1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Tenses in English

How many tenses are there in English?

By

Tenses are key to learning English. What are tenses? In English grammar, tense refers to the moment when something happens. Generally, people think about past, present or future times for a verb as tenses. This is also called the verb form. For example, the present simple verb tense is also called the present simple verb form and concerns actions that happen every day. The past simple verb tense (or verb form) refers to something that happens in the past.

How Many Tenses are there in English?

The simple answer to this question is that there are thirteen tenses in English. Some teachers refer to only three tenses: past, present and future that have a variety of forms. The most important thing to remember is that there are thirteen verb forms or tenses that are used for different situations that happen in the past, present or future.

The Thirteen Tenses in English

Here are simple explanations of the tenses in English that give the most common use of each tense in English. There are a number of exceptions to the rules, other uses for certain tenses in English and so on. Each tense has examples, a link to a page that goes into detail for each tense in English, as well as a visual tense chart and a quiz to check your understanding.

Simple present - things that happen every day

He usually goes for a walk every afternoon.
Petra doesn't work in the city.
Where do you live?

Detailed explanation of the simple present
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the simple present
Simple present quiz

Simple past - something that happened at some time in the past

Jeff bought a new car last week.
Peter didn't go to the meeting yesterday.
When did you leave for work?

Detailed explanation of the simple past
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the simple past
Simple past quiz

Simple future with 'will' - used to express a future act

She will come to the meeting tomorrow.
They won't help you.
Will you come to the party?

Detailed explanation of the simple future with 'will'
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the simple future with 'will'
Simple future with 'will' quiz

Simple future with 'going to' - for future plans

I'm going to visit my parents in Chicago next week.
Alice isn't going to attend the conference.
When are you going to leave?

Detailed explanation of the simple future with 'going to'
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the simple future with 'going to'
Simple future with 'going to' quiz

Present perfect - something that began in the past and continues into the present

Tim has lived in that house for ten years.
She hasn't played golf for long.
How long have you been married?

Detailed explanation of the present perfect
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the present perfect
Present perfect quiz

Past perfect - what happened before something else in the past

Jack had already eaten when he arrived.
I hadn't finished the report when my boss asked for it.
Had you spent all your money?

Detailed explanation of the past perfect
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the past perfect

Future perfect - what will have happened up to a point in the future

Brian will have finished the report by five o'clock.
Susan won't have driven far by the end of the evening.
How many years will you have studied by the time you get your degree?

Detailed explanation of the future perfect
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the future perfect

Present continuous (progressive) - what is happening at the moment

I'm working at the computer at the moment.
He isn't sleeping now.
Are you working?

Detailed explanation of the present continuous
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the present continuous
Present continuous quiz

Past continuous (progressive) - what was happening at a specific moment in the past

I was playing tennis at seven o'clock.
She wasn't watching TV when he called.
What were you doing at that time?

Detailed explanation of the past continuous
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the past continuous

Future continuous (progressive) - what will be happening at a specific moment in the future

I will be lying on the beach this time next week.
She won't be having any fun this time tomorrow.
Will you be working this time tomorrow?

Detailed explanation of the future continuous
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the future continuous

Present perfect continuous (progressive) - what has been happening up to the present moment in time

I've been working for three hours.
She hasn't been working in the garden for long.
How long have you been cooking?

Detailed explanation of the present perfect continuous
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the present perfect continuous

Past perfect continuous (progressive) - what had been happening up to a specific moment in the past

They had been working for three hours by the time he arrived.
We hadn't been playing golf for long.
Had you been working hard when he asked for it?

Detailed explanation of the past perfect continuous
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the past perfect continuous

Future perfect continuous (progressive) - what will be happening up to a specific moment in the future

They will have been working for eight hours by the end of the day.
She won't have been studying for very long when she takes the test.
How long will you have been playing that game by the time you finish?

Detailed explanation of the future perfect continuous
Visual Tense Chart showing the use of the future perfect continuous

More Tense Reference

For an overview of conjugation in detail of all these tenses, use the tense tables for reference. Teachers can use theses guides on how to teach tenses for further activities and lesson plans in class

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. English as 2nd Language
  4. Grammar
  5. Grammar Structures
  6. Tenses
  7. Verb Tenses in English - ESL Overview

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.