The Existing Verb Tenses and Their Usage

English, French, Russian, even Lithuanian – every language in the world has verb tenses. These tenses – past, present and future – explain a specific action, event, state or something else that has or will happen. The issue is that, despite all languages having verb tenses, not every language deploys the same verb tenses or use them in the same way. This is why English verb tenses can be particularly confusing for students who are not native to the English language.

English speakers use verb forms like went, go, and will go to reference the past, present and future in their conversations and written dialect. In English, there are twelve verb tense forms. They are:

  1. Simple Present
  2. Simple Past
  3. Simple Future
  4. Present Continuous
  5. Past Continuous
  6. Future Continuous
  7. Present Perfect
  8. Past Perfect
  9. Future Perfect
  10. Present Perfect Continuous
  11. Past Perfect Continuous
  12. Future Perfect Continuous

Continue reading for explanations and examples of verb tenses.

Verb Tenses in English

In the English language, there are a total of twelve verb tenses, the three primary verb tenses being past, present and future. Past verb tenses are used to reference events that have already occurred (yesterday, last month, last night, five years ago, etc.) Present verb tenses are used to reference events that are currently happening, or those things that continually happen. And, future verb tenses are used to reference events that have not yet occurred, but will (later on, tomorrow, next month, in five years, etc.)

Note that you might hear Linguists say that there are actually only three verb tenses (past, present and future) and that the remaining elements are ‘aspects of verb tenses.’ Both explanations are correct.

The following chart illustrates the proper use of each of the twelve verb tenses.

Simple PresentSimple PastSimple Future
I jog nearly every day.Last night, I ate an entire bowl of popcorn.I will jog as much as I can this week.
Present ContinuousPast ContinuousFuture Continuous
I am jogging.I was watching The Land Before Time last night.I will have ran at least 50 miles by next month.
Present PerfectPast PerfectFuture Perfect
I have jogged so many miles I lost count.I have watched at least 25 movies by the time I was fifteen.I will have run at least 500 miles by the end of next year.
Present Perfect ContinuousPast Perfect Continuous Future Perfect Continuous
I have been jogging since I was ten years old.I had been watching movies about outer space since before I learned to walk.I will have been jogging for at least two hours before lunch this afternoon.

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The Present Tenses

Verbs in present tense are: Simple Present, Present Perfect, and Present Continuous.

Simple Present verb tenses serve two main purposes – describing when an event is presently occurring, or when an event happens regularly (also referred to as present indefinite). Depending on the speaker, simple present verb tenses might be formed by using the root form or by adding -es or -s to the ending.

Examples of Simple Present verb tense:

  • I go …
  • She goes …
  • Kelly is …
  • My mom likes …

Present Perfect verb tenses describe an action or event that either happened at an indefinite time in the past, or started in the past and continued to the present. Present Perfect verb tenses are formed by have / has + the past participle.

Examples of Present Perfect verb tenses:

  • I have gone …
  • She has gone …

Present Continuous verb tenses indicate when an action or event is currently happening and will continue to happen in the future. Present Continuous verb tenses are formed by to be [am, is , are] + verb [present participle]

Examples of Present Continuous verb tenses:

  • I have been going …
  • She has been going …
  • My mom has been practicing …

The Past Tenses

Verbs in past tense are: Simple Past, Past Perfect, Past Continuous, and Past Perfect Continuous.

Simple Past verb tenses are those that are used to describe events that happened before present time. Simple Past tense demonstrates that a speaker is discussing something that has already occurred and are finished. This is different from Past Continuous verb tense that focuses on events that happened over a specific timeframe.

Simple Past verbs are formed by adding – ed to the root form (or – d if the root form ends in e.)

Examples of Simple Past verb tenses:

  • I went …
  • I wanted …
  • I had …
  • He wanted …
  • She waited …
  • Julie ate …

Past Perfect verb tense is sometimes referred to as pluperfect. This verb tense is used to reference events that were finished or completed at some point in the past. Past Perfect verb tenses are formed by  had + [past participle] for both singular and plural subjects.

Examples of Past Perfect verb tense:

  • I had gone …
  • She had drank …
  • He had driven …
  • Jim had ran …

Past Continuous verb tenses are also known as past progressive tenses. They are used to describe continuing actions, or events that were happing at some point in the past. Past Continuous verb tenses are formed by combing the past tense of to be with the present participle of the verb – ing.

Examples of Past Continuous verb tense:

  • I was going …
  • Sally was reading …
  • He was eating …
  • She was running …

Past Perfect Continuous verb tenses, also referred to as past perfect progressive tense, describes a specific action or event that started in the past but continued to another time also in the past. Past Perfect Continuous verb tenses are formed using had been + the present participle of the verb (root + – ing)

Different from present perfect continuous, past perfect continuous verbs are events or actions that started in the past, continued in the past and also ended in the past.

Examples of Past Perfect Continuous verb tense:

  • I had been going …
  • She had been driving …
  • He had been drinking …
  • Jim had been driving …

The Future Tenses

Verbs in future tense are: Simple Future, Future Perfect, Future Continuous, and Future Perfect Continuous. They all reference events that will occur in the future.

Simple Future verb tenses speak about events or actions that have not yet occurred. Simple Future verb tenses are formed by will + [root form of the verb] the formula will be the same for both singular and plural subjects. However, there is a second way to demonstrate that something will occur at a later point in time, [am / is /are] + going to + [root form of the verb]

Examples of Simple Future verb tense:

  • I will go …
  • My dad will drive us to …
  • We are going to …

Future Perfect verb tenses are used to demonstrate actions or events that will end in the future. Future Perfect verb tenses are formed by will have + [past participle] and it does not change if the subject of the sentence is singular or plural.

Examples of Future Perfect verb tense:

  • I will have gone …
  • My sister will have driven …
  • Mike will have learned …

Future Continuous verb tense has also been referred to as future progressive tense. This verb tense is used to discuss an action or event that will occur in the future and will continue to occur for a specific amount of time. Future Continuous verb tenses are formed by will + be + the present participle (root verb + -ing)

Examples of Future Continuous verb tenses:

  • I will be going …
  • Sally and Fred will be going to the prom together.
  • My dad will be going camping with my little brother.

Future Perfect Continuous verb tenses have also been called future perfect progressive verb tenses. They are used to reference events or actions that are expected to continue until a specific point in the future. Future Perfect Continuous verbs are formed by will + have + been + the verb’s present participle (verb root + – ing)

Examples of Future Perfect Continuous verb tenses:

  • I will have been going …
  • My mom will have been going to choir practice for eight months now …
  • My English teacher will have been handing out tests all year.

Verb Tense Cheat Sheet

Again, the twelve verb tenses are:

  1. Simple Present
  2. Simple Past
  3. Simple Future
  4. Present Continuous
  5. Past Continuous
  6. Future Continuous
  7. Present Perfect
  8. Past Perfect
  9. Future Perfect
  10. Present Perfect Continuous
  11. Past Perfect Continuous
  12. Future Perfect Continuous
  • The Simple Past tenseis used to describe an activity or event that happened in the past.
  • The Past Continuous verb tenseis used to describe an on-going past activity.
  • The Past Perfect verb tense is used to describe an event or action that finished before another started.
  • The Past Perfect Continuous verb tense is used to demonstrate a past continuous action that has ended.
  • The Simple Presenttense is used largely to describe habits and facts.
  • The Present Continuous verb tense is used to discuss an action or event that is on-going at present time.
  • The Present Perfect verb tense is used to reference actions or events that began in the past and are continuing at present time.
  • The Simple Future verb tense is used to demonstrate an action or event that will happen in the future.
  • The Future Continuous verb tense is used to discuss an on-going event or action that will happen in the future.
  • The Future Perfect verb tense is used to demonstrate an action or event that will conclude sometime in the future.
  • The Future Perfect Continuous verb tense is used to demonstrate an ongoing action that will be complete at some point in the future.

Verb Tense Exercises

As with everything, the best way to learn about verb tenses is to practice them – and to practice them regularly. In everyday life, you should be presented with ample opportunity to practice speaking in past, present and future tense. This practice might come from discussing your favorite childhood memory with a close friend, or it might come from be asked by a professor to write down your future life goals or objectives. Or, you might even be asked to talk about something you are doing currently, or a present day news story.

If you require additional help, or just want to test your ability to form past, present and future verb here are a few exercise sheets and practice quizzes to get your started!