Understanding Verbs: The Basics of Verb Tense

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 alongside using time expressions.

To understand verb tense, you need to first review verb usage. A verb is a part of speech that shows actions, conditions, and the existence of something while showing time.

For example:

  • James collects old history books. 
  • Monica ran to the store and back. 
  • The dog chased the ball. 

Tenses are formed from principal parts and helping verbs. Verbs have four principal parts: the present, the present participle, the past, and the past participle. 



Present Participle

Present Participle



Past Participle

Past Participle









Identifying Verb Tenses

A verb tense is made of a time frame and an aspect. The time frame is divided into the past, present, and future. The past tenses describe actions that happened in the past, while the present tenses describe ongoing activities. Meanwhile, future tenses describe actions that will occur in the future.

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

Simple Tenses

Simple tenses are for actions occurring at a specific time in the past, future, or present.

  • I wake up at 5 a.m. every morning. 
  • She ran to the store for milk. 

Progressive Tenses

Also called continuous tenses, progressive tenses indicate ongoing or unfinished action. 

  • He is running for president of the school board. 
  • They are going to be surprised tomorrow. 

Perfect Tenses

Perfect tenses describe a finished action. 

  • She has come a long way in her studies.
  • The students have worked hard. 

Perfect Progressive Tenses

Also called perfect continuous tenses, present progressive tenses show actions in progress toward the finish.

  • They have been searching for a long time. 
  • She has been working hard for her degree for three years.

Test Your Knowledge of Basic Verb Tense

Now that you have reviewed verb usage and basic verb tense categorization, test your knowledge before delving deeper into the lessons.