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English Tenses

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Learning the Tenses

The English language boasts a total of 12 different tenses which can be used to speak about the past, the present, and the future. Each of the English tenses has a specific meaning, covered in the table below. The example sentences given will help you decide when you should use each particular one of the English tenses.

 Name  Past,  Present, or  Future  When to use this English tense  Frequency  of use  Examples of use
 Simple  Present  Present  Use this one of the English tenses when an action is happening now or when it is a continuous  action that happens either currently or in the past or the future  High
  • I play football every Saturday.
  • I work in this building.
 Present  Progressive  Present  Use this one of the English tenses when an action is known to be temporary or when it is actually  taking place at the moment of speaking.  High
  • I am working in London for the next two days.
  • I am having dinner now so I will call you later.
 Present  Perfect  Present  There are three different ways to use this tense.

  1. To express an experience which happened in the past.
  2. To talk about an action which is new or is a change.
  3. For an action which began in the past but which is still continuing
 Medium
  • I have been on holiday to Barcelona.
  • I have bought a new computer.
  • I have lived here since January.
 Present  Perfect  Progressive  Present  Use this one of the English tenses to state an action which started in the past when a period of time  needs to be expressed.

It is also used for an action which started in the past but has now finished and has a direct result.

 Medium
  • I have been working here for ten years.
  • I have been working hard so I am very tired.
 Simple Past  Past  This is the most basic of the English tenses used to describe the past and is used to express  an action that happened in the past either once, many times or for a set period of time.  High
  • I went on holiday.
  • I swam competitively when I was younger.
 Past  Progressive  Past  This one of the English tenses is used to express an action that took place over a period of time in  the past or that was interrupted.  High
  • The sun was shining yesterday.
  • I was eating my dinner when the doorbell rang.
 Past Perfect  Past  The two common uses for this tense are

  1. To express an action that has been completed in the past and which has been followed by another action.
  2. To explain something that had happened in the past.
 High
  • When I arrived, they had eaten dinner.
  • It had rained all night so the football match was cancelled.
 Past Perfect  Progressive  Past  This one of the English tenses is used for two purposes.

  1. To express an action which started in the past and carried on until another action takes place where a period of time is specified.
  2. To describe an action in the past that was the cause of something else
 Low
  • I had been working there for a year when I was promoted.
  • The ground was icy, it had been freezing cold all night.
 Simple Future  Future  There are four uses for this English tense.

  1. A prediction for the future.
  2. A decision made in the present
  3. A fact about the future.
  4. A promise
 High
  • I think Man Utd will be champions next season.
  • I will eat lunch at home.
  • It will get dark earlier tomorrow.
  • I will help you fix your car.
 Future  Progressive  Future  This tense is used to

  1. Express an action in the future which is continuous and which is interrupted by an action or by time.
  2. Express a complete action that should take place in the future.
  3. Express a guess about an action.
 Medium
  • I will be eating when you get here.
  • The exam results will be published later today.
  • My sister will be studying now.
 Future Perfect  Future  This one of the English tenses is used to express an action in the future that will have finished  before a certain time although the specific finish time is unknown.  Low
  • By eight o’clock I will have finished decorating the cake.
 Future Perfect  Progressive  Future  This is used to express an action which started in the past and which will continue up to a point in  the future. It is normally used with a time or specified date.  Medium
  • In January 2015, I will have been living here for 15 years.