Verb Tenses Overview
The English language has three basic verb tenses to indicate when an action or state of being takes place. They are the present, past, and future.
- I talk on the phone every day.
- I talked to Sara yesterday.
- I will talk to you tomorrow.
Each of these also has three additional tenses to express action sequences within each time frame. The perfect tense indicates a completed action, the continuous tense indicates ongoing action, and the perfect continuous tense indicates an ongoing action that will be completed at some definite time. Although there are as many as 30 subtle variations, there are 12 main tenses in all.
|Present||I always talk on the phone.||I am talking to him right now.||I have talked to Juan several times.||I have been talking while I fold the clothes.|
|Past||I talked to you this morning.||I was talking when it started to rain.||I had talked it over before class started.||I had been talking for ten minutes when the teacher came in.|
|Future||I will talk to you later.||I will be talking when the bus comes.||I will have talked an hour before I get in bed.||I will have been talking all night before my voice gives out.|
The present tense indicates actions that are routine or generally true.
- We walk on the sidewalk.
- Mice and elephants are mammals.
- A parallelogram has four sides.
You also use the present tense with stative verbs to indicate feelings or states of being:
- I love Emily’s new outfit.
- I believe in you.
- I agree that we should be careful when arguing a controversial topic.
The simple past indicates a completed action. You add the suffix “ed” to regular verbs in order to form the past tense; however, there are many irregular verbs that do not follow this rule.
- I walked home after school.
- I gave the flowers to my girlfriend for Valentine’s Day.
- John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865.
The simple future tense indicates an action or state of being that will occur sometime in the future. You form the future tense by adding auxiliary words — for instance, “will,” “shall,” or “am going” — to the sentence.
- I am going to school tomorrow.
- I will bring the sweater I borrowed back to you next Monday.
- I think I’m going to love this class.
You use the continuous tense to express actions that are ongoing in the past, present, or future. The tense is formed by adding the auxiliary verb “to be” to the -ing form of the root verb.
Present Continuous Tense
The present continuous tense describes an action that is happening right now. This action began sometime in the past and will continue on into the future.
- I am eating while having this phone conversation.
- I’m heading over to your house now.
- The doctor is examining the X-rays in his office.
Past Continuous Tense
The past continuous tense describes an ongoing past action that began at some point and will continue on after a second event that is already completed.
- I was eating when the phone rang.
- They were driving to Barcelona after a storm that ravaged the surrounding towns.
- She was walking up the steps as she dropped her books.
Future Continuous Tense
The future continuous tense describes an ongoing action that will continue to happen after another future action interrupts it.
- At this rate, I will be picking apples after it gets dark.
- She will call on you, especially when you arrive late to class.
- Will you still be attending the opera once they get new performers?
The perfect form describes an action or state of being that has already been completed in the past, present, or future. You form the perfect tense by adding the appropriate form of the auxiliary verb “to have” to the past participle of the verb.
Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect indicates an experience, accomplishment, or set of actions occurring over an indefinite period of time before the present moment.
- I have been to Paris.
- They have saved up to go on a trip around the world.
- Her dog has barked all morning.
Past Perfect Tense
The past perfect describes a past action that was completed before another past action.
- I had bought the scarf before I realized that it didn’t match my coat.
- She had baked brownies for the sale that took place last Saturday.
- We had loved and lost.
Future Perfect Tense
The future perfect expresses a future action or state of being that will be completed by the time some other future action takes place.
- The cake will have finished cooling off before you get a chance to frost it.
- They will have gone to church by the time he wakes up.
- Won’t we already have finished reading the report when the sales conference starts?
Perfect Continuous Tense
The perfect continuous tense describes a past action that continues up to the past, present, or future moment. Whereas the perfect tense describes a completed action, state of mind, or experience, the perfect continuous tense expresses an action that continues on past other completed actions. It is formed with the appropriate tense of the auxiliary verb “to have” and the -ing form of the root verb.
Present Perfect Continuous
The present perfect continuous tense describes an action that began in the past and continues up until the present moment.
- I have been walking all morning.
- She has been doing her hair and makeup for two hours.
- Haven’t they been talking about moving to Alaska for years now?
Past Perfect Continuous
The past perfect continuous tense describes an ongoing action that began in the past and ended when a second past action occurred.
- I had been practicing the guitar until the power went out.
- They had been moving all the boxes into a storage shed when they saw that the shed roof had a hole in it.
- We had been dancing on the main deck before it started to rain.
Future Perfect Continuous
The future perfect continuous tense expresses an ongoing future action that may continue beyond the time of another future event.
- I will have been reading three hours by the time that program starts.
- Will you have been spending so much money on yourself that you won’t be able to afford that gift for your sister?
- They will have been vacationing in the same spot for six years in a row come July.