, and future. However, there is also a category of aspect, and it relates more to the use of certain grammar forms.

The four aspects are: simple (indefinite), continuous (progressive), perfect (completed), and perfect continuous as a combination of the two ideas - progress and result of an action.

While the simple aspect implies using the notion verb in different forms (read, stand, help, look), the perfect aspect requires the use of the verb ‘have’ as an auxiliary, the continuous aspect needs the verb ‘be’ as an auxiliary, and perfect continuous always has the combination of ‘have been’ and the -ing form of a notion verb.

Present Simple Continuous Perfect Perfect Continuous
Past Subject + Verb in Past tense Subject + was/were (be) + Verb in present participle Subject + had + Verb in past participle Subject + had + been + Verb in present participle
I studied yesterday. I was studying at 2 o’clock. I had studied by 8 o’clock. I had been studying before he came.
Present Subject + Verb (s/es/ies) Subject + is/are (be) + Verb in present participle Subject + have/has + Verb in past participle Subject + have/has + been + Verb in present participle
I study hard everyday. I am studying right now. I have studied there for six years. I have been studying since Monday.
Future Subject + will+ Verb Subject + will + be + Verb in present participle Subject + will + have + Verb in past participle Subject + will + have + been + Verb in present participle
I will study tomorrow. I will be studying this time tomorrow. I will have studied a whole manual by 8 o’clock tomorrow. I will have been studying for 2 weeks by Friday.

Simple Tense Forms

The main idea behind all the simple tense forms is to speak about the facts or regular actions in the past, present, and future.

Present Simple

We use Present Simple to speak about the facts, common or habitual actions, and well-known truths. All of them are not related to the exact moment of speaking, definite time, or result.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ I always download videos from this website.
  • ✔️ Mira sends a lot of emails every day.

Time markers:

  • always;
  • usually;
  • often, frequently;
  • every day / week / month / year, etc.

Past Simple

We use Past Simple to speak about events that took place and finished in the past, historical events, and facts about the past.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ I made this decision myself yesterday.
  • ✔️ Herbert helped his sister with her Maths two days ago.
  • ✔️ WWI broke out in 1914.

Time markers:

  • yesterday;
  • last week / month / year / weekend;
  • a day / week / month / year ago / three days ago; and others.

Future Simple

We use Future Simple for different purposes to express immediate actions, promises, solutions, predictions, and deductions for the future. Though, the most common use is to speak about future facts and events.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ I will tell my friends about you tomorrow.
  • ✔️ Wade will go to the rock concert next week.

Time markers:

  • soon;
  • tomorrow;
  • next week / month / year;
  • the day after tomorrow, etc.

Continuous Tense Forms

We use these tense forms to say that some action is in progress at the definite time of present, past, or future.

Present Continuous

We use Present Continuous to say that the action is going on at the moment of speaking or around it.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ I am looking out the window now.
  • ✔️ She is driving a car at the moment.
  • ✔️ They are working on a big project these days.

Time markers:

  • now;
  • at this / the moment;
  • still;
  • nowadays;
  • currently; and others.

Past Continuous

We use Past Continuous to say that the action was in progress at a certain moment of the past.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ We were cleaning our yard at 3 p.m. yesterday.
  • ✔️ She was baking a cake when Eli came.

Time markers:

  • at that time;
  • all night / day (long);
  • the whole night / day;
  • while;
  • when;
  • from 6 to / till 8 o’clock, etc.

Future Continuous

We need Future Continuous to say that some action will be going on at a certain moment or during some period in the future.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ We will be speaking to our teacher at this time tomorrow.
  • ✔️ He will be flying to Bangkok the whole afternoon next Monday.

Time markers:

  • at 9 o’clock / a.m. / p.m.;
  • at this time (tomorrow);
  • from six till eight;
  • at this / that moment;
  • from Sunday to / till Wednesday; and many others.

Perfect Tense Forms

We need these tense forms to say that the action is completed, and we have its result (in the past, present, or future).

Present Perfect

We use Present Perfect when we want to say that the action that started in the past is connected with the present moment by its results or consequences.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ We have finished this project already.
  • ✔️ He has just read this article.

Time markers:

  • ever;
  • never;
  • already;
  • yet;
  • just; and many others.

Past Perfect

We use Past Perfect to say that the action which had started in the past was finished by some moment or another action in the past with some result.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ I had eaten a lot by the time they brought a dessert.
  • ✔️ Monique had met all her relatives by Friday last week.

Time markers:

  • before;
  • never before;
  • no sooner… than / hardly… when;
  • by evening / morning / Monday / the previous week / that day; and so on.

Future Perfect

We use Future perfect to say that we know that results the future action will show or by what time it will finish.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ We will have learned this rule by the next lesson.
  • ✔️ Fred will have painted the wall blue before you come.

Time markers:

  • before (sb does);
  • by then;
  • by the time;
  • till / until;
  • by tomorrow / next Friday / next week / month /year;
  • by / before 7 o’clock.

Perfect Continuous Tense Forms

The specific characteristic of these tense forms is their reference to the duration of an action and its result by a certain moment in the past, present, or future.

Present Perfect Continuous

We use this structure to speak about an event that started in the past and lasted till the present. It may have finished already with the obvious result or continue further.
e.g.,

  • ✔️ We have been dancing all this time by now. We are tired.
  • ✔️ Arthur has been watching videos since morning.

Time markers:

  • for;
  • since;
  • by now;
  • all day (long) / the whole day; and some others.

Past Perfect Continuous

We need this tense form to say that some action had started in the past, was lasting for a certain period, and finished by some moment in the past or continued further:
e.g.,

  • ✔️ We had been waiting for Nick for almost an hour before he came at last.
  • ✔️ Terry had been learning the poem by heart since morning by the time he could recite it fluently.

Time markers:

  • before (sb did it);
  • by the time (when);
  • by then;
  • for an hour / 3 hours;
  • all day (long) / the whole day; and many others.

Future Perfect Continuous

When we want to emphasize the expected duration of some action in the future by a certain time point with a result or without it, we use Future Perfect Continuous:
e.g.,

  • ✔️ They will have been working for this company for 8 years before a new boss fires them.
  • ✔️ Perry will have been driving his car since morning by 9 p.m. tonight.

Time markers:

  • before (sb does);
  • till / until;
  • all day (long);
  • by next Monday / week / month / year; and so on.

Peculiarities and Differences in Use

Some tense forms can be equally used in the same meaning, while many others are often confused. We will highlight some differences in use.

Present Simple vs. Present Continuous

When the action is regular or habitual, and we do it every day, we Use present Simple.
e.g.,

✔️ We learn new words every day.

When the action is taking place at the present moment, we use Present Continuous.

✔️ We are learning new words now.

We can also use Present Simple or Present Continuous for future actions. When such actions are part of a timetable, we use Present Simple, and when they are our definite future plans, we use Present Continuous:

  • ✔️ The train leaves at 9 a.m.
  • ✔️ We are leaving for Rome at 9 a.m.
  • The train is leaving at 9 a.m.
  • We leave for Rome at 9 a.m.

Present Perfect vs. Past Simple

When we speak about the finished action or fact in the past, we use Past Simple:
e.g.,

✔️ I wrote a poem yesterday.

When we want to say that the action in the past is finished and we have a result now, we use Present Perfect:
e.g.,

✔️ I have written a poem already.

We cannot use Past Simple with ‘already’, ‘yet’, or ‘just’. As well, we never use Present Perfect with ‘yesterday’, ‘last yea’, ‘two days ago’, or ‘when’:

  • ✔️ I saw my friend yesterday.
  • ✔️ I have just seen my friend.
  • I saw my friend already.
  • I have seen my friend two days ago.

Past Simple vs. Past Continuous

Past Simple is used for a completed action in the past:
e.g.,

✔️ The girls walked in the park yesterday.

Past Continuous is used for prolonged actions at a certain period in the past:
e.g.,

✔️ The girls were walking in the park at 6 o’clock yesterday.

When used in one sentence, Past Continuous stands for a long action, and Past Simple is used for a short action that happens in the middle of it:

  • ✔️ I was reading the book when someone knocked at the door.
  • I read the book when someone was knocking at the door.
  • I was reading the book when someone was knocking at the door.

Present Perfect vs. Present Perfect Continuous

We can use both these tense forms when we speak about the actions which are connected to the present:
e.g.,

  • ✔️ He has worked at this office for five years.
  • ✔️ He has been working at this office for five years.

However, we cannot use the continuous form with the stative verb, so we need to use Present Perfect instead:

  • ✔️ I have known this girl for ages.
  • I have been knowing this girl for ages.

Conclusion

In short, the system of English tenses is quite simple and straightforward. You need to remember certain rules, of course. But the main thing to consider is why you need to use some verb form and what you actually want to say.

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