An overview of English Tenses

Boost your confidence in conversations and written communication by grasping the subtle nuances of past, present, and future verb forms.

An Overview of English Tenses

English tenses are major parts of the language that can help you communicate with others. You can explain whether you’re still planning an event or if it already happened in the past. While it may sound difficult at first, tenses are a crucial part of communicating perfectly in English.

Why You Should Use The Correct Tenses

Using the correct tenses will help you communicate what you want. Whether it’s your wishes, dreams, or plans, you can explain it better. With proper tense, you can tell if the event happens in the past, present, or future. Knowing the English tenses is a fundamental part of English grammar studies.

Types of Tenses

In general, there are only three types of tenses that show the event starting and ending in the past, present, or future. However, each type also has a continuous form that explains an activity that is still happening by the time you talk about the event.

All of the English tenses also have the perfect and perfect continuous forms to explain an activity started in the past and may have or have not been completed yet. Here is the explanation to help you know more about each English tense.

1. Past Tense

Simply put, you use past tense to explain an event that already happened. It doesn’t matter if it’s just completed or already done hours or days ago. And because it already happened, then you need to use the verb in past tense or verb type two.

As an example, when you see a cute dress when walking home, you can say I saw a cute dress on the way home. Which explains when the activity happened.

To explain an activity you started in the past and still happening when you talk about an event, you use the past continuous tense. And because it’s a continuous form, you need to use the verb in –ing form. As an example, I was waiting for my dad to pick me up.

The past perfect tense is when the activity started and was also completed in the past. That is why, this tense uses had and the verb’s third form. Usually, you say this to describe an event before another past event. Just like this example, Karen’s parents had a Cadillac when she was a child.

Past perfect continuous explains the activity that started in the past and may still happen today. For example, you can say I have been living in London since 2010. And because it’s a continuous form, then the formula uses have or has been and –ing form.

2. Present Tense

Corpus research at Walden University found that simple present tense is the most used tense. This is understandable since a simple present tense defines an activity that currently happening or a common fact. Being in the present means you need to use the basic verb form or verb one. As an example, the sky is blue; I’m here now; and She laughs.

Present continuous is when you’re describing an activity that starts in the present and is still ongoing. Instead of saying I eat, you would say I am eating. Present continuous tense doesn’t define when you will complete the activity.

Preset perfect shows an activity that has happened in the past and is relevant to the present day. As an example, I have eaten this morning. As you can see, it uses past participles or verbs in the third form. This is a common denominator for all perfect tenses.

While the present perfect continuous is similar to the past perfect continuous shows an activity that starts in the past and still happens today. However, it emphasizes the time length instead of when it started. For example, Mariana has been living in New York for five years.

3. Future Tense

The final English tense to know is the future tense. You use this tense to show an activity that starts in the future. That is why, it uses will or going to before the verb. As an example, I will go home soon or I am going home soon.

And for the activity that will still happen in the future, you use the future continuous form. Take a look at this sentence, I will be visiting my aunt in July. As usual, you use the verb in –ing form to describe the event.

The future perfect tense is when you’re describing an event that starts in the future but will be completed before another event in the future. As an example, Lola will have visited her boyfriend’s family home. Because it’s part of the future tense, then it still uses will and past participle.

The future perfect continuous tense is to describe an activity that starts in the future and will still happen until another event happens. An example is when you say I will have been sitting for thirty minutes when my ride arrives.

Tips on Understanding English Tenses

Many English learners choose to memorize the formula for learning tenses. But since there are a dozen of tenses, memorizing them all can be a daunting task. The key is to know the primary formula for the tenses type and adjust it to meet your needs.

Another thing you should know is to pay attention to when the activity starts. If it happened in the past, then you use the past tense. If it’s in the present, then you use the present tense, and so on. Next is to determine when the activity is complete to know whether you should use the simple or perfect form.

Many learners find it easier to picture a timeline in their head to know when the event starts and ends. Another thing you must do is to learn the signal words to know the tense’s timeframe. Whichever method you choose, don’t forget to practice a lot.


Learning English tenses is not as difficult as it may sound. You don’t have to worry too much about using the correct tenses when you only started. As long as you continue practicing, you will slowly ingrain the knowledge into your brain and can use appropriate tenses effortlessly.