Whether you are a student looking to improve your English skills, learning English for immigration or planning to work abroad, understanding verb tenses is essential. It will help you engage in more detailed and deep conversations, write with greater clarity, and use a wider range of content. In this article, we will sort out all 12 tenses in English to help you start using them confidently in your speech.
Here is why using correct verb tenses in English is crucial for effective communication.
- Clarity: Proper verb tenses help to clarify the timeline of actions and events. Listeners or readers can easily understand when an action took place or whether it’s ongoing or completed.
- Accuracy: Correct verb tenses ensure that the information you convey is accurate. Misusing tenses can lead to confusion, as it may suggest the wrong timing or sequence of events.
- Consistency: Consistent use of verb tenses maintains the logical flow of your speech. Jumping between different tenses can disrupt the coherence.
- Professional or academic settings: Using correct tenses showcases your language proficiency and attention to detail. It adds to your credibility and makes your communication more appealing.
- Engagement: Incorrect verb tenses can distract your audience from your message. They might focus on deciphering what you mean instead of the content of your speech.
- Contextual Understanding: Proper tense usage provides context for the events or situations. This allows readers or listeners to fully grasp all details and make informed interpretations.
A Brief Overview of the 12 tenses in English
With a total of 12 tenses in English, it may seem difficult to learn the differences between them. However, English verb tenses follow a very logical system. Once you understand this underlying logic, you will be able to use them in your speech with confidence and avoid common mistakes.
Overall, you can divide all 12 tenses in English into three primary categories: past, present, and future. We further break down these categories into dimensions that provide additional context and depth.
- Simple dimension refers to single or generally repeated actions.
- Progressive (continuous) dimension is used for ongoing actions happening over a certain period of time.
- Perfect dimension connects an action to a specific point in time or establishes a sequence of events.
- Perfect continuous dimension then adds another layer to perfect tenses by emphasizing continuity of the main action.
Always remember that context is king. Selecting the right tense depends on the context and the message you want to share. Are you describing a historical event, expressing a current truth, or outlining future plans? Is it a single action, a process or a sequence of events? By understanding the context, you can select the relevant tense. Let’s now review different situations for using each of the 12 tenses in English.
Present Tenses: Anchoring in the Now
Present tenses are the most straightforward and easy to understand. As an English learner, you probably started your studies with mastering present tenses first. These tenses are used to describe actions, events, or situations that are happening in the present. Here is how they are divided into categories based on the dimensions we discussed.
- The simple present tense is like a snapshot of routine actions, general truths, or facts.
For example, “I buy groceries on Saturdays” captures something I do every week. “The sun rises in the east” is about a universal law of nature.
- With the present continuous tense, we emphasize actions occurring at the very moment of speaking.
They can refer to something short that is in progress as we speak: “I am writing this blog post”. Or a longer action that is happening temporarily: “She is staying in New York this week”.
- The present perfect tense, on the other hand, emphasizes the connection between past actions and the present moment.
You may be wondering why we classify this tense as present if it describes past actions. Remember that the focus here is not on the action itself or the time when it happened but on its result in the present. For example, when I say that “I have finished my homework”, I emphasize that the homework is now completed. It doesn’t matter when it happened.
- The present perfect continuous adds continuity to the actions we describe.
It refers to an action that started in the past and is still progressing into the present. For example: “I have been learning English for five years”. This means that I started learning 5 years ago but I am still learning now.
Past Tenses: Reflecting on History
The next section of the 12 tenses in English will focus on the past. It also includes 4 dimensions and allows us to talk about events that already passed.
- The simple past tense describes past actions that are not related to the present anymore.
For example: “He walked in the park last night” means the action is now over. “Last night” helps to give context by specifying the time period that already ended. We can also use past simple to list events that happened in sequence: “He woke up, had a coffee and went to the office”.
- The past continuous tense adds a layer of detail by highlighting actions that were ongoing in the past.
“She was reading a captivating novel” emphasizes that the action lasted for some time. It is also used to provide background information: “She was cooking dinner when the power went out.”
- The past perfect tense establishes a sequence of connected events in the past. It specifies which action was completed before another action.
For example, “By the time I arrived, they had already eaten”. This means that the action of eating completed at some point before my arrival. As with present perfect, the timing of the earlier action is not as important as its connection to the action that followed.
- The past perfect continuous also connects two events in the past.
However, it highlights the ongoing nature of the earlier action. We can modify the previous example as follows: “By the time I arrived, they had been eating for 3 hours”. This means that they had started eating and continued until I arrived.
Future Tenses: Picturing the Unseen
English verb tenses also offer glimpses into the future.
- The simple future tense describes actions that are yet to happen.
You can use this tense for predictions, promises, offers, and spontaneous decisions. For example: “She will attend the conference” points to an upcoming event.
- The future continuous tense allows talking about actions that will be in progress at a specific future time.
For example, “I can’t come to the event tomorrow. I will be working late”. This points to the ongoing nature of the action that will take place during the event.
- The future perfect again connects the action to a certain point in the future or shows the relationship between two future actions.
For example, “By the time you arrive, I will have finished my project”. In this case, project completion will precede your arrival. However, both events will happen in the future.
- Finally, the future perfect continuous is used to talk about an ongoing action that will continue until a certain point in the future.
For example, “By tomorrow, I will have been working on this project for a week”. This means that I am working on it now and will continue working on it till tomorrow.
Practical Tips for Mastering all 12 Tenses in English
If verb tenses still seem scary, don’t worry! First of all, you will not be using all 12 tenses in English with the same frequency. Try to focus on the most commonly used tenses first: present simple, past simple and present perfect. Once you master those, add one more tense at a time to your learning agenda and maintain a steady progress. Here are also some additional tips to help you succeed.
- Immerse Yourself: Surround yourself with English content – books, movies, podcasts – that expose you to different tenses in context. Follow these simple tips for introducing English practice into your daily routine.
- Practice a lot! Engage in exercises that require you to form sentences in various tenses. The more you practice, the more natural it becomes. Join our monthly English challenge and learn how to use English verb tenses in different contexts!
- Keep a Journal. Document your experiences and thoughts using different tenses. This practice will help reinforce your understanding and application.
- Use it in a conversation: Engage in conversations with native English speakers or fellow learners. Real-life interactions provide practical experience in using tenses accurately.
- Use Language Apps: There are numerous language learning apps designed to help you practice and reinforce your grasp of verb tenses. Take advantage of their interactive exercises and quizzes.
English verb tenses are among the most difficult topics of English grammar. Don’t be discouraged and keep learning! Thank you for joining Novaturient to improve your English skills. Good luck!