There are three main verb tenses in English: present, past and future. The present, past and future tenses are divided into four aspects: the simple, progressive, perfect and perfect progressive.
There are 12 major verb tenses that English learners should know.
English has only two ways of forming a tense from the verb alone: the past and the present. For example, we drove and we drive.
To form other verb tenses, you have to add a form of have, be or will in front of the verb. These are called helping, or auxiliary verbs.
These are probably the first tenses you learned in English. Simple tenses usually refer to a single action. In general, simple tenses express facts and situations that existed in the past, exist in the present, or will exist in the future.
Simple present: I drive home every day.
Simple past: I drove home yesterday.
Simple future: I will drive home later.
Progressive (Continuous) Tenses
Let’s go on to the progressive tenses. We use progressive tenses to talk about unfinished events. Progressive tenses are also called continuous tenses.
Past progressive: I was driving when you called.
Present progressive: I am driving now.
Future progressive: I will be driving when you call.
Now let’s look at the perfect tenses. Perfect tenses cause the most confusion. To put it simply, they express the idea that one event happens before another event.
There are many tricky exceptions with the perfect tenses, which we will discuss in a future episode. The adverbs never, yet and already are common in perfect tenses.
Present perfect: I have driven that road.
Past perfect: I had already driven that road in the past.
Future perfect: I will have driven 200 miles by tomorrow.
Perfect Progressive Tenses
Finally, let’s look at the perfect progressive tenses. Generally, perfect progressive tenses express duration, or how long? Perfect progressive tenses usually include the adverbs for or since.
Present perfect progressive: I have been driving since this morning.
Past perfect progressive: I had been driving for three hours before I stopped to get gas.
Future perfect progressive: I will have been driving for five hours by the time I arrive.
Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything yet. Here are some recommendations we have for learning verb tenses.
#10 - Questions
#11 - Overview
English learners sometimes try to impress people by using complex verb tenses. You often have a choice of several verb tenses. When you do, always choose the simplest one. It will be clearer for your listener, and there is less chance of making a mistake.