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Tenses: Present, Past and Future: Uses, Structure Formula and Conjugation Examples

Part I

A. Tenses:

Concept of Tenses

Principal Verb Forms

Types of Tenses


Concept of Tenses:

We use different forms of the same verb to show different time references (past, present or future) and states of an action. These verb forms are called tenses. Hence the tense is the change of form in a verb to denote the time of an action. In other words, the tense is the form taken by the verb to denote the time and state of an action. Note the difference. Tense does not directly refer to the verb. It refers to the change of form in a verb to denote the time of an action. It refers to the different forms of verbs. For example, 'do', 'did' and 'will do' are the three forms of one and the same verb 'do'. 'Do' refers to the present time, 'did' to the past time and 'will do' the future time. These different forms are called tenses. Besides the time of an action, the tense of a verb also shows the continuance and extent of completeness of the verb. For example, in the sentences, I am doing the work and I have done the work, the verb form 'am doing' indicates the action of doing is going on while the verb form 'have done' indicates the action of doing is completed.

For Exercises on Tenses, Click here.

Principal Verb Forms:

Each verb in English grammar has the following five main forms:

I. The Base Form: Come, go, work, play, do, eat, speak, run etc.

II. The -S Form (Also called verbs in the third person, singular number): Comes, goes, works, plays, does, eats, speaks, runs etc.

III. The -Ing Form (Also called present participles): Coming, going, working, playing, doing, eating, speaking, running etc.

IV. The Past Form: Came, went, worked, played, did, ate, spoke, ran etc.

V. The Past Participle Form: Come, gone, worked, played, done, eaten, spoken, ran etc.

These different forms are called tenses. Three of these forms, the base form, the -ing form and the past participle form are used in all the three types of tenses: Present, past and future. They are preceded by some form of 'be' verb to express the present, past or future time.

In summary, we can say 'Tense' refers to different verb forms that denote

I. The Time of An Action.

II. The Extent of its continuance.

III. The extent of its completeness.


Types of Tenses:

Tenses are of three main types. They are as follows:

The present tense

The past tense and 

The future tense.

Each of these three principal tenses has four subdivisions based on the time, continuance and the extent of completeness they refer to. These subdivisions are:

Simple or Indefinite Tense

Continuous or Progressive Tense

Perfect Tense and

Perfect Continuous Tense.

So the total number of tenses stands at 12.


Part II

The Present Tense:

Present Indefinite,

Present Continuous,

Present Perfect Continuous,

Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules and Examples.

Function, Uses and Examples.


The Present Tense:

The Present Tense describes an action in the present time. It has four types.


The Simple Present Tense or The Present Indefinite Tense:

This tense tells us that an action takes place in the present time. This tense is used to talk about universal truths, habitual actions, permanent actions, customs, prevalent practices etc. Adverbs of frequency such as always, usually, generally, often, sometimes, rarely, daily, never, ever etc are often used in this tense.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + Base Form of Verb

This tense consists of the base form (come, go etc) of the verb. However if the subject is in the third person, singular number, an 's' or 'es' is added (comes, goes etc) after the base form. All singular nouns and pronouns except I and you are called third person singular number nouns and pronouns.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play Verbs)

Go

I go.

We go.

You go.

He goes.

She goes.

It goes.

The boy goes.

They go.

The boys go.

Play

I play.

We play.

You play.

He plays.

She plays.

It plays.

The boy plays.

They play.

The boys play.


Function, Uses and Examples of The Present Indefinite Tense:

This tense is used to talk about

I. A present action:

He runs.

It rains.

The baby cries.

N. B. Such uses are more common in the present continuous tense.

II.  A universal or general truth (facts that are eternally true and can never change):

The sun rises in the east.

Milk is white.

Honesty is the best policy.

The earth is round.

The earth moves round the sun.

Honey is sweet.

Water flows downwards.

Oil floats on water.

III. An habitual or permanent action (actions that remain the same for a long time):

He speaks English well.

He lives in Kolkata.

I know him.

Pushpita takes tea every morning.

Father reads the Gita everyday.

He works very hard.

He always gets up late.

This pen writes well.

This watch keeps the right time.

He teaches in a college.

IV. A future action (usually official programmes):

The Prime Minister returns from London tomorrow.

He leaves his job next week.

The school closes on the 10th.

The Board Exam starts on 17th March.

V. Past Events from history (Also called Historic or Graphic Present):

Alexander now rushes upon the enemy.

Arjuna now shoots arrows at Bhishma.

VI. Quotations from authors, books, notices etc:

Shakespeare says, "Frailty, thy name is woman'.

The notice mentions, "Attend classes regularly".

VII. The present perfect tense (sometimes the present indefinite tense is used instead of the present perfect tense):

He tells (has told) me to study hard.

I hear (have heard) that you are now a doctor.


The Present Continuous Tense or The Present Progressive Tense:

This tense is mainly used to indicate the continuity of an action i.e., talk about an action going on at present.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + am/is/are + verb + ing

This tense consists of the -ing form of the verb. If the subject is 'I', am precedes the verb, if the subject is a third person, singular number noun or pronoun, is precedes the verb. For all other subjects, are is used.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play Verbs)

Go

I am going.

We are going.

You are going.

He is going.

She is going.

It is going.

The boy is going.

They are going.

The boys are going.

Play

I am playing.

We are playing.

You are playing.

He is playing.

She is playing.

It is playing.

The boy is playing.

They are playing.

The boys are playing.

Function, Uses and Examples of Present Continuous Tense: This tense is used to talk about

I. An action going on at present:

I am eating now.

She is reading.

II. An future action that is planned already and going to take place soon:

I am going to the market.

It is going to rain.

He is coming here tonight.

We are visiting Mumbai next week.

III. An action that is taking place during this period but not at this moment:

I am reading The Canterbury Tales these days.

She is working on the project this week.

We are learning English.

N. B. This tense is not used with the verbs of perception, feeling, thinking, possession etc. See, hear, smell, taste, feel, think, know, mean, mind, believe, like, hope, love, understand, want, wish, desire, hate etc are not used in this tense. Some other verbs like look, seem, appear, require belong, consist, contain, matter, possess etc are also not used in this tense. However some of these verbs such as feel, thinking etc are being used in this tense now a days.


The Present Perfect Tense:

The present perfect tense is used to denote an action that is completed now or in the past. While the simple past tense focusses on the completion of the action in the past time without connecting it to the present, this tense connects a past action with the present. Let's take two sentences as examples. I took my dinner and I have taken my dinner. The first sentence simply indicates completion of the action in the past without connecting it to the present. The second sentence indicates that the speaker has just completed his dinner or is not hungry yet. This tense is never used with the adverbs of past time like yesterday, last month, ago, the other day etc. Generally the adverbs or adverbial phrases such as already, just, before, recently, never, ever, yet, so far, of late, lately etc are used in the present perfect tense.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + have/has + past participle of verb.

This tense is formed with have or has plus the past participle form of the verb. If the subject is a third person, singular number noun or pronoun, the past participle is preceded by has. In all other cases, it is preceded by have.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play Verbs)

Go

I have gone.

We have gone.

You have gone.

He has gone.

She has gone.

It has gone.

The boy has gone.

They have gone.

The boys have gone.

Play

I have played.

We have played.

You have played.

He has played.

She has played.

It has played.

The boy has played.

They have played.

The boys have played.


Function, Uses and Examples of the Present Perfect Tense:

This tense is used to talk about

I. An action which is completed just now:

I have taken my lunch.

He has just gone out.

I have already talked to the doctor.

He has not yet eaten anything.

II. An action completed in the past but whose results still continue.

I have seen the Tajmahal. (Memory of the Tajmahal is still fresh in the speaker's mind)

I have made a great mistake. ( the speaker is still suffering the results)

I have cut my finger. ( Maybe bleeding still continues)

III. An action of present perfect continuous:

I have known him for a long time.

We have lived in this city since 1990.

I have owned this house for 5 years.

Sometimes the present perfect tense is used instead of the present perfect continuous tense. Moreover verbs like know, hear, see, own etc are not used in the present perfect continuous tense.


The Present Perfect Continuous Tense: 

The present perfect continuous tense is used to talk about an action that began sometime in the past, some part of which is completed and some part is yet to be finished and still continuing. For, since, all, throughout, all along, how long etc are used to indicate time expression. For indicates the period of time and since the point of time.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + have been/has been + verb + ing.

This tense is formed with have been or has been plus the -ing form of the verb. If the subject is a third person, singular number, it is preceded by has been. For all other subjects, it is preceded by have been.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play verbs)

Go

I have been going.

We have been going.

You have been going.

He has been going.

She has been going.

It has been going.

The boy has been going.

They have been going.

The boys have been going.

Play

I have been playing.

We have been playing.

You have been playing.

He has been playing.

She has been playing.

It has been playing.

The boy has been playing.

They have been playing.

The boys have been playing.


Function, Uses and Examples of Present Perfect Continuous Tense:

I have been reading this book since Monday last.

She has been playing for three hours now.

How long have you been working here?

It has been raining all day.

N. B. This tense is not used with verbs such as know, hear, see etc. Such verbs are instead used in the present perfect tense.


Part III

The Past Tense:

Past Indefinite,

Past Continuous,

Past Perfect Continuous,

Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules and Examples.

Function, Uses and Examples.


The Past Tense:

The past tense describes an action in the past time. It has four types. Adverbs of past time can be used with this tense.


The Simple Past or The Past Indefinite:

The Past Indefinite Tense tells us of a past action.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + past form of verb.

This tense is formed with the past form of verb. The past form of the verb is used for all types of subjects.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play verbs)

Go

I went.

We went.

You went.

He went.

She went.

It went.

The boy went.

They went.

The boys went.

Play

I played.

We played.

You played.

He played.

She played.

It played.

The boy played.

They played.

The boys played.

This tense is used to talk about

I. An action completed in the past:

I went to Guwahati.

He returned home yesterday.

II. A past habitual action:

She attended classes regularly.

I never drank wine.

He always went (used to go) by bus.

III. An action going on in the past:

While he read the book, I wrote down the points.


The Past Continuous Tense:

This tense tells us about an action going on in the past.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + was/were + verb + ing

This tense consists of the -ing form of the verb. If the subject is a first or third person, singular number, the -ing form is preceded by was. For all other subjects, it is preceded by were.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play Verbs)

Go

I was going.

We were going.

You were going.

He was going.

She was going.

It was going.

The boy was going.

They were going.

The boys were going.

Play

I was playing.

We were playing.

You were playing.

He was playing.

She was playing.

It was playing.

The boy was playing.

They were playing.

The boys were playing.


Function, Uses and Examples of The Past Continuous Tense:

This tense is used to talk about an action going on in the past:

I was playing.

He was reading.

The Past Perfect Tense indicates a completed action in the past.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + had + past participle.

This tense is formed with had plus the past participle form of the verb. For all subjects, had is used.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play verbs)

Go

I had gone.

We had gone.

You had gone.

He had gone.

She had gone.

It had gone.

The boy had gone.

They had gone.

The boys had gone.

Play

I had played.

We had played.

You had played.

He had played.

She had played.

It had played.

The boy had played.

They had played.

The boys had played.


Function, Uses and Examples of The Past Perfect Tense:

This tense is used to talk about an action complete before another action in the past i.e., two past actions are mentioned, the preceding action is expressed in the past perfect tense and the succeeding action in the simple past tense. Usually before and after are used to link up the preceeding action with the succeeding action and Had is used before 'before' and after 'after'.

He had reached home before it rained.

The police came after the thief had fled.


The Past Perfect Continuous Tense:

The Past Perfect Continuous Tense is used to talk about an action going on and partially complete before some point of time in the past.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

This tense consists of had been plus the -ing form of the verb. The -ing form is preceded by had been in all cases.

Subject + had been + verb + ing.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play verbs)

Go

I had been going.

We had been going.

You had been going.

He had been going.

She had been going.

It had been going.

The boy had been going.

They had been going.

The boys had been going.

Play

I had been playing.

We had been playing.

You had been playing.

He had been playing.

She had been playing.

It had been playing.

The boy had been playing.

They had been playing.

The boys had been playing.


Function, Uses and Examples of The Past Perfect Continuous Tense:

He had been working there when I met him.

He had been working there before he came here.

I had been waiting for you for two hours.


Part IV

The Future Tense:

Future Indefinite,

Future Continuous,

Future Perfect Continuous,

Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules and Examples.

Function, Uses and Examples.


The Future Tense:

The future tense describes an action that is yet to take place. It has four types.


The Future Indefinite Tense:

The Simple Future or The Future Indefinite Tense is used to talk about an action that will happen in future.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + shall /will + base form of verb.

If the subject is the first person i.e., I or we, the verb is preceded by shall. For all other subjects, it is preceded by will. However modern English uses will even for the first person pronouns. This rule of shall and will and its exception in modern English is applicable to the other three types of future tenses also.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play verbs)

Go

I shall go.

We shall go.

You will go.

He will go.

She will go.

It will go.

The boy will go.

They will go.

The boys will go.

Play

I shall play.

We shall play.

You will play.

He will play.

She will play.

The boy will play.

They will play.

The boys will play.

I shall go.

They will come.

The Future Continuous Tense:

The Future Continuous Tense is used to talk about an action that will continue at some future time.

I shall be playing at this time tomorrow.

They will be attending the meeting.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + shall be/will be + verb + ing.

This tense consists of the -ing form of the verb and it is preceded by shall be or will be.


Conjugation: (Different forms of Go and Play Verbs)

Go

I shall be going.

We shall be going.

You will be going.

He will be going.

She will be going.

It will be going.

The boy will be going.

They will be going.

The boys will be going.

Play

I shall be playing.

We shall be playing.

You will be playing.

He will be going.

She will be going.

It will be going.

The boy will be going.

They will be going.

The boys will be going.


The Future Perfect Tense:

The Future Perfect Tense is used to talk about an action that will be completed before another action in future.

I shall have reached home before it rains.

They will have arrived here before you leave.


Structure|Formation|Conjugation Rules:

Subject + shall have/will have + past participle form of verb.

This tense is formed with the past participle form of the verb. The past participle is preceded by shall have or will have.


Conjugation: (Different Forms of Go and Play Verbs)

Go

I shall have gone.

We shall have gone.

You will have gone.

He will have gone.

She will have gone.

It will have gone.

The boy will have gone.

They will have gone.

The boys will have gone.

Play

I shall have played.

We shall have played.

You will have played.

He will have played.

She will have played.

It will have played.

The boy will have played.

They will have played.

The boys will have played.


The Future Perfect Continuous Tense:

The Future Perfect Continuous Tense talks about an action that that will continue for long in the future and is formed with shall have been or will have been plus the -ing form of the verb. This tense is not used nowadays.


Part V

Conclusion:

Tenses play the most important role in English language learning. A thorough study of different tenses is a must for every learner of English as a Second language. It should also be carefully noted that sometimes one tense can be used to denote more than one time expression. For example, the present perfect tense can be used to indicate a past action and the present continuous tense can be used to express a future time. Even the past indefinite tense is sometimes used to indicate the present time as in "Could you please tell me the story?". So a careful study and thorough understanding of tenses is a must for every language learner.

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