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Understanding Verb Tenses: Learn About Different Verb Tenses and Their Various Uses.

A verb tense is a grammatical construct that modifies the verb to represent time. Learning the different tenses of verbs will help you express the reality of time in your speech and writing, as well as the use of time expressions.

What Is a Verb Tense?

Before understanding what a verb tense is, it helps to recall the definition of verbs. Remember that a verb is a part of speech that shows actions, conditions and the existence of something while showing time.

A verb tense consists of a time frame and an aspect. The time frame is divided into past, present and future.

The past tenses describe actions that occurred in the past, while the present tenses describe activities taking place in the present. Meanwhile, future tenses describe actions that will occur in the future. It’s crucial to understand these differences, especially if you’re writing.

The aspects of verb tenses refer to the verb’s state of action, and they are divided into four: simple, progressive, perfect and present progressive tenses.

The simple tenses are used for actions occurring at a specific time in the past, future or present. Progressive tenses indicate ongoing or unfinished actions, while perfect tenses describe completed actions. Lastly, the perfect progressive tenses depict actions that were in progress and then finished.

How Do You Identify Verb Tenses?

You can understand the types of verb tenses by mastering their different forms. For instance, you should know that the simple past tense usually has a verb that ends in -d or -ed if they are regular verbs.

For progressive tenses, an auxiliary verb is used followed by the present participle form of the verb, which is also the -ing form. These forms are used to indicate the ongoing nature of an event in time.

It also helps to understand verb tense rules, such as the proper sequence of verb tenses. For example, the verb of the subordinate clause can be in any tense if the independent clause shows future or present tense.

Remember to only show shifts in verb tenses when necessary, such as when you indicate a change in the time of the action.

I find that style guides also vary when it comes to verb tense rules. There may be examples of writing rules in APA that Chicago does not recommend.

What Are the 12 Verb Tenses?

Now, let’s discuss the twelve English tenses, their functions and some sentence examples. I’ve divided them into key sections to make things easier.

Simple Present

The simple tense is the first big category of verb tenses. The simple present tense indicates actions or states that either occur at the moment or regularly.

We form the simple present tense by adding -s or -es if the subject is singular. But if the subject is plural or I, keep it in its base form. For example:

  • I create my writing schedule every week.
  • She creates her writing schedule every week.
  • They create their writing schedule every week.

Present Continuous

The present continuous or progressive tense is one of the categories of verb tenses that shows an ongoing action in the present. Professional writers also use this verb tense to express habitual actions.

We form the present continuous tense by using an auxiliary verb in the present tense—is/are/am—+ –ing verb form. For example:

  • The previous researchers from Purdue University who wrote thermodynamics are now writing a paper about aerodynamics.
  • The lady in red is looking for her shoes.

To better understand this verb tense, it is essential to distinguish the difference between continuous, non-continuous and mixed verbs. Remember that non-continuous verbs, also known as stative verbs, such as remember, hate, guess and seem, do not take the present continuous tense. For example:

  • Incorrect: I am hating this movie.
  • Correct: I hate this movie.

Present Perfect

The perfect verb tense shows actions with complex time relationships. They are either complete, perfected or finished.

The standard present perfect tense is one of the perfect tenses that indicates past actions continuing or being related to the present. It can also convey actions that have been recently finished or completed in the past at an indefinite time.

We form it using the popular auxiliary verbs has or have and the past participle verb form. For example:

  • They have come a long way.
  • She has come a long way.

Present Perfect Continuous

The present perfect continuous tense shows actions that started in the past and are continuing in the present. This verb tense follows the formula has/have been + present participle of the verb. For example:

  • Arnold has been playing the piano recently.
  • We haven’t been feeling well lately.

Simple Past

This tense is one of the verb tenses in English that show past actions, whether they occurred at a specific or nonspecific time. It is sometimes formed by adding -d or -ed to the base verb. For example:

  • She started reading the book yesterday.

Some verbs in the simple past form are irregular. An irregular verb is one of the types of verbs that do not follow the typical simple past and past participle forms of verbs. For example:

  • We bought new curtains yesterday.

Past Perfect

The perfect aspect of verbs shows perfected or completed actions at a specific time.

The past perfect tense is one of the major verb tenses that describes actions completed before a specific event in the past. Past perfect tense forms require a verbal phrase that includes had and the past participle of the verb. For example:

  • Many universities had strengthened their liberal arts programs when the economy declined.

Past Continuous

The past continuous tense shows a continuing action happening at a specific point in the past. We form it by using was/were + -ing form of the verb. For example:

  • We were clapping until he tripped on the stage.
  • My mom was baking cookies when my friend knocked.

Past Perfect Continuous

The past perfect continuous tense expresses an action initiated in the past and continued until a later point in the past. We form it using had been followed by the present participle form of the verb. For example:

  • He had been cooking steak when his wife walked in the kitchen.

Simple Future

The simple future tense indicates actions or the state of being that will occur in future events.

We form the simple future tense by using the verb phrase will plus the base form of the verb. Will is a helping verb that assists the main verb in indicating the future time, whether it’s a determinate or indeterminate time. It’s one of the modal verbs, along with shall, would, can, etc.

Some examples include will write, will look, will wash and will buy. Below are some sentence examples that show future action.

  • The researcher will submit his paper to the University of Michigan Press tomorrow afternoon.
  • She will walk to work tomorrow.

Future Continuous

The future continuous or progressive tense describes an event that will be ongoing in the future. This type of action is expected to continue over a period of time, making it a future continuous action.

We form a future continuous verb by using will be plus the –ing form of the verb. For example:

  • I will be going to the library while you do your homework.
  • She will be having piano lessons tomorrow.

Future Perfect

The future perfect tense is used for actions that will be completed before another event in the future. This is formed by using the words will + have + past participle of the verb. For example:

  • Before school begins in the fall, they will have gained enough motivation to decide which university they want to attend.
  • Mar will have left before you arrive.

Future Perfect Continuous

The future perfect continuous tense describes an action that will continue into the future up to a specific point in time. The correct formula for this tense is will have been + present participle form of the verb. For example:

  • I will have been writing a new book for ten months in fall.

What Are Present Perfect Infinitives?

Infinitives are usually expressed in simple tenses, but they can also have perfect tense forms. The present perfect infinitive combines the present perfect tense with the infinitive to followed by the base form of the verb. It is used to show an action or event completed before the time of speaking or in relation to another past event. It emphasizes the result of the action. For example:

  • Dalia seems to have forgotten her keys.
  • Luna appears to have completed the project ahead of schedule.

Verb Tenses vs. Time Reference

Verb tenses refer to the grammatical structure of the verb, while time reference indicates when the action takes place. Some verb tenses can represent a single time reference, while in other cases, different time references can be expressed using the same verb tense.

Can the Verb Tenses Be Expressed in Different Forms?

You can show verb tenses in active and passive verb forms. Negative, affirmative and interrogative forms also exist in different verb tenses.

What’s the Most Used Verb Tense in English?

The most commonly used verb tenses are simple tenses, particularly the simple present and simple past. The present perfect tense is also widely used in the English language. You’ll find these tenses in both creative and academic writing.

It’s also essential to differentiate between verb tenses and verb moods. Verbs have three moods: imperative, subjunctive and indicative.

Verb Tenses Summary

The different verb tenses show any action or condition’s location in time. They include the past, future and present tenses.

Use different verb tenses to clarify several time periods. Make sure to observe consistency and accuracy in these tenses for verb usage.