Sergey Sulimov


Sergey Sulimov


A checklist for those learning the English tenses

школа английского языка

The English verb tenses seem to be the most difficult grammatical topics one. As many as 12 tenses as opposed to three in Russian – how do you work it out, how do you know which one to use and when to use it? In fact, not everything is as terrible as it may seem at first sight. The main thing is to understand the logic and stick to a certain algorithm. We have prepared a simple guide and checklist for working with the English tenses.

The main thing about the English verb tenses

  • Let us tell you a secret – there are only three tenses in English too. What about the well-known 12-cell tenses? The rest are all aspects. So, first, you need to understand and remember the following points.
  • Всего в английском три времени: Past (прошедшее), Present (настоящее) и Future (будущее).
  • These tenses have aspects – clarifications and forms expressions: Simple (простой), Perfect (совершенный), Continuous (продолженный) и Perfect Continuous (совершенный продолженный). The tenses each can have the aspects any, so that makes 12 English tenses.
  • You need to become familiar with them all in order to understand speech, read the original with full comprehension, but in everyday life both in speaking and in writing you will mostly use the Simple group all the tenses, a little less often Continuous – usually Present, followed by Perfect group – especially the Present tense.
  • In addition to tenses and aspects, remember the three fundamental verbs – to be, to do and to have. They will help you to construct sentences in different tenses and their aspects..

There is also the tense Future-in-the-Simple, but it is used very rarely and most often not as a stand-alone unit, but when coordinating tenses, so we won’t look at it in detail in this topic.

A systematic approach to learning the English language tenses

Just learning the tenses is not enough. It is important to understand the system. That’s what we’re going to do. Let’s break down all the aspects one by one and briefly break them down by tense and give help words (usually tense circumstances). Them some are only used with a particular tense. Others may be appropriate for different aspects, but if you’re choosing between two or three aspects, they’re just the thing to help you. Incidentally, these time circumstances often help you understand a particular time aspect logic..

Аспект Simple

This aspect is used when you are talking about something that usually happens without temporal clarification or other emphasis, giving something a characterisation, describing an event without detail..

FeatureWhat you do or don’t do all the timeWhat has already happened in the past as a factWhat will happen in the future
+V/VsVII/VedWill + V
? —Do/does + VDid + VWill + V
ExampleI always go to this store. Does he go to school?He didn’t come yesterday. I was at home last weekendI will go to the cinema next weekend
Word helpersAlways, usually, often, sometimes, never, rarely, every day, regularlyYesterday, last year, last weekendTomorrow, next year, next month

Continuous aspect

This aspect essence is in its name ‘continued’: that is, the action is not over, it continues in the present or at some specific, limited point in time..

FeatureWhat happens at the speech moment or all the time, but with a negative connotationA specific moment in the past, often one action taking place during anotherA specific moment in the future, the actions simultaneity in the future
+To be (am, is, are) + VingWas/were + VingWill be + Ving
? —To be (am, is, are) + VingWas/were + VingWill be + Ving
ExampleThe winter is coming. You are coming late every time!He came home while I was cooking dinnerI will be cooking dinner at this time tomorrow
Word helpersAlways, constantly, all the time, these daysWhen, whileAt the moment, while, until, this time tomorrow

Perfect Aspect

The main thing that characterises this aspect is the action completeness by some point..

FeatureThe action has already taken place and its outcome is important in the presentOne action ended before another action that was also in the pastThe action will end at some point in the past
+Have/has + Ved/VIIIHad + Ved/VIIIWill have + Ved/VIII
? —Have/has + Ved/VIIIHad + Ved/VIIIWill have + Ved/VIII
ExampleI have just seen my aunt outsideShe had cooked dinner before they arrivedShe will have finished cooking dinner before they arrive
Word helpersYet, recently, already, never, ever, todayBy that time, before, by SeptemberBy tomorrow, by 5 o’clock

Perfect Continuous aspect

And the last aspect on our list today, the most difficult one for Russian-speaking students. It is used when you are describing some long action that started at some point, continued for some time, and ended at some point, or is still going on. Unlike Simple Continuous, where it is the duration or moment that matters, in Perfect Continuous it means that the action has been going on for some time (how long exactly), started at some particular moment..

FeatureThe action started in the past and is still going on, what matters is the durationThe action started in the past and continued until another action in the pastThe action began in the past and will continue in the future for some time
+Have/has been + VingHad been + VingWill have been + Ving
? —Have/has been + VingHad been + VingWill have been + Ving
ExampleShe has been acting so weird since morningI was so tired in the morning because I had been studying for exams all nightBy December, you will have been living alone for two years
Word helpersFor, sinceBefore, then, for, sinceTill, until, by the end of the hour

Action plan with example

So here’s our checklist of what you need to do to make it easier to decide on a temporary structure.

Step 1: если это будущее время, вам всегда нужен вспомогательный глагол will.

◾if it is future or past, the auxiliary verb presence depends on the aspect, so go to step two..

Step 2. Define the aspect: continued, perfect, simple.

◾ if it is Simple, the sentence is affirmative and the tense is present or past, you don’t need an auxiliary verb, if negative or interrogative, your verb is to do in the right tense and number (do, does or did);

◾if it is Continuous, your auxiliary verb is to be and add the ending -ing to the sense verb;

if it is Perfect, the auxiliary verb is to have, and the subject verb is in the Past Participle form..

Step 3. Look at the helping words availability, if the previous actions are insufficient.

Let’s take a concrete example:

I will finish reading this book by five o’clock tomorrow.

Tomorrow means the future tense (will), finish reading – the action completion, so it is a Perfect aspect, it requires an auxiliary verb have and the sense verb in the third form (Past Participle). There is also a time marker «к п and the sense verb in the third form яти часам», means exactly completeness and Perfect. So we need the Future Perfect tense:

will have + Ved.

Tomorrow by five o’clock, I will have finished reading this book.

Школа английского EnglishPapa в Минске

We hope our article was useful for you. We invite you to take our English courses for adults at our school to start learning English or to improve your knowledge. Take an English level test on our website and sign up for a free trial lesson of English online. With EnglishPapa, you will definitely begin to speak English!

Take a trial lesson online for free at any convenient time

Discover how the lessons take place

Discover your english level

We will help you set study goals