Learn English verb tenses easily! Here’s a quick explanation of each verb tense with example sentences.
What are verb tenses?
Verb tenses are categories that refer to the time of an action. They can be divided into present tenses, past tenses, and future tenses. Each of these can then be divided into simple tenses, continuous tenses, perfect tenses, and perfect continuous tenses.
Verb tense chart
Here is a chart showing an example of each verb tense – keep reading to find out when we use each one and see some example sentences.
|Present||speak / speaks||am/is/are speaking||have/has spoken||have been
going to speak
|will have spoken||will have been speaking|
Note: The continuous tenses are also called “progressive tenses” since they describe actions in progress.
(Looking for conditional tenses? These are not really tenses, but instead sentence structures using a combination of the main verb tenses. Here’s a good tutorial on conditionals.)
Present Simple Tense
The present simple is one of the first verb tenses we learn in English. Use the present simple tense…
For general facts:
- This shirt costs ten dollars.
- We speak English.
For actions that happen regularly:
- I take guitar lessons on Wednesday nights.
- Sarah sometimes eats lunch in her office.
We form the present simple tense by using the base form of the verb (I work, you work, we work, they work) or adding -s (he works, she works, it works). Learn more about the simple present tense with “be” and see examples of the present simple positive, present simple negative, and present simple questions.
Present Continuous Tense
This is also quite a common verb tense. Use the present continuous in English…
For a continuous action in progress at the moment:
- I‘m currently studying biology at university.
- Bill can’t talk on the phone right now – he‘s doing his homework.
- We‘re watching TV at the moment.
For future plans/arrangements:
- I‘m having lunch with Jack tomorrow.
- My sister is driving me to the airport on Saturday.
- Tim and Joanna are joining us for dinner next week.
- More examples of present continuous for the future
How to form the present continuous tense? Use a present form of the verb “to be” (am, is, are) plus the -ING form of the verb. As you can see from the examples, we often use a contraction (short form) like I’m, he’s, we’re.
Here are more lessons on the present continuous positive, present continuous negative, and present continuous questions. We also have a lesson teaching you when we use simple present vs. present continuous.
Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect is one of the most common verb tenses in English. Use the present perfect tense…
With actions that happened in the past at an unspecified time:
- I‘ve met several celebrities.
- He‘s been to Australia several times.
- We‘ve already taken the test.
With actions that began in the past and continue to the present:
- I‘ve lived in this house for five years.
- Harry‘s worked at the same company since 1992.
Note: Usually the verbs “lived” and “worked.” The present perfect continuous can also be used – see the next section.
With actions that have never happened:
- I‘ve never broken a bone.
- She‘s never bought a car.
- My parents have never eaten sushi.
- More examples of present perfect + ever and never
We form the present continuous tense by using “have” or “has” plus the past participle of the verb. “Have/has” is known as the auxiliary verb or helping verb to the main verb.
Check out our complete guide to the present perfect tense for lots more details and examples!
Present Perfect Continuous Tense
Use the present perfect continuous tense in English…
With actions that began in the past and continue to the present:
- I‘ve been thinking a lot about the situation recently.
- Laura‘s been studying since 7 AM.
- We‘ve been waiting for you to arrive for over an hour.
Past Simple Tense
Now let’s look at the past tenses – starting with the simple past. Use the simple past tense in English…
For events that started and finished in the past:
- I worked as a research assistant from 2001 – 2003.
- He called me ten minutes ago.
- We went to the Bahamas last summer.
We often form the past simple tense by adding -ED to the verb, for regular verbs. Here’s a list of 100+ regular verbs in English.
But what do you notice about the final example of a past tense verb, “went”? It’s irregular! The past tense of “go” is “went” (not “goed”). Many common verbs are irregular in the simple past. Check out these tips for learning irregular verbs in English!
You can find more simple past tense examples in these lessons:
Past Continuous Tense
Use the past continuous tense in English…
For events that were in progress in the past (often when another one-time event happened):
- Sorry I didn’t pick up the phone – I was taking a shower when you called.
- He was sleeping on the couch when I got home.
- When I saw Tina and Sam at the park earlier today, they were arguing.
We form the past continuous by using “to be” in the past (was/were) plus the -ING form of the verb. You might also enjoy this lesson on simple past vs. past continuous – examples and more detail about when to use each one.
Past Perfect Tense
Use the past perfect tense in English…
For past events that happened BEFORE other past events:
- By the time we arrived at the train station, the train had already left.
- When I woke up, I saw that my husband had made breakfast.
- Five minutes after leaving my house, I realized I’d forgotten to lock the front door.
Form the past perfect by using the auxiliary verb “had” and the past participle of the main verb. We often use the short form ‘d, as you can see in the last past perfect example sentence.
In the past perfect, we can even have the structure “had had“!
Past Perfect Continuous Tense
Use the past perfect continuous tense in English…
For past actions that continued up to another point in the past:
- Before I lost my job, I had been working on some important projects.
(“working” was a continuous action until the point I lost my job)
- They had been hoping Pat would make a full recovery after the accident, but he died.
(“hoping” was a continuous action until Pat died)
- She‘d already been studying English by herself for several years by the time she started taking classes.
(“studying” English by herself was a continuous action until the time when she started classes)
Form the past perfect continuous by using “had been” plus the ING form of the main verb. As in the last example sentence, we often change “had” to the short form ‘d in this verb tense.
Future Simple Tense
Now let’s look at the future tenses!
There are two ways to form the future simple tense in English.
Use the “going to” form of the future simple tense…
For plans, arrangements, and predictions:
- After I graduate from college, I’m going to study for a Masters degree.
- We’re going to move to a different city next year.
- I think the current president is going to be reelected.
- More examples: Future Tense: Going to
Use the “will” form of the future simple tense…
For promises, offers, predictions, and decisions made in the moment of speaking:
- Promise: I‘ll call you later.
- Offer: We‘ll give you a ride home.
- Prediction: I have a feeling that this new singer will become very popular.
- Decision made in the moment: I‘ll have the spaghetti and a side order of salad.
- More examples: Future Tense: Will / Won’t
The future simple is a very common verb tense; native English speakers use it often.
A lot of English learners aren’t sure when to use going to vs. will – and we have a lesson on that!
Future Continuous Tense
Use the future continuous tense in English…
For actions that will be in progress at a time in the future:
- Don’t call me at 6, because I’ll be driving home from work.
- At 10:30 tomorrow morning, we’ll be giving a presentation in English class.
- He’ll be watching the football game tonight at 8.
To form the future continuous, use “will be” + the ING form of the main verb.
Future Perfect Tense
Use the future perfect tense in English…
For actions that will be completed before a future time:
- I will have written a book before I’m 40.
- We’re late. By the time we get to the theater, the movie will have started already.
- We will have traveled to 12 different countries by 2015.
To form the future perfect, use “will have” + the past participle of the main verb.
As you can see in the example sentences, we often use “before,” “by,” or “by the time” with the future perfect tense.
Future Perfect Continuous Tense
Use the future perfect continuous tense in English…
For actions that will continue up to a future time:
- By the time she graduates, she will have been studying for 7 years.
- By 7 PM, I will have been working on this project for eight hours straight.
- By this time next year, they will have been living in Japan for two decades.
Note: BY and BY THE TIME are commonly used with the future perfect continuous.
The future continuous is one of the least common verb tenses in English.
Learn English verb tenses and practice them!
Many English learners have difficulty with verb tenses – they often stop to think “which verb tense should I use?” and the rules about tenses can be confusing. I hope this lesson has helped you understand the differences between verb tenses in English.
…but don’t just read about verb tenses, you also need to practice them! I recommend writing your own example sentence with every verb tense in this lesson. The more example sentences you write, the easier it will be to remember the structure of the verb tenses and when we use each one.
You can learn about verb tenses in much more detail inside my Advanced English Grammar Course. The lessons include quizzes to help you review and practice the verb tenses, and there’s also the option to do “writing tasks” and send them in for feedback and grammar correction from our teaching team.
This is very valuable because you can find out if you’re making any mistakes with the English tenses… or using them correctly!