In English we use two tenses to talk about the present and six tenses to talk about the past. There are several ways to talk about the future some of which use the present tenses, these are:

Present Simple Present
Present Continuous
Past Simple Past
Past Continuous
Present Perfect Simple
Present Perfect Continuous
Past Perfect Simple
Past Perfect Continuous
Future Using the Simple Present
Using the Present Continuous
Using the Present Perfect Simple
Using the Present Perfect Continuous
Using going to
Using shall/will

Simple Tenses

The simple tenses are used to show permanent characteristics of people and events or what happens regularly, habitually or in a single completed action.

Continuous Tenses

The continuous tenses are used when talking about a particular point in time.

Perfect Tenses

Sometimes you need to give just a little bit more information about an action or state…and that is where the perfect tenses come in.


You form the simple past of a verb by adding -ed onto the end of a regular verb but, irregular verb forms have to be learnt. There are several examples of irregular verbs in our Picture It section.

To be
To be
Questions ?
I was. I wasn’t. Was I?
He was. He wasn’t. Was he?
She was. She wasn’t. Was she?
It was. It wasn’t. Was it?
You were. You weren’t. Were you?
We were. We weren’t. Were we?
They were. They weren’t. Were they?
Regular Verb (to work) Statements
Regular Verb (to work) Statements
Questions Short answer
Short answer
I worked. I didn’t work. Did I work? Yes, I did. No, I didn’t.
He worked. He didn’t work. Did he work? Yes, he did. No, he didn’t.
She worked. She didn’t work. Did she work? Yes, she did. No, she didn’t.
It worked. It didn’t work. Did it work? Yes, it did. No, it didn’t.
You worked. You didn’t work. Did you work? Yes you did. No, you didn’t.
We worked. We didn’t work. Did we work? Yes we did. No, we didn’t.
They worked. They didn’t work. Did they work? Yes they did. No, they didn’t.


Simple Past Timeline

Simple past tense timeline

When you mention a time in the past:-

For example:

Last year I took my exams.”

“I got married in 1992.”

It can be used to describe events that happened over a period of time in the past but not now.

For example:

“I lived in South Africa for two years.”

The simple past tense is also used to talk about habitual or repeated actions that took place in the past.

For example:

When I was a child we always went to the seaside on bank holidays.”

It can sometimes be confusing.

For example:

“She had a baby last year.” (She hasn’t lost the baby, but here you are talking about the actual process of giving birth.)


The simple present tense is used to discuss permanant situations, and the frequency of events.

To have Short form Other Verbs (to work)
I have I’ve I work
he has he’s He works
she has she’s She works
it has it’s It works
you have you’ve you work
we have we’ve we work
they have they’ve they work
Questions Short answer
Short answer
I work. I don’t work. Do I work? Yes, I do. No, I don’t.
He works. He doesn’t work. Does he work? Yes, he does. No, he doesn’t.
She works. She doesn’t work. Does she work? Yes, she does. No, she doesn’t.
It works. It doesn’t work. Does it work? Yes, it does. No, it doesn’t.
You work. You don’t work. Do you work? Yes you do. No, you don’t.
We work. We don’t work. Do we work? Yes we do. No, we don’t.
They work. They don’t work. Do they work? Yes they do. No, they don’t.

Regular or permanent situations

When something happens regularly or is a permanent situation we usually use the simple present tense. When using the simple present the verb (with the exception of the auxiliary verbs) remains in the dictionary form (verb + s with he/she/it).

Simple Present Timeline

Simple present tense timeline

For example:

Q) “Where do you live?” A) “I live in Germany.”

Q) “Where does he live?” A) “He lives in Germany.”

Q) “What do you do?” A) “I’m a teacher.”

Q) “What does he do?” A) “He’s a teacher.”


The simple present tense is also used to show how often something happens with adverbs of frequency – always, usually, often, sometimes, occasionally, seldom, rarely, never, etc…. And when discussing daily, weekly, monthly etc. routines.

For example:

“I always get up at 6.00.”

“I never drink coffee before 12.00.”

“I work on my website every day.”

Every Monday and Thursday I go to the gym.”

We also use the simple present to ask for and give instructions or to discuss a series of actions.

For example:

Q) How do I make pancakes?” A) Well, first you take 4 eggs and crack them into a bowl, then you weigh out 4 oz. of flour and sieve it into the eggs. etc.

Simple Future Tense

We sometimes use the simple present form to discuss future events. Especially when talking about official events that happen at a set time such as timetables, meetings, itineraries, programmes etc.

For example:

Q) “What time does the train leave?” A) “It leaves at 17.30.”

Q) “What time does the meeting begin tomorrow?” A) “It begins at 8.00am.”

Q) “What time do you arrive at the airport tomorrow?” A) “I arrive at 6.30pm.”




We use the past continuous tense to describe a past action over a period of time.

Past Continuous Timeline

The past continuous tense timeline

For example:

Q) “What were they doing yesterday?” A) “They were working all day.”

It can be used to describe what someone was doing at a particular point in time.

For example:

Q) “What were you doing at 7.30 last night?” A) “I was watching television.”

The past continuous can also be used to show that an activity frequently took place over a period of time.

Q) “What did you do on holiday?” A) “I went skiing a lot.”

Often the past continuous is mixed with the past simple to show what was happening when something happened. The past continuous refers to the longer event and the simple past to the event that interrupted it.

For example:

“I was driving to work when I crashed my car.”


When we talk about events that are actually happening now, we use the present continuous tense. This is formed by using the stem of the verb and adding -ing to the end, for example the verb “work” becomes “working”. In some cases you need to alter the spelling a bit for example the verb “die” becomes “dying”.

Questions Short answer
Short answer
I’m working. I’m not working. Am I working? Yes, I am. No, I’m not.
He’s working. He isn’t working. Is he working? Yes, he is. No, he isn’t.
She’s working. She isn’t working. Is she working? Yes, she is. No, she isn’t.
It’s working. It isn’t working. Is it working? Yes, it is. No, it isn’t.
You’re working. You aren’t working. Are you working? Yes you are. No, you aren’t.
We’re working. We aren’t working. Are we working? Yes we are. No, we aren’t.
They’re working. They aren’t working. Are they working? Yes they are. No, they aren’t.


Present Continuous Timeline

Present Continuous Tense Timeline

For example:

Q) “What are you doing?” A) “I’m building a website.”

We also use the present continuous tense to talk about things that are happening around now but are temporary.

For example:

Q) “What are you doing these days?” A) “Unfortunately I’m working a lot.”

It is also used to describe trends or situations that are happening but may be temporary.

For example:

“Nowadays more and more people are shopping on the Internet.”

…and habitual actions (usually negative).

For example:

“He’s always cleaning his car.”

The present continuous tense can also be used to discuss future events:


The present continuous is usually used with doing verbs (verbs of action) not with verbs of state. The following verbs are not used in the continuous form in these contexts:-

Conditions: belong, cost, need, own, seem

Feelings: like, love, hate, want, wish

Beliefs: believe, feel, know, mean, remember, think, understand


The future

The future continuous tense is the present continuous tense recycled. It is often used to ask about and discuss future arrangements or plans with just the addition of a future time, but you only use it when these arrangements are certain.

For example:

Q) What are you doing next week?” A) “I’m working.”

Q) What’s he doing tomorrow?” A) “He’s playing tennis.”

The present continuous tense is also used to talk about and make future appointments and arrangements using the words go or come….

For example:

Q) When are you coming to see me?” A) “Next week.”

Q) What are you doing tomorrow?” A) “I’m going to the dentist.”

…and using verbs of arrival and departure.

“We’re arriving in London at 2.30.”

“The train leaving from platform one is the 2.45 to Edinburgh.”

The Future Continuous (will be doing)

The use of ‘will be doing’ in a sentence is often referred to as the future continuous. It is used to talk about activities that will be happening at a particular time or over a particular time in the future.

For example:

Next week we will be having a party. Can you come?

You can also use it (or the present continuous form) to talk about future plans.

For example:

We will be leaving here at 7.30pm.




The past perfect simple tense is used to go further back in time when we are already talking about the past. It can make it clear that something had already happened at the time we are talking about.

Past Perfect Simple Timeline

Past Perfect Simple Tense Timeline

We form the past perfect simple by using the auxilliary verb had and the -ed form of the regular verb (the past participle) irregular verbforms have to be learned:

Questions Short answer
Short answer
I’d worked … I hadn’t worked … Had I worked …? Yes, I had. No, I hadn’t.
He’d worked … He hadn’t worked … Had he worked …? Yes, he had. No, he hadn’t.
She’d worked … She hadn’t worked … Had she worked …? Yes, she had. No, she hadn’t.
It had worked … It hadn’t worked … Had it worked …? Yes, it had. No, it hadn’t.
You’d worked … You hadn’t worked … Had you worked …? Yes you had. No, you hadn’t.
We’d worked … We hadn’t worked … Had we worked …? Yes we had. No, we hadn’t.
They’d worked … They hadn’t worked … Had they worked …? Yes they had. No, they hadn’t.

For example:

“I had already done the shopping by the time she came home.”

“I was late for work, by the time I arrived the client had already left.”

The past perfect simple can be used to show how often something happened in the past.

For example:

I’d visited the city many times before.

It can also be used to express unfulfilled wishes or dreams. Sometimes called the Third Conditional.

For example:

If I had won the lottery I would have bought a new car.” Note: If I had done something I would have done something else.


he past perfect continuous tense is used to talk about longer situations that continued up to the moment in the past we are talking about.

Past Perfect Continuous Timeline

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Timeline

For example:

“By the time I left England we had been living in Bristol for five years.”

“Her back was sore because she had been sitting at the computer all day.”

It is also used to say how long something went on for, up to a time in the past.

For example:-

We apologised because we had kept them waiting for 3 hours.

We apologised because we had kept them waiting since lunchtime.

!Note It is always for a length of time and since a point in time.


he present perfect simple tense is used to talk about a past time, which has very strong meaning for the present.

Present Perfect Simple Timeline

Tense Timeline

For example:

Q) Where’s Jane?
A) She has gone out. She should be back in an hour.

We form the present perfect simple by using the auxilliary verb have/has and the -ed form of the regular verb (the past participle) irregular verb forms have to be learned:

Questions Short answer
Short answer
I’ve worked. I haven’t worked. Have I worked? Yes, I have. No, I haven’t.
He’s worked. He hasn’t worked. Has he worked? Yes, he has. No, he hasn’t.
She’s worked. She hasn’t worked. Has she worked? Yes, she has. No, she hasn’t.
It’s worked. It hasn’t worked. Has it worked? Yes, it has. No, it hasn’t.
You’ve worked. You haven’t worked. Have you worked? Yes you have. No, you haven’t.
We’ve worked. We haven’t worked. Have we worked? Yes we have. No, we haven’t.
They’ve worked. They haven’t worked. Have they worked? Yes they have. No, they haven’t.

The present perfect simple is used to discuss events that have just been completed at the moment of speaking.

For example:

Q) Have you done your homework?”
A) “Yes, I’ve just finished it.”

It is often used to suggest that a past action still has an effect upon something happening in the present.

For example:

“The pound has fallen against the dollar.”

It is also used to discuss unfinished time.

For example:

Q) Have you done your homework today?
A) No, I haven’t done it yet.
Note – You are talking about today and today isn’t finished, so you may do your homework later!

Q) Have you ever been to England?”
A) “Yes I have.”
Note – You are talking about something that has happened in your life and your life isn’t finished!

You can also use the present perfect to discuss something from the past but you don’t want to say exactly when.

For example:

Q) “Are you learning any languages?”
A) “Yes, I’ve begun to learn English.”

This tense is often used to discuss events that have been happening over a period of time, but aren’t finished yet.

For example:

Q) “How long have you studied English for?”
A) “I‘ve studied English for 2 years now.”

However it is better (grammatically speaking) to use the Present Perfect Continuous to express yourself in this way.

For example:

Q) “How long have you been studying English for?” A) “I‘ve been studying English for 2 years now.”

!Note It is always for a length of time and since a point in time.

 The Tenses


he present perfect continuous tense is often used (with for or since) to describe how long something has been happening up to now.

Present Perfect Continuous Timeline

Present Perfect Continuous Tense Timeline

For example:-

Q) How long have you been studying English?”
A) I’ve been studying English for four years.” 
 – You can just say “For four years.”

Q) How long have you been living in Germany?
A) I’ve been living here since 1998.
Note – You can just say “Since 1998″.

The present perfect continuous is also used to refer to an event that may or may not be finished when it’s effect can be seen now.

For example:-

Look! It’s been snowing. 
 – It’s not necessarily snowing now but you can see the effect (the snow on the ground).

You should also use the present perfect continuous when talking about how long you have been doing your current job or working on unfinished projects:-

For example:-

have been working at BT for three years.
We have been exporting to China since 1999.

!Note It is always for a length of time and since a point in time.





We say something is going to happen when it has already been planned.

For example:-

Q) Are you going to fly to Germany?
A) No, we’re going to drive.

We also use it to show something has already been decided.

For example:-

“We’re going to buy a new car next year.”

We also use going to when we can see something is about to happen.

For example:-

black cloud “Look at that cloud. I think it’s going to rain.”

to crash “Watch out! He’s going to crash into that tree!”

You can also use going to to predict the future based upon the evidence now.

For example:-

“It looks as though Manchester United are going to win the European cup.

“I think my friend Louise is going to have a baby.”


Thanks to Ken Anderson for pointing out the following:-

“I’m going to Germany.” isn’t really the future tense. You would have to say “I’m going to go to Germany.”


When we give information about the future or predict future events that are not certain we usually use shall/will.

For example:-

Q) Who do you think will win the election?” A) “I’m not sure but I think the current party will win.”

We can also use shall/will to make promises for the future.

When leaving work I would say – “Goodnight, I’ll (I will) see you tomorrow.”

Shall/Will is often used when we just decide to do something.

For example:-

The phone is ringing – If I decide to answer the phone I would say – “I’ll (I will) get it.”

It can also be used in formal situations to express planned events and is preferred in formal written English.

For example:-

The party will start at 10.00pm.


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