In English, verb tenses play a very important role because they give us an idea of when an action happens – in the past, the present, or the future. In this article, I will be explaining the 12 different tenses of the verb which are divided into the simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect-progressive forms.
THE PRESENT TENSES
We always start with the present tenses because these actions happen closest to the present time – NOW.
Simple Present (Subject + Verb + Object)
This is the most common tense we use, if you haven’t noticed, when we talk because this tense tells of an action that is done NOW or an action that is regularly done. For example:
James plays hockey these days.
(James plays it now, but when winter ends he’ll play another sport.)
Kara eats bagels for breakfast.
(Since breakfast happens regularly, this only means that Kara eats bagels every day for breakfast.)
Present Progressive (Subject + is/are + Verb-ing + Object)
This tense talks of an action that is currently happening NOW. We don’t know exactly when the person started the action or when s/he is going to end. For example:
The boys are washing the car.
Allan is swimming laps at the pool.
(These people are doing these actions at this very moment, but we don’t know when they started and for how long they’ll keep doing the action.)
Present Perfect (Subject + has/have + Past Participle + Object)
Being a little more complicated, this tense talks of an action that has just finished after NOW. For example:
King Arthur has summoned his knights.
I have just read the manual.
(The actions were done just a few minutes or seconds ago and is not too far from the present time.)
Present Perfect-Progressive (Subject + has/have + been + Verb-ing + Object)
This tense talks about a continuing action that has stopped or is still continuing for an indefinite time. This awkwardness in time gives the action the authority to still be somewhere in the NOW or present time. For example:
Helen has been drinking alcohol.
(We can say that she had just finished drinking because she is drunk or she smells of alcohol NOW. However, we don’t know how long she’s been drinking.)
The students have been studying English for two years now.
(They started some time ago but are still studying English and can stop anytime NOW or in the future.)
If you’ve noticed, I’ve been using the word NOW to pertain to the present time. Keep this in mind as I continue on with the tenses.
THE PAST TENSES
The past tenses generally show actions that happen before NOW. This means they already happened, are not continuing, or haven’t been continued in the present time.
Simple Past (Subject + Past Verb + Object)
The simple past simply states an action that happened a while ago before NOW but long enough to be considered the past instead of the present. Keep in mind that the verb must be changed to its past form — with –ed or the irregular past form. For example:
Grandma cooked fried rice.
(Notice that the regular verb ‘cook’ has –ed added at the end to make it the past form. This sentence means that Grandma cooked fried rice but we don’t know how far back. However, we could guess that it wasn’t moments ago.)
Jason swam the River Nile last month.
(The past of ‘swim’ is ‘swam’. And to swim a river must have taken a long time. Here, we know it happened recently because of the time stamp ‘last month.’)
Past Progressive (Subject + was/were + Verb-ing + Object)
The past progressive tense talks about an action that started in the past and continuously happened in the past until it was interrupted by another action before the NOW. Sometimes these actions are known and sometimes unknown. For example:
Fatima was writing a book these past 3 years.
(Obviously, Fatima was writing until she was interrupted by a new action. Can you guess what? She finished. But, that wasn’t in the sentence.)
The children were running wildly before one fell down.
(Here, there are two actions. The first, were running, talks about a continuous action in the past. But, this action stops because another action took place — someone fell.)
Past Perfect (Subject + had + Past Participle + Object)
In this form, the sentence will portray an action that happened and already finished in the past long before now. Here, you may or may not have to pay attention to keywords that may give you the idea of how far back the action was done. For example:
David had traveled to India before he got sick.
(Notice here that before David got sick, he did something else which was ‘travel to India’. The latter is the action that is done and over with. Now, he’s sick. But, we use ‘got’ because we don’t know how far back from NOW he got sick.)
The students had taken that test before moving to the next level.
(Here, the finished action is ‘had taken’ because the test was given a while back. But, we used the word ‘moving’ because the students are currently in the process of enrolling to the next level.)
Past Perfect-Progressive (Subject + had + been + Verb-ing + Object)
This tense form is a bit confusing, so making sentences with this form have to be accurate. The sentence should show a verb that was continuously happening in the past while another action also took place in the past. For example:
I had been calling you for about an hour before you finally answered.
(Here, a time duration is given to give us an idea of how long it took before the call was answered. So, the calling didn’t actually stop. Another action simply started.)
Nadia had been playing video games when her mom arrived.
(Here, no time duration is given. However, Nadia may or may not have stopped playing video games when her mom arrived.)
THE FUTURE TENSES
The future tenses have a ‘will’ and ‘going to’ form. Using either one is okay, but each has a specific use. Will is usually used when the action definitely will take place in the future no matter what happens. Going to is usually used if you only plan to do something but there is a 50-50 chance of it happening. The great thing about the future tenses is that only the simple and progressive forms are commonly used.
Simple Future (Subject + will [is/are going to] + Verb + Object)
Simply put, these actions take place right after the NOW. Example…
Mary Jane will marry Peter Parker.
(After a “Yes’ to a proposal now, Mary Jane will marry Peter sometime in the future. We just don’t know when.)
The Avengers are going to kill Thanos.
(I haven’t watched End Game yet, so there is a 50-50 chance that all the Avengers get to kill Thanos at the end of the movie.)
Future Progressive (Subject + will [is/are going to] + be + Verb-ing + Object)
Here, usually, a time stamp is given to show when the action will take place in the future. Example…
Donna will be hosting a party on Saturday evening.
(Here, a definite future event will be happening. And, it will be happening on a Saturday evening. That is the time stamp.)
Tim and Greg are going to be travelling to China
(In this sentence, however, no time stamp is given because it is understood that it may or may not happen in the near future. And, maybe Tim and Greg might decide to go somewhere else.)
The next two forms are very rarely, if not, used in the English language. So, I’ll just give their forms and examples. No more explanations.
Future Perfect (Subject + will [is/are going to] + have + Past Participle + Object)
Mary Jane will have picked the perfect wedding dress by the time the wedding plans have been executed.
Anissa is going to have finished his homework by the time I get home.
(Sounds awkward? Yes, but it is grammatically correct.)
Future Perfect-Progressive (Subject + will [is/are going to] + have + been + Verb-ing + Object)
Greg will have been working for the company for 20 years by that time.
Joan is going to have been waiting for two hours before her plane arrives.