Grammar 101: Understanding verb tenses

by IELTS Australia — December 14th, 2017

There are three main verb tenses in English: present, past and future. Let’s look at the different verb tenses in a bit more detail to enhance your English language skills.

Verb tenses inform us how an action relates to time and can create a lot of confusion if used incorrectly. We suggest you familiarise yourself with the different verb tenses as verbs can change forms depending on the tenses they are used in. The general rule for simple past tense is to add “ed” at the end of the verb but this doesn’t apply to all verbs.

It may seem difficult at first but all you need to do is understand the logic and remember a few sentence structures and general rules. With a lot of practice, it will become second nature to you. Let’s get started.

Present
Simple Present

The tense that is used to refer to events, actions, and conditions that are happening all the time, or exist now.

  • I swim every day.”
  • I play football.”
Present Continuous:

The tense that is used for actions happening now or for an action that is unfinished. This tense is also used when the action is temporary.

  • “I am swimming in my neighbour’s pool now.”
  • “She is speaking to my mum at the moment.”
Present Perfect:

The tense that is used for something that started in the past and continued to the present time.

  • “I have swum in the sea countless times.”
  • “I have spoken to her many times”
Present Perfect Continuous:

The tense that is used to show that something started in the past and is continuing at the present time.

  • “I have been swimming since I was 7 years old.”
  • “She has been competing in dance competitions lately.”
Past
Simple Past:

The tense that is used to describe an event or action that happened in the past.

  • “Yesterday, I swam 10 laps.”
  • “Last night, I cooked chicken curry.”
Past Continuous:

The tense that is used for a continuing action or event in a time which began or existed in the past. It can also be used to describe an unfinished action that was interrupted by another event or action.

  • “I was swimming with David last night when Bob arrived.”
  • “In May, she was teaching in a school in Darwin.”
Past Perfect:

The tense that is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past

  • “I had swum the breaststroke before I turned 8.”
  • “He had failed to communicate that he had another wife when we first met.”
Past Perfect Continuous:

The tense that is used to show that an action started in the past and continued up until another time in the past.

  • “I had been swimming for many years before Priya picked up the sport.”
  • “Dave had been playing soccer for 10 years when he was offered a spot on the US Olympic team.”
Future
Simple Future:

The tense that is used to describe things that haven’t yet happened at the present time but which are expected, or likely to occur in the future.

  • “I will swim more than 10 laps tomorrow.”
  • “You will see her again next week.”
Future Continuous:

The tense that is used for an unfinished action or event that will occur in future and continue for an expected length of time.

  • “I will be swimming in the new Olympic-sized swimming pool on Friday.”
  • “By December next year, I will be swimming like a fish.”
Future Perfect:

The tense that is used for actions that will be completed between now and some point in the future.

  • “I will have swum at least 1000km by the end of the year”
  • “He will have built 40 homes by the first quarter of 2018.”
Future Perfect Continuous:

The tense that is used to describe actions that will continue up until a point in the future.

  • “By noon today, I will have been swimming for 2 hours.”
  • “In April, Damien will have been working in the company for 10 years.”