Tenses in English: a general overview

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When learning English, many are scared by the amount of tenses, since there are mainly 12 of them. So, a question rises: how to remember them all?

In reality it’s not that complicated. First of all, the English tenses are structured in a very logical manner. Secondly, you will need less than half of them on your day to day speech. Thirdly, all the tense forms in English, even the most complex ones, are formed quite simply, without confusion with gender and different endings. So, mastering all the tenses is an affordable task for any student.

First you need to understand the main thing: there are as many time categories in English as in most other languages, namely three: Past, Present and Future.

All the English tenses in one chart

 SimpleContinuousPerfectPerfect Continuous
PastPast SimplePast ContinuousPast PerfectPast Perfect Continuous
PresentPresent SimplePresent ContinuousPresent PerfectPresent Perfect Continuous
FutureFuture SimpleFuture ContinuousFuture PerfectFuture Perfect Continuous

Chart of all English tenses

The fact is that in addition to “historicity”, English tenses are characterized by the concept of extension (Continuous) and completeness (Perfect). When it comes to an action in general devoid of these characteristics, it is a simple action (Simple). There are also actions that are both extended and completed (Present Continuous). The combination of all these characteristics gives us 12 tenses:

Simple

Let’s start with the Simple group of tenses. They are quite self-explanatory: they describe ordinary, regular actions that:

  • Happened in the past (Past Simple): I went to school yesterday.
  • Happens constantly (Present Simple): I go to school every day.
  • Will happen in the future (Future Simple): I will go to school tomorrow.

Continuous

The tenses of the Continuous group are a little bit more complicated, but there is a hint in the very name of the group: it includes long-term actions. This group of tenses is also called Progressive, i.e. the context indicates that the action progresses, or develops, in time.

  • The action could have been developed in the past (Past Continuous): I was eating when you came (I was eating before you came, and I am still eating).
  • The action is taking place in the present (Present Continuous): I am eating now (I was eating before, I am eating now, and I still haven’t finished).
  • The action will take place in the future (Future Continuous): I will be eating when you come (I will be eating when you come, and will still be eating when you arrive).

Perfect

For the tenses of the Perfect group, the main thing is not duration, but completeness. Such actions are already completed by a certain point in the past, present or future.

  • The action has been completed at certain point in the past (Past Perfect): I had talked to her in the past (I met her in the past, but I had already spoken to her before that).
  • The action has been completed before certain point in the present (Present Perfect): I have just talked to her (I have spoken to her shortly before the conversation I am having now).
  • The action will be completed before some point in the future (Future Perfect): I will have talked to her by tomorrow (By tomorrow I will already have spoken to her).

Perfect Continuous

This group includes the tenses that have lasted for some time, but have already been completed or will be completed by a certain point in the past, present or future.

  • It was a long action that has been completed at some point in the past (Past Perfect Continuous): I had been talking to her in the past for an hour (I met her in the past, but I have already spoken to her even before that for an hour, and our conversation has ended).
  • It was a long action, but it has been completed at some point in the present (Present Perfect Continuous): I have been talking to her since morning (I started talking to her in the morning, and our conversation lasted until now, but it is already finished).
  • It will be a long action, that will be finished before some time in the future (Future Perfect Continuous): I will have been talking to her for a few hours by the time you will come tomorrow (I will begin talking to her before you arrive, will talk to her for some time, and by the time you come our conversation will already be finished).

It is possible to master the tenses on your own, but it is better to do it under the guidance of an experienced teacher. By studying in EnglishPapa you will not only master the tenses, but you will also learn how to actively use them in your speech. All thanks to our online English courses.

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