English verb tenses are about time-- when things happened or will happen. The basic tenses are the past (simple, continuous, and perfect tenses), the present (simple and continuous) and the future (with will and be-going-to +).
Each of these tense has a simple form, a continuous form (sometimes called progressive), and a perfect form, as well as combinations (present perfect continuous, etc.)
We also have four conditional tenses for what would be (or would have been) true under certain conditions (if...)
Continuous tenses show that something is ongoing. They use forms of ‘be’ as a helping verb, while the main verb is in the present participle form (ending in -ing.) See all the tenses of the Verb to Be here.
Perfect tenses use forms of ‘have’ and a past participle (ending in -ed, or irregular. See Past and Present Perfect Tense Use for a list of irregular past participles that are different from the simple past forms. There’s a complete list of the irregular past participles in Irregular Past Participles. Most, but not all, have the same form as the simple past tense for that verb.)
Examples of the Simple Past Tense:
We use the Past Continuous Tense for something that was going on when another event happened.
Examples the Past Continuous:
When we want to show that something continued over a long period of time, we may use 'used to' with the base form of the verb instead of the simple past. Example with ‘used to:’
Mixed Past Perfect Tenses (with a conditional at the end):
· Mark hadn’t been worrying. In fact, he had been too tired to even notice that she hadn’t called. “You should have just sent a text message,” he told her. “I would have called you if I had started to worry.”
For more information on using past tenses, see
The main present tenses are the Simple Present and the Present Continuous Tense. Both are very common, but not interchangeable.
We use the Present Continuous to talk about something that is happening right now:
We can also use the present continuous tense to talk about the future:
The Simple Present is used to talk about the nature of things-- the way they always (or never, or often) are, or what we do at certain intervals.
Modals can be used in the present (as in the past or future.) So can the present perfect or present perfect continuous, both showing something that may have begun in the past, but is continuing or may continue. Examples:
· “You should take a vacation. You’ve been working such long hours lately.”
· (Doctor:) “How long have you had this cough?” (Patient: ) “I’ve had it for almost two weeks, since that storm we had. I’ve been getting lots of rest, and drinking tea, but it just won’t go away. Should I have stayed home from work? I might have taken some time off, but I can’t afford much more time off work.”
· “Can you read this for me? I haven’t been able to read fine print since I got that eye infection.”
See also Present Tense Verbs and Practice. (Also see the links for Modals, Modals Practice, and the Present Perfect-- all at the end of the past tense links.)
The most common ways to express the future are using ‘will’ or ‘be going to,’ but we also use the present continuous with a future day or time (as shown above) or a modal or future perfect.
· “He’s going to go to Canada for his next vacation.”
· “Will he take his mother?”
· “Probably not. She’s planning several big projects, and I don’t think she’ll be finished with them before his vacation starts. However, she might join him for the last part of his trip. She will have finished by then.”
For more, see Future Tense Practice.
You might also like English Grammar Lessons for information on the parts of speech, including English Verbs. It also has information on English Sentence Structure, Question Formation, and Negative Sentences.
(Negative Sentences has a funny video and information on contractions, including positive contractions, used with all of these tenses.)
Grammar Practice and Worksheets lists and links to all practice pages and pdfs.
home> English Verb Tenses.