Introduction to Tenses & Timelines*

Tenses & Timelines

April 4, 2019

Native English Instructor

Written by Douglas Shaw

It’s all about time. Things can happen, in the past, present, and future:

The tenses simply show the time of an action or state-of-being as shown by the verb. The verb ending is changed to show what time it is referring to.

Time can be divided into three time periods.

  • The present: What you do / What you are doing
  • The past: What you did / What you were doing
  • The future: What you will do / What you are going to do (hope to or plan to do)

The tenses we use to show what time we are referring to are divided into three different forms – simple, continuous, and perfect.

Simple Tense

The simple tenses are used to express facts and things that are true. This tense is used to show permanent facts about people and events, or what happens by habit and or on a regular basis.

Continuous Tense

The continuous tenses are used to express something, which is happening at or around the time of speaking.

Future Tense

Discussing future can be difficult. To understand future, we need to train our minds to think of future as our present at a later time.

We then, start to see that in English grammar, simple present, present continuous, simple present perfect, and present perfect continuous can all be used and often it is possible to use more than one structure, but have the same meaning.

Perfect Tense

In many cases, you may find yourself needing to give just a little bit more information about the action or state-of-being – and this is where the perfect tense comes into play.

The perfect tense is used when an action or situation in the present is connected to a moment in the past. It is often used to show things that have happened up to now but aren’t finished yet or to emphasize that something happened but is not true anymore.

The critical part is, when the end determines which of them you would use.

Note: The perfect tenses are never used when saying something happened, example: yesterday, last year, etc. but can be used when discussing the duration of something, example: often, for, always, since etc.

Forming Verb Tenses

Time is an essential part of what verbs are and what verbs do in how we use and understand the English language. Refer to the following graph.

 SimpleContinuousPerfectPerfect continuous
Presentteach/ sam/is/are teachinghave/has taughthave/has been teaching
Pasttaughtwas/were teachinghad taughthad been teaching
Futurewill/shall teachwill be teachingwill have taughtwill have been teaching