Verb Tenses | Between the Lines by English Forward

English Forward
6 min readNov 13, 2020

Tense refers to a verb form which tells the time of a state or action in a sentence.

Daniel has a car.
Daniel will have a car.
Daniel had a car.
They played the game well.
We are reading The Hindu.

Sudha was happy last Tuesday.
We are in Chennai.
My son will look surprised on seeing this magic mirror.
He will run here tomorrow.

We need to know the structure and use of the different verb tenses so that we can employ the appropriate form with regard to time and situation.

1. Simple Present or Present Indefinite

Structure: subject + V1 (dictionary) form of the verb. [When the subject is third person singular ( he, she, it), the verb adds to itself -s, -es or -ies]

Uses of the simple present tense:

Exception: the verb ‘ be’ — I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are

A. Present actions (which last for a very short period)
· Sam lifts the pen.
· His uncle gets into the car.

B. Regular/General/ Habitual actions
· Suresh gets up at 6.
· We visit Tirumala every May.
· My friend John reads the Sports Star.

C. Time Tables / Official plans
· The Chief Minister dedicates this water purifying plant to the state on the 12th of next month.
· Seshadhri Express arrives at Kaakinada station at 5 PM on Wednesdays.
· The school reopens on 3 June 2010.

D. Conditional clauses
· If you work (not will work) hard, you will pass.

E. Sayings and Proverbs
· The pen is mightier than the sword.

F. To make past events livelier, we use simple present
· Now, Alexander marches for another battle.

G. Newspaper headlines

2. Present Continuous

H. Exclamatory sentences with ‘here’ and ‘there’
· Here she comes!
· There! He wins!

Uses of the present continuous:

Structure: subject + ‘ be’ verb ( am, is, are) + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb (‘ be ‘ is an auxiliary verb)

A. Actions taking place at the present moment
· Ravi and his friends are playing chess.
· Sugunya’s father is buying vegetables.

B. Actions taking place now, but not at this moment
· Ram is feeding his children. He is doing a project for Ambuja Cements.

C. Personal Plans
· My aunt is visiting the dentist next Tuesday.

D. Actions, usually unpleasant ones, happening despite your protest or disapproval
· Varun is always taking my stationery without my knowledge.

3. Present Perfect

Structure: subject + ‘ have’ verb ( have, has) + past participle (-ed form) of the main verb (‘ have’ is an auxiliary verb)

Uses of the present perfect:

A. Actions which have just finished (immediate past)
· Vimal has just entered the house.
· We have just had tea.

B. Time of the past action is unknown or indefinite
· We have met him once. (We don’t remember when it was.)
· Sujatha’s uncle has told me about this place many times.

C. When something refers in some manner to the present moment
· My father has bought me five hundred books so far. (And he may buy me more in the future.)

4. Present Perfect Continuous

D. Action finished, but its effect is felt in the present
· Tharun has failed in Maths. He is attending remedial classes.

Uses of the present perfect continuous:

Structure: subject + ‘ have’ verb ( have, has) + been + present participle (-ing form) of main verb (‘ have’ and ‘ be ‘ are auxiliary verbs)

A. Actions which started in the past and are continuing
· Vimal has been whitewashing the fence since four this afternoon.

5. Simple past or past indefinite

B. Action has finished, but its effect is felt in the present (the same situation is expressed using present perfect, also)
· We look tired perhaps because we have been working in the sun all day.

Structure: subject + V2 (past) form of the verb

Uses of the simple past tense:

Exception: the verb ‘be’ ( was, were) — I/he/she/it was; you /we/they were

A. A state in the past or a completed action
· Sudha’s uncle was a teacher.
· Suresh turned this place into a busy shopping centre a few years ago.

6. Past Continuous

B. Past habit
· When we were in Bangalore we read The Times of India.

Uses of the past continuous:

Structure: subject + ‘ be’ verb ( was, were) (-ing form) of main verb

A. Time when an action was in progress in the past
· Vaaruni was playing chess with her brother at 7:00 last evening.

7. Past Perfect

B. Past continuous and simple past — when a brief action happens during a longer past action
· Yesterday, when Seema was cleaning the sofa, she found a coin under one of the cushions.

Use of the past perfect:

Structure: subject + ‘ have’ verb ( had) + past participle (-ed form) of the main verb

8. Past Perfect Continuous

A: The first of two successive actions in the past
· Latha’s father had spoken to her about life in a city before he took her to the train station.
· When we reached the theatre the film had started.

Use of the present perfect continuous:

Structure: subject + ‘ have’ verb ( had) + been + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb

9. Simple Future

An action started before a certain time in the past and which continued
· When I visited Ramya yesterday she had been listening to music for half an hour.
· Last Tuesday Suman and his uncle had been writing letters for just over an hour when they received the telegram from Delhi.

Use of the simple future:

Structure: subject + will ( shall for I and We) + V1 (dictionary form) of the verb

10. Future Continuous

An action or state in the future over which we do not have any control
· Mrs Armstrong will meet us tomorrow. (She has just called us)
· They will become doctors next year.
· David will be seventeen next Sunday.

Use of the future continuous:

Structure: subject + will /shall + be + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb

The time in the future when something will be in progress
· Ranjith will be reading his newspaper at six this evening.

11. Future Perfect

Use of the future perfect:

Structure: subject + will /shall + have + past participle (-ed form) of the main verb

11. Future Perfect Continuous

To show completion of a task in the future
· Veeraraghavan will have taken these chairs to his grandmother’s by 3 PM tomorrow.

Use of the future perfect continuous.

Structure: subject + will /shall + have + been + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb

An action starting at a certain point in the future and continuing to another point
· Immanuel will have been working for this company for four years by July 2012.

Written by Mister Micawber

Mister Micawber has taught English as a second/foreign language in Japan since 1990. He teaches conversational and business English and English proficiency test preparation. He also offers, via email, proofreading and editing services for CVs, articles, compositions, letters, recipes, etc.