English Language Verb Tenses For Verbs

In grammar, “tense” refers to a category which expresses time reference. Grammatical tense is usually indicated by the specific form of a verb, particularly in the conjugation pattern.

Tenses usually express time relative to the moment of speaking. In some contexts, however, their meaning may be relativized to a point in the past or future which is established in the discourse (the moment being spoken about). This is called relative (as opposed to absolute) tense. English non-finite verbs (baking, to bake, baked) usually have relative time reference. English finite verbs, or verbs tied to specific a specific number or person(s) (e.g., appear vs. instead “illustrating”), have forms with absolute time references in nearly all instances.

The English language only has two morphological tenses, the non-past and the past (in other words, English verbs will only change depending on if they’re in the non-past tense and the past tense, though the non-past sometimes references the future). For practical purposes, there are 12 English tenses once you take into account different aspects and future modals.

  • Simple Present Tense
    • A repeated action, a routine or a habit
      • I take English lessons three times a week.
    • A generally-accepted truth or a permanent action
      • He lives in Austin, Texas.
    • Likes and dislikes
      • I love fast food.
    • Generally-accepted facts
      • Forest fires are more likely during hot, dry weather.
    • A scheduled action in the future
      • My English lesson is at 9 a.m.
    • How a person feels.
      • I feel fine.
    • A person’s state of mind.
      • I am happy.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Simple Present Tense)
      • Always
      • At night
      • Every second/minute/hour/day/week/month/year
      • Frequently
      • Generally
      • In the morning/afternoon/evening
      • Never
      • Often
      • On Mondays, Tuesdays, etc.
      • Rarely
      • Seldom
      • Sometimes
      • Usually
  • Present Continuous Tense (Present Progressive Tense)
    • Actions that are happening at the moment of expression
      • The plane is taxiing down the runway.
    • Temporary actions that are happening during the period of expression
      • He is traveling abroad.
    • Something that is annoying or irritating
      • They’re always asking me for identification.
    • A fixed future arrangement; a definite future event
      • Your English lesson is at 6 p.m.
    • Non-action verbs (e.g., understanding) can’t be used in Continuous
    • Time markers used to indicate Present Continuous Tense:
      • Always
      • At [exact time]
      • At the moment
      • Currently
      • In [minutes/hours/days/weeks/years]
      • Now
      • Presently
      • Right now
      • Soon
      • This morning/afternoon/evening/week/year
      • Today
  • Present Perfect Tense
    • Actions that started in the past and continue in the present
      • I have traveled Europe for two months.
      • I haven’t been in Europe for two months.
      • Have you visited Europe?
      • The COVID patient has visited Europe, hasn’t he?
      • The COVID patient hasn’t visited Europe, has he?
    • Repeated actions that happened before now and may happen again
      • I have visited several countries.
    • Past actions that happened at an unspecified point in time
      • I’ve Googled what to do in this city.
    • Actions that take place during a period of time that hasn’t ended
      • I’ve spent 63 days of 90 days allowed in the Schengen Zone.
    • News of recent events
      • Turkey has stopped restricting entry from Sweden.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Present Perfect Tense)
      • already
      • before
      • ever (with questions and negative form)
      • for (a period of time)
      • just
      • lately
      • many times
      • never
      • occasionally
      • often
      • once
      • recently
      • since (a specific time)
      • so far
      • sometimes
      • this month
      • this week
      • this year
      • today
      • up to now
      • yet (with questions and negative form)
  • Present Perfect Continuous Tense (a.k.a. Present Perfect Progressive Tense)
    • Expresses duration of an action that started in the past and is still ongoing
      • He has been in Europe for two months and doesn’t want to leave.
      • He has been in Europe for two months now.
      • He hasn’t been in Europe for very long.
      • Have you been in Europe for a long time?
      • He’s been in Europe for a long time, hasn’t he?
      • He hasn’t been in Europe long, has he?
      • Non-action verbs (e.g., understanding) can’t be used in Continuous
      • Time markers (words used to indicate Present Perfect Continuous):
        • all [morning/afternoon/day/night/week/weekend/month/year]
        • for [a period of time]
        • lately
        • now
        • recently
        • since [a specified time]
  • Simple Past Tense
    • Actions that began and ended at a specific time in the past
      • He ran the marathon last Sunday.
    • Habitual actions (actions that were often done in the past)
      • I frequently ran on hills to prepare for marathons.
    • A series of completed actions in the past
      • He ran the marathon, and then he ate a pizza.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Simple Past Tense):
      • A while back
      • After
      • Before
      • During
      • Earlier
      • Last night/week/month/year
      • [Number] seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/months/years ago
      • Once upon a time
      • Then
      • When you were young
      • Yesterday, yesterday morning, yesterday afternoon
  • Past Continuous Tense (a.k.a. Past Progressive Tense)
    • Non-action verbs (e.g., understanding) can’t be used in Continuous
    • Actions in progress at a specific point in time in the past
      • He was walking his dog when he got the call.
    • Simultaneous actions happening in the past
      • He was walking his dog while he was talking on the phone.
    • Gradual development
      • Old age creeps up on you.
    • Annoying or irritating actions (used with always or constantly)
      • He was constantly talking on his phone!
    • Actions that have been interrupted
      • He was walking his dog when it started to pour.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Past Continuous Tense):
      • Always
      • As
      • Constantly
      • Forever
      • Last night/week/month/year
      • Still
      • When
      • While
      • Yesterday
  • Past Perfect Tense
    • Used to express action that happened before:
      • Another past action
      • A point in time
    • The action that happened first is in the Past Perfect Tense
      • The second action is in the Simple Past Tense
        • He was in Turkey by the time his 90th day expired.
        • He wasn’t in Turkey by the time his 90th day expired.
        • Had he already arrived in Turkey?
        • He had applied for the visa, hadn’t he?
        • He didn’t want to be turned away, did he?
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate the Past Perfect Tense):
      • after
      • already
      • before
      • by the time
      • by then
      • just
      • so
      • until
      • up to that time
      • when
  • Past Perfect Continuous Tense (a.k.a. Past Perfect Progressive Tense)
    • Non-action verbs (e.g., understanding) can’t be used in Continuous
    • Expresses a continuous action that started in the past
      • And was interrupted or completed at some point in the past
        • Interrupted action is in Past Perfect Continuous
        • Interrupting action is in Past Simple
    • Time markers (words used to indicate the Past Perfect Continuous Tense):
      • All [morning/afternoon/evening/night/week/weekend/month/year]
      • Before
      • For [a period of time]
      • Since [a specific time]
      • When
  • Simple Future Tense
    • Actions that will happen in the future
      • He will head to Austria.
    • Predictions about the future
      • He will like Vienna.
    • Spontaneous decisions made at the moment of speaking (i.e., willingness)
      • My Schengen visa has expired. I will fly to Istanbul.
    • Promises
      • I promise that I will pay you back for the plane ticket.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Simple Future Tense):
      • After
      • In [number] seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/months/years
      • Later
      • Next [day of week]/[month of year]/[season]
      • Next week/month/year/weekend
      • Soon
      • The day after tomorrow
      • This evening
      • Today
      • Tomorrow
      • Tomorrow morning/afternoon/evening/night
      • Tonight
  • Future Continuous Tense (a.k.a. Future Progressive Tense)
    • Non-action verbs (e.g., understanding) can’t be used in Continuous
    • Actions that will be in progress in the future
      • He will be driving on Saturday.
    • Actions that scheduled to happen
      • He will be speaking at 10:15 a.m.
    • Predictions
      • He won’t make it without stopping for gas.
    • Simultaneous actions
      • The protestors will be chanting while he speaks.
    • Interrupted future actions
      • He will be speaking when they break into the auditorium.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Future Continuous):
      • As
      • At this time
      • Before
      • During
      • In [number] days/weeks/months/years
      • Next week/month/year
      • Soon
      • Still
      • This week/month/year
      • Today
      • Tomorrow
      • Tonight
      • When
      • While
  • Future Perfect Tense
    • Used for an action in the future preceding another future action
      • I will have already left when my 180 days are up.
    • Duration of a future action preceding another future action.
      • By the time I leave, I will have visited four countries.
    • The first action completed is in the Future Perfect Tense
      • The second action is in the Simple Present Tense
        • I will have received a visa by the time I get there.
        • I will have not received a visa by the time I get there.
        • Will you have received a visa by the time you get there?
        • He will have applied for a visa while in Sweden, won’t he?
        • He will not want to be turned away, will he?
    • Be going to can also be used with the Future Perfect Tense
      • When expressing predictions and discussing plans
        • I am going to visit Turkey.
        • I am not going to visit Turkey.
    • Time markers (words/expressions used to indicate Future Perfect Tense):
      • Already
      • Before
      • By [a certain time]
      • By the time
      • For [a period of time]
      • When
  • Future Perfect Continuous Tense (a.k.a. Future Perfect Progressive Tense)
    • Non-action verbs (e.g., understanding) can’t be used in Continuous
    • Actions that will be in progress in the future
      • By the time you read this, I will be traveling in Croatia.
    • Actions that will continue until they are interrupted in the future
      • We will have been driving for hours before we reach the border.
    • Words/expressions used to indicate Future Perfect Continuous Tense:
      • Already
      • Because
      • Before
      • By the time
      • For [a period of time]
      • When

Sources:

  1. The Grammar Guide: An English Grammar Reference by Alexandra Coutlée, Sophie Joannette and Anita Romano
  2. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/tense/relative-tense/97C949233D175528A3F7EDCFB5446302
  3. https://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verb-tenses.htm
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Bill

    Tenses page within my Grammar Rules section now on Bill’s List.

Leave a Reply