Sergey Sulimov


Sergey Sulimov


Tenses in the English Language: A General Overview

школа английского языка

When learning English, many people are intimidated by the tenses large number from the very beginning. After all, there are 12 main English tenses, so the natural question arises: how to memorize them all?

In fact, it’s not that bad. First, the English tenses are very clearly and logically structured. Second, you will need the 12 tenses less than half for everyday conversation. Third, all English tenses, even the most complicated ones, are formed quite simply, without any confusion with genders or different endings. So, to learn English speech all the tenses is within every student power.

The first thing to understand is that English has as many temporal categories as most other languages, namely three, which characterize the action place in history: Past, Present, and Future.

All the tenses in English in one table

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

All English tenses table

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


Let’s start with the simplest (Simple) tenses. They are elementary: they describe ordinary, regular actions that:

  • Occurred in the past (Past Simple): I went to school yesterday / Вчера я ходил в школу.
  • Occur all the time (Present Simple): I go to school every day / Я хожу в школу каждый день.
  • Will occur in the future (Future Simple): I will go to school tomorrow / Я пойду в школу завтра.


The tenses Continuous group is more complicated in English, but there is a clue in this group name: it refers to prolonged actions. This tenses group is also called Progressive, i.e., the context indicates that the action is progressing, or developing, over time.

  • The action may have developed in the past (Past Continuous): I was eating when you came / Я ел, когда ты пришел (я начал есть до твоего прихода и продолжал это делать, когда ты пришел).
  • The action develops in the present (Present Continuous): I am eating now / Я ем сейчас (я начал есть до этого, продолжаю есть и еще не закончил).
  • The action will take place in the future (Future Continuous): I will be eating when you come / Я буду есть, когда ты придешь (Я начну есть до твоего прихода и буду продолжать есть, когда ты придешь).


For the tenses Perfect group in English, it is not the duration but the completeness that matters. Such actions are already complete at a certain point in the past, present, or future.

  • A certain point completed the action in the past (Past Perfect): I had talked to her in the past / Я уже говорил с ней в прошлом (я встретил ее на днях и тогда вспомнил, что уже говорил с ней еще раньше).
  • The action has completed by a certain point in the present (Present Perfect): I have just talked to her / Я только что поговорил с ней (я поговорил с ней недавно, и рассказываю кому-то сейчас об этом разговоре).
  • The action will be completed at some point in the future (Future Perfect): I will have talked to her by tomorrow / Я поговорю с ней к завтрашнему дню (К завтрашнему дню наш разговор с ней будет уже окончен).

Perfect Continuous

This group includes English tenses that have been going on for some time but have already ended or will end by some point in the past, present, or future.

  • The action went on and finished by a certain point in the past (Past Perfect Continuous): I had been talking to her in the past for an hour / Я уже говорил с ней в прошлом в течение часа (я встретил ее на днях и тогда вспомнил, что уже говорил с ней еще раньше целый час, и мы закончили разговор).
  • The action went on and finished by a certain point in the present (Present Perfect Continuous): I have been talking to her since morning / Я поговорил с ней с утра (я начал говорить с ней утром, мы разговаривали некоторое время, уже закончили, и я рассказываю кому-то сейчас об этом разговоре).
  • The action will continue and be completed at some point in the future (Future Perfect Continuous): I will have been talking to her for a few hours by the time you will come tomorrow / Я поговорю с ней в течение нескольких часов к тому времени, когда ты придешь завтра (Я начну разговор с ней до твоего прихода, и он будет продолжаться несколько часов, а когда ты придешь, разговор уже будет закончен).

It is possible to learn the English tenses on your own, but it is better to do it under the guidance of an experienced teacher. In classes at the EnglishPapa you will not only master all the English tenses at the proper level, but also perfect their active speech at English conversation classes online.

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