The English Tense System

The text below are to lessons for each of the 12 basic English tenses. In each lesson we look at two aspects of the tense:

  • Structure: How do we make the tense?
  • Use: When and why do we use the tense?


Verbs come in three tenses: past, present, future. The past is used to describe things that have already happened (e.g. earlier in the day, yesterday, last week, three years ago). The present tense is used to describe things that are happening right now, or things that are continuous. The future tense describes things that have yet to happen (e.g. later, tomorrow, next week, next year, three years from now).

The Present Tenses

  • Simple present
  • Present perfect
  • Present continuous
  • Present perfect continuous

The Past Tenses

  • Simple past
  • Past perfect
  • Past continuous
  • Past perfect continuous

The Future Tenses

  • Simple Future
  • Future perfect
  • Future continuous
  • Future perfect continuous





Types of Tenses

  • Present tense
    I do, I do do
  • Present Continuous tense
    I am doing
  • Present Perfect tense
    I have done
  • Present Perfect Continuous tense
    I have been doing
  • Past tense
    I did, I did do
  • Past Continuous tense
    I was doing
  • Past Perfect tense
    I had done
  • Past Perfect Continuous tense
    I had been doing
  • Future tense
    I will do
  • Future Continuous tense
    I will be doing
  • Future Perfect tense
    I will have done
  • Future Perfect Continuous tense
    I will have been doing







tense Affirmative/Negative/Question Use Signal Words
Simple Present A: He speaks.
N: He does not speak.
Q: Does he speak?
§  action in the present taking place once, never or several times

§  facts

§  actions taking place one after another

§  action set by a timetable or schedule

always, every …, never, normally, often, seldom, sometimes, usually
if sentences type I (If I talk, …)
Present Progressive A: He is speaking.
N: He is not speaking.
Q: Is he speaking?
§  action taking place in the moment of speaking

§  action taking place only for a limited period of time

§  action arranged for the future

at the moment, just, just now, Listen!, Look!, now, right now
Simple Past A: He spoke.
N: He did not speak.
Q: Did he speak?
§    action in the past taking place once, never or several times

§  actions taking place one after another

§  action taking place in the middle of another action

yesterday, 2 minutes ago, in 1990, the other day, last Friday
if sentence type II (If I talked, …)
Past Progressive A: He was speaking.
N: He was not speaking.
Q: Was he speaking?
§  action going on at a certain time in the past

§  actions taking place at the same time

§  action in the past that is interrupted by another action

when, while, as long as
Present Perfect Simple A: He has spoken.
N: He has not spoken.
Q: Has he spoken?
§  putting emphasis on the result

§  action that is still going on

§  action that stopped recently

§  finished action that has an influence on the present

§  action that has taken place once, never or several times before the moment of speaking

already, ever, just, never, not yet, so far, till now, up to now
Present Perfect Progressive A: He has been speaking.
N: He has not been speaking.
Q: Has he been speaking?
§  putting emphasis on the course or duration (not the result)

§  action that recently stopped or is still going on

§  finished action that influenced the present

all day, for 4 years, since 1993, how long?, the whole week
Past Perfect Simple A: He had spoken.
N: He had not spoken.
Q: Had he spoken?
§  action taking place before a certain time in the past

§  sometimes interchangeable with past perfect progressive

§  putting emphasis only on the fact (not the duration)

already, just, never, not yet, once, until that day
if sentence type III (If I had talked, …)
Past Perfect Progressive A: He had been speaking.
N: He had not been speaking.
Q: Had he been speaking?
§  action taking place before a certain time in the past

§  sometimes interchangeable with past perfect simple

§  putting emphasis on the duration or course of an action

for, since, the whole day, all day
Future I Simple A: He will speak.
N: He will not speak.
Q: Will he speak?
§  action in the future that cannot be influenced

§  spontaneous decision

§  assumption with regard to the future

in a year, next …, tomorrow
If-Satz Typ I (If you ask her, she will help you.)
assumption: I think, probably, perhaps
Future I Simple

(going to)

A: He is going to speak.
N: He is not going to speak.
Q: Is he going to speak?
§  decision made for the future

§  conclusion with regard to the future

in one year, next week, tomorrow
Future I Progressive A: He will be speaking.
N: He will not be speaking.
Q: Will he be speaking?
§  action that is going on at a certain time in the future

§  action that is sure to happen in the near future

in one year, next week, tomorrow
Future II Simple A: He will have spoken.
N: He will not have spoken.
Q: Will he have spoken?
§  action that will be finished at a certain time in the future by Monday, in a week
Future II Progressive A: He will have been speaking.
N: He will not have been speaking.
Q: Will he have been speaking?
§  action taking place before a certain time in the future

§  putting emphasis on the course of an action

for …, the last couple of hours, all day long
Conditional I Simple A: He would speak.
N: He would not speak.
Q: Would he speak?
§  action that might take place if sentences type II
(If I were you, I would go home.)
Conditional I Progressive A: He would be speaking.
N: He would not be speaking.
Q: Would he be speaking?
§  action that might take place

§  putting emphasis on the course/ duration of the action

Conditional II Simple A: He would have spoken.
N: He would not have spoken.
Q: Would he have spoken?
§  action that might have taken place in the past if sentences type III
(If I had seen that, I would have helped.)
Conditional II Progressive A: He would have been speaking.
N: He would not have been speaking.
Q: Would he have been speaking?
§  action that might have taken place in the past

§  puts emphasis on the course /duration of the action










  1. I _________ ice-cream.
A.) likes B.) liked
C.) have been liking D.) like
  1. Children generally _________ quarrels easily.
A.) forgets B.) forget
C.) forgot D.) will forget
  1. She ________ to school every day.
A.) goes B.) go
C.) will go D.) gone
  1. At present, he _______ in Mahindra Satyam.
A.) works B.) work
C.) is working D.) worked
  1. I _______ just ___________ my homework.
A.) have, completed B.) has, completed
C.) had, completed D.) will, complete
  1. He ________ for him for two days.
A.) have been waiting B.) had been waiting
C.) has been waiting D.) is waiting
  1. I _______ him yesterday.
A.) meets B.) met
C.) meeting D.) meet
  1. She _________ food when the guests arrived yesterday.
A.) preparing B.) was preparing
C.) is preparing D.) has been preparing
  1. Mishra ______ for Bombay before Praveen reached the station.
A.) have left B.) has left
C.) left D.) had left


  1. The president ___________ for about half an hour when trouble started.
A.) has been speaking B.) have been speaking
C.) had been speaking D.) was speaking




  1. They __________ tomorrow.
A.) will arrive B.) arrive
C.) is arriving D.) arrives
  1. I _________ the test tomorrow at this time.
A.) shall write B.) will writew
C.) writing D.) shall be writing
  1. You ________ the task by tomorrow.
A.) will complete B.) complete
C.) will have completed D.) shall complete
  1. They ________ for her for 2 hours by the time she cooks the food.
A.) will have been waiting B.) will has been waiting
C.) will had been waiting D.) will be waiting
  1. If I _______ the news, I would have informed.
A.) has known B.) had known
C.) have known D.) knew
  1. Rahul enquired the guard whether anyone _______ in his absence.
A.) has come B.) have come
C.) had come D.) will have come
  1. Children will not learn anything if they __________.
A.) are discouraged B.) have been discouraged
C.) had been discouraged D.) is discouraged
  1. He _______ here for 6 years by next year.
A.) will has been working B.) will be working
C.) will had been working D.) will have been working
  1. I ________ Ruchi lately.
A.) hasn’t seen B.) haven’t seen
C.) wasn’t seen D.) hadn’t seen
  1. At this moment, I _______ a letter.
A.) am writing B.) writing
C.) writes D.) wrote







  1. D
  2. B
  3. A
  4. C
  5. A
  6. C
  7. B
  8. B
  9. D
  10. C



  1. A
  2. D
  3. C
  4. A
  5. B
  6. C
  7. A
  8. D
  9. B
  10. A