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Tenses

The tense of a verb shows whether the action of the verb happens in the past, the present or the future, whether it is a single action or a repeated action, whether the action is completed or unfinished, and so on.

  • I am here.
  • She came with us.
  • The police caught the burglar.
  • My canary sings beautifully.
  • I was here.
  • She will come with us.
  • The police had caught the burglar.
  • My canary is singing beautifully.

The Simple Tenses

simple tense is a tense indicated by a single word, such as runs, came, brings, taught, are or were.

The ‘simple present tense’ and the ‘simple past tense’ are the only two simple tenses in English.

The Simple Present Tense:

  • Cows eat grass.
  • like pop music.
  • Martha is a reporter for the television news.
  • Tom speaks French and Spanish.
  • The train leaves at 5.57.

The Simple Past Tense:

  • We all went back into the house.
  • Suddenly she stood up and walked out of the room.
  • Who gave you that camera?
  • At first, I thought it was a ghost.

In questions and negative sentences with not or -n’t, the simple past tense is in fact formed with two words, the auxiliary verb do and the base form of a lexical verb. Compare the following sentences:

  • I saw her
  • They all laughed
  • Did you see her?
  • Did they laugh?
  • didn’t see her.
  • They did not laugh.

All other tenses in English are complex tenses, that is, tenses that are formed using two or more words.

A complex tense is formed with one or more auxiliary verbs and a lexical verb, such as will go, has come, is running, will be teaching, has been helping.

There are fourteen complex tenses in English.

The Future and Conditional Tenses

The Future Tense:

The future tense of a verb is formed by using the auxiliary verb will, less commonly shall, along with the base form of a lexical verb:

  • They will all be here in a minute.
  • I expect John will get the maths prize again this year.
  • You will find a huge selection of gifts in our catalogue.
  • We is shall overcome all obstacles in our path.
  • will be more careful in future.

The Conditional Tense (or the Future in the Past):

The conditional tense of a verb is formed by using the auxiliary verb would along with the base form of a lexical verb:

  • I would help you if I could.
  • She would come if you asked her to.

When used in reported speech, this tense is called the future in the past:

  • He said he would come as soon as possible.

The Perfect Tenses

Perfect tenses are formed with the auxiliary verb have and a past participle of a lexical verb. There are four perfect tenses, each corresponding to one of the four tenses already described in this topic.

The Present Perfect Tense:

The present perfect tense is formed with the present tense of have and the past participle of a lexical verb:

  • have always eaten egg sandwiches for my lunch.
  • Have you finished your homework yet?
  • You have already seen that film twice. Why do you want to see it again?
  • She says she has lost her purse somewhere.
  • The weather has been very warm lately.

The Past Perfect Tense:

The past perfect tense is formed with the past tense of have and the past participle of a lexical verb:

  • The noise had continued all night, and they had been unable to sleep.
  • I pretended that I hadn’t heard her.
  • had already seen that film twice and I didn’t want to see it again.
  • She had lost her purse and didn’t have enough money for the train fare home.

The Future Perfect Tense:

The future perfect tense is formed with will or shall, the auxiliary verb have, and the past participle of a lexical verb:

  • We will have finished this job by the end of the week.
  • They will surely have left by now.
  • By the time this letter reaches you, I will have been here nearly a month.

The Perfect Conditional Tense:

The perfect conditional tense is formed with would, the auxiliary verb have, and the past participle of a lexical verb:

  • would have told her if I had seen her.
  • We wouldn’t have come if we had known she would be there too.
  • Would he ever have dared to tell her the truth?

The Continuous Tenses

Continuous tenses are formed with the auxiliary verb be and the present participle of a lexical verb. There are eight continuous tenses, each corresponding to one of the eight tenses already described in this topic.

The Present Continuous Tense:

The present continuous tense is formed with the present tense of be and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • You are looking very tired.
  • We are leaving first thing tomorrow morning.
  • Why are the dogs barking so much?
  • She is arriving tomorrow and I am going to the airport to meet her.

The Past Continuous Tense:

The past continuous tense is formed with the past tense of the auxiliary verb be and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • All the students were laughing.
  • My father was working in the garden when I arrived.
  • Why were you hiding from your brother?
  • The dogs were running around on the beach.
  • was wondering what to say to her.

The Future Continuous Tense:

The future continuous tense is formed with the auxiliary verbs will land shall, the auxiliary verb be and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • It will be getting dark soon.
  • Will you be staying here long?
  • Just imagine what you will be doing this time next week.
  • We shall no doubt be seeing you again soon.

The Conditional Continuous Tense (or the Future Continuous in the Past):

The conditional continuous tense is formed with the auxiliary verb would, the auxiliary verb be, and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • He said he would be coming.
  • Just imagine what you would be doing now if you weren’t here.

The Present Perfect Continuous Tense:

The present perfect continuous tense is formed with the present tense of the auxiliary verb have, the past participle of the auxiliary verb be, and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • It has been raining for days now. Will it never stop?
  • The police have been searching for clues to the murderer’s identity.
  • have been wanting to talk to you all morning.
  • You have been working on that model yacht for ages. Isn’t it finished yet?
  • Who has been eating my porridge?

The Past Perfect Continuous Tense:

The past perfect continuous tense is formed with the past tense of the auxiliary verb have, the past participle of the auxiliary verb be, and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • We had been working on the project for more than a year and were getting a bit bored with it.
  • had just been putting the finishing touches to the painting when he arrived.
  • had been wondering whether you would come or not.
  • The wind had been blowing all night.

The Future Perfect Continuous Tense:

The future perfect continuous tense is formed with the auxiliary verbs will and shall, the auxiliary verb have, the past participle of the auxiliary verb be, and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • By the end of this month, I will have been working here for six years.
  • By this evening, the miners will have been trying to free their trapped colleagues for more than six days and hope is running out.
  • By the time the sale starts tomorrow morning, some of these people will have been waiting outside the shop for more than a week.

The Perfect Conditional Continuous Tense:

The perfect conditional continuous tense is formed with the auxiliary verb would, the auxiliary verb have, the past participle of the auxiliary verb be, and the present participle of a lexical verb:

  • If I hadn’t given you a lift, you would have been waiting in the rain for a bus for hours.
  • I wonder what we would have been doing now if we hadn’t decided to sell the house and move to Spain.

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