Student Area|Teacher Area
 

The Plan of the English Verb

On this page: Table of tenses | Example sentences | Explanations

Introduction:

  • The aim of this page is to help you with your problems about English tenses.
  • The table below shows you most of the tenses in English. (+) means a positive and (-) means a negative meaning.
  • After the table are some example sentences. You can click on the verbs in these sentences to see explanations of why that tense is used.
Present Tenses Simple Continuous Perfect Present Perfect Continuous
Sentence (+) He buys .... He is buying ... He has bought ... He has been buying ....
Sentence (-) He doesn't buy .... He isn't buying He hasn't bought ...  He hasn't been buying ...
Question Does he buy ...? Is he buying ....? Has he bought ...? Has he been buying ...?

.

Past Tenses Simple Continuous Perfect Past   Perfect Continuous
Sentence (+) He bought .... He was buying ... He had bought ... He had been buying ....
Sentence (-) He didn't buy .... He wasn't buying He hadn't bought ...  He hadn't been buying ...
Question Did he buy ...? Was he buying ....? Had he bought ...? Had he been buying ...?

.

Future Tenses Simple Continuous Perfect Future   Perfect Continuous
Sentence (+) He will buy .... He will be buying ... He will have bought ... He will have been buying ....
Sentence (-) He won't buy .... He will not be buying.. He won't have bought ...  He won't have been buying ...
Question Will he buy ...? Will he be buying ....? Will he have bought ...? Will he have been buying .?

Examples

In the examples below, look at the verbs in the different tenses and try and decide why they take that form. If you click any verb which is underlined, you will be shown an explanation.

Present Tenses

1.    John buys flowers for his mother every Mothers' Day.          
2. Does your father ever (i.e. at any time) buy flowers for your mother?
3. John doesn't buy anything for his father on Fathers' Day because he doesn't know  when it is.
4. Look! There's David in that Armani shop! He's buying a suit! I thought he
didn't have any money.
5. What are you buying for Janice's birthday present?
I don't know, I haven't thought about it yet. What about you?
6. No, you've got it wrong. Michael isn't buying a flat, he's buying a ten-bedroom
house!
Wow!
7. Have you ever bought something really expensive?
No, and I don't intend to start now!
8. I have never bought brand name clothing in my life. I can't see the point.
9. I've been buying shares for three months now, and all I've done is lose money.

Past simple and continuous tenses

10. I bought a new dress for my sister yesterday, as it's her birthday tomorrow.
11. I was just coming out of Seibu yesterday afternoon when I bumped into my boss! I don't know who was more embarrassed. He still hasn't said anything about it, but I'll stay at work late today just in case.

Past perfect tenses

12. When the police arrived, the robber had already escaped in a get-away car.
13. When I finally saw him I had been looking for him for hours.

Future tenses

14. I think I'll go shopping this afternoon and get some new clothes.
15. Just think! Next week you'll be working like a slave in the office while I'll be lying on a sunny beach!

Future perfect tenses

16. If the stock market keeps rising, I'll have doubled my money by the end of  the month.
17. Let's get married! By the end of December we' ll have been going out for five years. Surely that's long enough for us to get to know each other?

No! I promised my mother I wouldn't get married until I had been going out with someone for ten years. She said you can't trust men and you have to test their loyalty.

Right! I'm going to look for someone else then!

Explanation

Present simple

This is used mainly for the following:

  1. The present simple tense is used to describe a natural law as in, 'The sun rises  in the East.'
     
  2. The present simple tense is used to describe a permanent state as in, 'I live in Hong Kong.'
     
  3. The present simple tense is used to describe a permanent characteristic of someone/thing as in, 'I am 1.8 metres tall.'
     
  4. The present simple tense is used to describe what you know or how you feel about something as in, 'I think this is a bad idea.'
     
  5. The present simple tense is used to make commands or give instructions as in, 'Come here!' or, 'First you attach X to Y, then you....'
     
  6. The present simple tense is used to form part of a condition as in, 'If you don't come here right now, I'll knock your head off!'
     
  7. The present simple tense is used to describe habits or regularly occurring actions as in, 'I usually have my lunch in the staff canteen.'

Present continuous

This is used mainly for the following:

  1. The present continuous tense is used to describe something that is happening now and will continue for a limited period of time as in,  'At the moment I am working on a project for ...'
     
  2. The present continuous tense is used to describe or ask about future arrangements as in, 'On Tuesday I'm meeting my students to talk about their project.' or, 'What are you doing this weekend?'
     
  3. The present continuous tense is used to describe intentions by using the verb 'go' as in, 'This week I'm going to go swimming every day.'
     
  4. The present continuous tense is used to make predictions using the verb 'go' as in, 'Look at those clouds! It's going to really pour with rain!'

Present perfect simple

This used mainly for the following:

  1. The present perfect simple tense is used to describe an event that happened at some unknown or unstated time in the past. As soon as the time period is known or there is more discussion of the event, then the past tense must be used. An example is:
        A: 'Somebody has broken the window!'
        B: 'Yes, it was me. I tripped and fell against it.'
        A: 'Did you hurt yourself?'   
        B:
    'No, I was lucky.'
     
  2. The present perfect simple tense is used to ask questions about actions or states that you assume took place in the past, but you don't know when as in, 'Have you ever been to Bangkok?' or ' Have you ever lived outside your own country?' or, 'Have you seen John today?'
     
  3. The present perfect simple tense is used to make statements about actions or states in the past where you don't mention the time as in, 'I have finished the report on our annual sales.'
     
  4. The present perfect simple tense is used to ask questions about actions which you know the other person intended to or was supposed to do as in, 'Have you done your homework yet?'
     
  5. The present perfect simple tense is used to make negative statements about actions others assume you have done as in,  
      A:
    'Where are you going for your summer holidays?'
      B: 'I don't know, I haven't decided yet.'

Present perfect continuous

This used mainly for the following:

  1. The present perfect continuous tense is used to describe a state that began in the past and is still true as in, 'I have been living in Hong Kong for years /since I was  a child.'
     
  2. The continuous form is used to describe an action or repeated series of actions that began in the past and is continuing at the present moment as in, 'I have been working for ten hours without a break.' or, 'I have been reading a lot of books about China lately.' If in the last example the speaker used the present perfect simple tense, it would imply that now s/he had stopped reading books about China and was reading about something else.

    Note: It is not possible to use the continuous form with verbs expressing knowledge or opinion. As for the difference in meaning between using the continuous and the simple form, it often depends on whether the speaker thinks the state is likely to be temporary or permanent. Thus an expatriate might say, 'I've been living in Hong Kong for years,' as s/he perceives him/herself to be a temporary resident here, even though s/he may have lived here a long time. It is also not possible to use it with verbs of perception like 'see' and 'hear' unless they are being used in the sense of  actions. For example a manager might say, ' I've been seeing a lot of my sales staff recently.' (i.e. meeting or talking with them) or, ' I've been hearing a lot of good things about your work recently.' (i.e. people have told him).

Past simple

This is used mainly for the following:

  1. The simple form is used to describe an action or a sequence of actions that took place at some known time in the past, either because it is stated or because it can be inferred from the context as in, 'I grew up in the UK.' or 'I had a busy day yesterday. I did all my Christmas shopping, went to the cinema, met a friend for lunch and did a full day's work!'
     
  2. For reporting what someone said as in, 'He told me he was born in Singapore, not Hong Kong.'
     
  3. For making conditional sentences when you are talking about something that is impossible, or is an idea/hypothesis rather than something that you think is likely to happen. An example is, 'If I had a car I would be able to drive out to the New Territories.' (i.e. I don't have a car and I probably think I can't afford one or I have nowhere to keep it).

Past continuous

This is used mainly for the following:

  1. The continuous form is used to describe an action or state that occurred over a period of time in the past as in, 'I was working on the report all day yesterday.' or 'I was living in Spain for 7 years.'
    Note: In both these cases it is also possible to use the simple form.
     
  2. The continuous form is also used to describe an action or state in the past that is interrupted by another shorter action as in, 'The police were searching the building when the gunman opened fire on them.' or 'I was living in Spain when it changed from being a dictatorship to a democracy.'
    Note: In the last example, even though the change to democracy took a number of years, I was there from before the beginning till after the changeover was complete.
     
  3. For reporting what someone said when they used the present continuous as in, 'He said he was going out for lunch.'

Past perfect simple

This is used mainly for the following:

  1. It's most important use is to relate activities/states to each other in the past when it is not clear from the context which one happened first. Students tend to use it instead of the past simple (wrong) rather than with the past simple (right). For example, 'When the firemen arrived, someone had already put the fire out.' the past perfect is used here to make clear that the second action happened first.
     
  2. It is used to report what someone said when they used the present perfect or past tense as in, 'She said she had already been to Thailand before so didn't want to go there again.'
     
  3. In a conditional sentence where the speaker/writer is referring to the past as in, 'If I had bought internet shares in 1998, I would be a rich man now.'

Past perfect continuous

This is used mainly for the following:

  1. The past perfect continuous tense is used to relate a continuous activity or state to another activity or state in the past as in, 'He had been living in Hong Kong for twenty years when he finally returned to the UK.'

    Note:
    The past perfect tenses relate to the past tense in exactly the same way that the present perfect relates to the present tense. If the words 'before' or 'after' are used it is often unnecessary to use them rather than the past as these words make the time sequence of the actions clear. The past perfect continuous is rarely used. Students often make the mistake of trying to overuse the past perfect. 

Future simple

This uses the modal verb 'will' to refer to the future. It is only one way of referring to the future and is not necessarily the most important.

It is mainly used for the following:

  1. The future simple tense is used when the speaker has just made a decision about what to do as in, 'I think I'll go home now.'
     
  2. The future simple tense is used when the speaker/writer is making a prediction as in, 'I believe the stock market will go up again soon.'
     
  3. The future simple tense is used to express the consequence of a condition as in, 'If staff continue being late for work, I'll have to take action.' or, 'When she comes, I'll tell her you want to see her.'

Future continuous

This mainly used for the following:

  1. The future continuous tense is used to describe a future activity or state at some particular time in the future; in this respect it is an example of how the continuous form is used to express an interrupted action ( in this case by  a moment of time rather than by an action). Examples are: This time next week I'll be sitting on a plane on my way to America.
     
  2. The future continuous tense is used to describe a future activity or state that is taking place at the same time as another future action or state as in, 'While you're lying back watching television, I'll be slaving over my homework.' 
    Note:
    The use of 'will' (except in no.1 of the future simple) always expresses an element of prediction.

Future perfect tenses

  1. We use the future perfect tense when we place ourselves at some time in the future, look back and make a prediction about an activity or state that will be completed, or will have been completed by that time. It is not often used. An example would be, 'I 'll have completed the report by next Wednesday.', but the speaker could also say, 'I'll complete the report by next Wednesday.'. The last example could be interpreted as a promise, while the former is a simple prediction.
     
  2. The future perfect continuous form is used to describe the length of time that a continuous action or state has lasted when looked at from some point in the future. For example, an unemployed person might say, 'By the end of this month I'll have been sitting on my backside doing nothing for a year.'

 

Last updated on: Wednesday, May 15, 2013