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English Tenses


Let's look at an example; the verb to study.

Present Past Future
Simple I study I studied I will study
Progressive I am (I'm) studying I was studying I will (I'll) be studying
Perfect I have (I've) studied I had (I'd) studied I will (I'll) have studied
Perfect progressive I have (I've) been studying I had (I'd) been studying I will (I'll) have been studying

Now, let's look at each tense in more detail.

Present simple
We use the present simple to describe general truths and habits; eg I like football, they drive to work, he smokes. We also use it to describe 'timetabled' future events; eg the train leaves at 1847.
Questions: eg Do you like horror movies? Where do you work?
Negative sentences: eg I don't work in an office.

Present progressive (continuous)
This is used for things which are happening now, eg Albert's cooking dinner; things happening around now (but not right at the moment), eg I'm reading a really great book; and short-term situations, eg I'm living in London at the moment. It's also used to talk about personal plans for the future; eg I'm meeting Yukiko on Saturday.
Questions: eg Is Frank studying Japanese? What are you reading?
Negative sentences: eg She isn't wearing a coat.

Present perfect
The present perfect is used to describe experience (without saying when), eg I've been to Hong Kong; things which happened in the past but have results in the present, eg she's written six letters (here they are); and things which started in the past but are still continuing, eg they've lived there for twenty-nine years.
Questions: eg Has Ted seen Austin Powers? How long have you worked here? Have you ever been to Kyoto?
Negative sentences: eg I haven't done my homework. He's never been to America.
note We use 'ever' in questions and 'never' in negative sentences to show we are talking about the person's whole life.

Present perfect progressive
This is used in a similar way (and is sometimes interchangeable with) the present progressive, it describes repeated activities or those continuing over a period of time explaining a present situation, eg I'm tired because I've been running; current short-term situations, eg he's been living in Belgium for 6 months; and activites taking place in the current time period, eg they've been writing letters this afternoon.
Questions: eg Have you been running? What have you been doing today?
Negative sentences: eg I haven't been sleeping well.

Past simple
This is used for things which have finished; eg I wrote to my mother last week.
Questions: eg Did you play golf yesterday? Who did you go to Kyoto with?
Negative sentences: eg I didn't see the game last night.

Past progressive
This is used for describing what was happening at a particular time in the past; eg Arthur was eating dinner when I called.
Questions: eg What were you doing at 7pm last night?
Negative sentences: eg Jack wasn't working in the garden when the rain started.

Past perfect
We use this when we are talking about the past and want to talk about an earlier past (it's often used to give a reason); eg she was angry because she'd been sacked from her job. It's also used in reported speech when the original speech used past simple or present perfect; eg she said she'd lived in Brighton for ten years.
Questions: eg Why had she been sacked? Had she been late very often?
Negative sentences: eg She hadn't been rude to the customers.

Past perfect progressive This is used to give a reason for something in the past where the reason is of a repeated or continuing nature; eg I was very tired because I'd been studying hard all day.
Questions: eg Had you been drinking? Who had he been drinking with?
Negative sentences: eg She hadn't been working there long.

Future simple
This is used for things we've just decided, eg the phone's ringing, stay there, I'll answer it; predictions based on opinion, eg I think England will win 2-0; and giving general information about the future, eg you'll need your passports for the trip tomorrow.
Questions: eg Will I need my passport? Who'll be at the party?
Negative sentences: eg He won't be back until Friday.

Future progressive
We use this to say what will be happening at some future time; eg this time next week I'll be flying to Singapore.
Questions: eg What will you be doing at 7am tomorrow morning? Who will you be working with tomorrow?
Negative sentences: eg Lily won't be playing golf tomorrow.

Future perfect
This is used to say that something will be completed by a given future time; eg we'll have visited seven countries by next Thursday.
Questions: eg How many letters will you have written by noon?
Negative sentences: eg I won't have finished the essay until next Tuesday.

Future perfect progressive
We use this to describe the duration of something at some future time; eg by 9pm I'll have been working for thirteen hours.
Questions: eg How long will you have been driving by midnight?
Negative sentences: eg I won't have been working too hard (so I'll be able to come to your party).
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Test yourself
Try to complete the following sentences using the tenses described above (there is one sentence for each tense).
What shall I do tonight? I know, I **** to the cinema! (go)
I **** in many different countries. (live)
My flat was messy because they **** a party. (have)
She said she **** the package the week before. (receive)
I **** Yoko at 6pm tomorrow evening. (meet)
He always **** to work on Mondays. (walk)
I **** letters all evening. (write)
This time next week I **** to Japan. (fly)
By Christmas I **** here for twenty years. (work)
I **** breakfast when the doorbell rang. (eat)
I **** by the time I'm 60. (retire)
England **** in the last minute. (score)

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