The Complete Guide To Verb Tenses In English

Verb tenses can be confusing! So, we’ve created this guide to help you learn the 12 basic types of verb tenses in English, their grammatical structure, and how we use them.

What Are The 12 Verb Tenses In English?

Tenses are vital in English for constructing sentences and phrases. There are 12 basic tenses in English, which help us figure out how an action (verb) relates to time.

English tenses are split into three broad time-related categories.

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future 
verb tenses

Tenses can be broken down even further. Tap on the links below and see further information about each type of verb tense.

Tenses in English

Simple 

The simple tense is used for all three-time frames, present, past, and future. It is used when talking about facts and repeated activities.

Continuous 

The continuous tense shows an action that is, was, or will happen at a specific time.

Perfect 

The perfect tense often refers to a past action that affects the present.

Perfect Continuous 

The perfect continuous tenses show how long something took, whether it has been completed or its importance to the present.

If you want to find out more about them in more depth, check out our verb tenses content, where we go deeper into each verb tense individually.

Simple Present Tense 

The simple present tense refers to an action (verb) that occurs in the present— the simple present tense deals with facts and repeated activities.

Here is an example of the simple present tense:

  • She plays the piano.

We use English personal pronouns followed by present tense verbs to form the simple present tense with regular verbs. Note: Singular third-person verbs often change, and an -s is placed at the end of the verb.

Present Continuous Tense

The present continuous tense or present progressive tense refers to an action or state of being. They deal with temporary actions or states.

Here is an example of the present continuous tense:

  • I am working on the report.

To form the present continuous tense, we conjugate the verbto be,’ which in this example is ‘I am,’ and follow it with a present participle of another verb; here, ‘working.’ To form a present participle with regular verbs, we add -ing as a suffix

Present Perfect Tense

Next up is the present perfect tense! We use it to talk about present experiences that relate to the past. They can refer to present situations that will continue or new information.

Here is an example of the present perfect tense:

  • The euro has decreased in value lately. 

To form the present perfect tense, we conjugate the auxiliary verbhave,’ which in this example is ‘has,’ and follow it with a past participle of another verb; here, ‘decreased.’ To form a past participle with regular verbs, we usually add -ed as a suffix

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

The present perfect continuous is an exciting type of tense in English. It refers to a non-specific time that began in the near past but is usually unfinished. 

Here is an example of present perfect continuous tense:

  • I have been living in France since 2018. 

To form the present perfect continuous tense, we use the auxiliary verbhave,’ which in this example is the same, and follow it with the word ‘been’ and a present participle verb, ‘living.’ 

Past Simple Tense

The past simple tense or preterite refers to a completed action before now.

Here's an example sentence using the past simple tense:

  • They played soccer.

To form the past simple tense in the affirmative, we use the subject, which in this example is ‘they,’ and follow it with the verb + -ed, ‘played,’ and add further information. In this case, ‘soccer.’

To form the past simple tense in negative, we use the subject, which in this example is ‘they,’ and follow it with the auxiliary verbdidn’t, or did not.’ Then add a verb in the present participle, for example, ‘play.’

  • They didn’t play soccer. 

The simple past tense can also be interrogative.

Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous tense or past progressive refers to an action that is ongoing or continues. It is often used to describe something that happened in the past.

Here is an example sentence using the past continuous tense:

  • I was making lunch when they arrived.

To form the past continuous English tense, add the subject, which in this example is ‘I,’ and follow it with the past form of ‘to be.’ We used ‘was,’ add the verbs' present participle and add -ing as a suffix. In this example, we used ‘making.’

Past Perfect Tense 

We refer to the past perfect tense when discussing an action completed at a particular time in the past.

Here is an example of past perfect tense:

  • He had just broken up with her. 

To form the past perfect tense, we use the past auxiliary verb of ‘have,’ which in this example is ‘had,’ and follow it with the past participle ‘broken up,’ plus more information about the clause, in this case, ‘with her.’

Sometimes adverbs are used to give even more information, like ‘just.’

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

We use the past perfect continuous tense to talk about actions or events that began before a specific time in the past and were ongoing up to that time.

Here is an example of past perfect continuous tense:

  • She had been working there for 3 years when her boss gave her a promotion.

To form the past perfect continuous tense, we use the past auxiliary verbhave’ in this example, ‘had,’ and follow it with the word ‘been,’ which is the past participle of ‘be.’ then, add a present participle verb, ‘working.’

Future Simple Tense

The future simple tense is one of 5 future tenses. We used it to talk about events that haven’t come about yet.

Here is an example of the future simple tense:

  • This year, we will go to Disneyland.

We use the subject + ‘will’ + the verb for a positive sentence to form this future tense. In this example, we used ‘go.’ 

You can also form this tense with ‘going to,’ but this is for more informal language.

Future Continuous Tense 

We use the future continuous tense or future progressive when discussing an action that will start in the future and continue for a specific amount of time.

Here is an example of the future continuous tense:

  • We will be buying a house next year.

To form the future continuous tense, we use will + be + the present participle of the verb + ing as the suffix, in this case, ‘will be buying.’

We use the future continuous tense with action verbs and a few stative verbs.

Future Perfect Tense

The future perfect tense is used when discussing something that will be finished by a specific time in the future. We add expressions of time to help the sentence.

Here is an example of the future perfect tense:

  • By the year 2050, we will have tackled climate change.

Future Perfect Continuous Tense

The future perfect continuous tense or future progressive is used to talk about an action or event that will continue up to a specific time in the future. Think of it like projecting yourself to some time in the future.

Here is an example of the future perfect continuous tense:

  • In January, I will have been studying for 10 years.

To form this tense, we use a time expression; in this example, ‘in January,’ add the subject, ‘I,’ + ‘will have been,’ and the present participle of the chosen verb, ‘study,’ + -ing, as a suffix. Making, ‘studying.’

See? Studying the tenses in English doesn’t have to be a headache. To explore more on these topics in detail, click on our tense-related content.

More Verb Tense Topics: