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The English Language: Verb Tenses

Updated on April 2, 2013

Tenses and Forms

There are three verb tenses which can be used to describe events in the past, present and future, and are called the past, present and future tenses, respectively. There are four forms, which, when combined with tenses, paint an accurate picture of what happened, is happening, happens on a regular basis, or has yet to happen.

Tenses

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

Forms

  • Simple
  • Progressive
  • Perfect
  • Perfect Progressive


Past/Simple

The past simple tense discusses actions which have begun in the past and ended in the past. Many of these verbs end in -ed, but there are several irregular verb forms also.

  • The Declaration of Independence was signed on July fourth, 1776.
  • Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 A.D.
  • Millard Fillmore took office July 9th, 1850

Past/Progressive

The past progressive tense is used when describing two events that were occurring simultaneously.

  • As I was walking down the street, it began to rain.
  • While painting one morning, I noticed a bird fly past my window.
  • While the CD was burning, the power went out and corrupted the disk.

Past/Perfect

The past perfect tense is used to describe events that had taken place previously to another event that had taken place. This tense is formed by using the word "had" before the past simple tense of the verb.

  • Before I had a chance to make my point, the police officer had already written the ticket.
  • When I arrived at my house, I found that the door had been kicked in.
  • Unfortunately by the time that I learned that the exam was today, it had already ended.

Past/Perfect Progressive

The past perfect progressive tense describes an action that was ongoing, but completed, at a time previous to another past event. This tense is created by adding "had been" before the present progressive form of the verb (ending in -ing).

  • I had been eating ice cream before I realized I was late for work.
  • Bob had been describing his plans for retirement to me before the phone rang.
  • Before September 11th, 2001, the NSA had been looking for ways to heighten security; unfortunately, they were too late.

Present/Simple

Verbs in the present simple tense reflect unchanging truths or recurring events. Below, the first and last statements exemplify unchanging truths, while the second statement exemplifies a recurring event.

  • Those mountains are tall.
  • Every Tuesday, I play bingo.
  • The sky is blue.

Present/Progressive

The present progressive tense is used to describe events that are occurring at the time the statement is written or spoken. Present progressive verbs are created by adding -ing to the end of a present tense verb.

  • It is raining.
  • Geologists are presently researching the causes and effects of shifts to the earth's magnetic poles.
  • Quantum physicists are currently studying the mathematical effects of extra spatial dimensions.

Present/Perfect

The present perfect tense is used for cases where something has happened at an undefined time in the past or, began in the past and continues into the present time. The present perfect tense is created by using the word "have" or "has" before the past simple form of the verb.

  • I have seen that movie before!
  • Jobecca Technology Group has provided a Comprehensive Support Plan for several years now..
  • Sadie has always enjoyed horror films.

Present Perfect/Progressive

The present perfect progressive tense is used to describe events that began in the past, are presently occurring, and may continue in the future. It is created by using "has been" or "have been" before the present progressive form of the verb.

  • I have been planning to go to Walt Disney World for ages.
  • The higher-ups have been formulating plans for the new office building for several years.
  • Scientists have been studying the properties of gravity for centuries, and have yet to unlock it's most puzzling properties.

Future/Simple

The future tense is created by adding "will" or "going to" before the present tense verb.

  • I am going to go to the mall tomorrow.
  • The next presidential election will be held in the year 2012
  • Pizza Hut is going to change their name to "The Hut"

Future/Progressive

The future progressive tense is used to describe a continuous or ongoing action that will occur some time in the future. This tense is formed by using "will" or "shall" before the verb and adding -ing to the end of the verb.

  • U2 will be performing at the Super Bowl this year.
  • Walt Disney World shall be updating their Kim Possible Alternate Reality Game later this month.
  • Within a few years, car manufacturing companies will be manufacturing flying cars.

Future/Perfect

The future perfect tense is used to describe actions which will take place at a future point in time before another future event. This tense is created by adding "will have" before the past simple form of the verb.

  • By the time Christmas rolls around, I will have bought several dozen presents.
  • When the year 2012 passes, several people will have found relief from their Armageddon concerns.
  • Before Charlie leaves the chocolate factory, Willy Wonka will have perfected the fizzy lifting drinks.

Future/Perfect Progressive

The future perfect progressive tense describes an event that will take place in the future before another defined future event. The tense is formed by adding "will have been" before the present progressive form of the verb (ending in -ing).

  • By the time I reach age 20, I will have been working with computers for sixteen years.
  • By 2015, space tourism will have been growing for ten years.
  • Before his 150 year sentence is up, Bernie Madoff will have been given ample time to consider his crimes.

Verb Tense/Form Meaning Chart

X
Simple
Progressive
Perfect
Perfect Progressive
Past
Something unchangeable happened.
Something was happenening, (while something else happened).
Something took place before something else that had already taken place.
Something has happened and has been completed before something else that had already taken place.
Present
Something is always the case, or is recurring.
Something is happening presently.
Something has happened at an indefinite time or happened in the past but continues presently.
An action began in the past, is presently occurring, and continues forward.
Future
Something will happen.
Something will be happening continuously
Something will have happened before something else happens
By a certain time frame, something will have been going on for a certain period of time.

Verb Tense/Form Examples

X
Simple
Progressive
Perfect
Perfect Progressive
Past
I walked.
I was walking, when it started to rain.
I walked down the street only to find that the wind blew my tree down.
I had been walking with a walking group for several years, but decided to stop.
Present
I walk regularly.
I am walking at this very moment.
A while back, I began walking regularly.
I have been walking in my walking group for several years now.
Future
I will walk.
I will walk until I get to the beach.
I will have walked 20,000 miles before I reach age 30
By the time I'm age thirty, I will have been walking in my walking group for eight years.

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    • adam-kash profile image

      Adam Kashmiry 

      6 years ago from Scotland

      I've been looking for a simplified article to help me better understand (past, present and future tense), and this's just what I needed.. Very informative and easy to understand.. thanks

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