Does your native language contain multiple forms of a given verb to distinguish the time an action happened? Many languages do not, and that is why many ESL students find learning this part of English grammar hard to master. This concept is referred to as a “verb tense.” When learning English, proper tense usage is especially difficult.
The first thing you need to understand when learning English verb tenses is where the action takes place on a basic timeline. If an action is happening now, in the current moment, it is in the present. If it occurred before the present time, it happened in the past. If it will occur after the present time, it will happen in the future.
However, each verb has more than just a past, present, and future tense. As a matter of fact, in proper English grammar, each verb has 16 tenses, though only a few are commonly used. Here are examples of the tenses used most often in conversation:
The present simple tense refers to actions that are happening right now.
Form: infinitive, without “to” + “s” for the person and number
Example: I speak. He speaks.
The past simple tense indicates an action that took place before the present moment.
Form: verb + “ed” However, you will also have to memorize the forms of irregular verbs like “drew” and “sat.”
Example: I typed the letter yesterday.
The future simple tense indicates an action that will take place after now.
Form: will + verb.
Example: We will celebrate later.
The present progressive tense indicates actions that are taking place at the moment spoken.
Form: be (present tense) + verb + “ing”
Example: She is speaking.
The past progressive tense refers to an action in the past that occurs longer than most past actions.
Form: be (past tense) + verb + “ing”
Example: At 8 a.m., I was running to catch the bus.
The future progressive tense indicates an action in the future that occurs longer than most future actions.
Form: will be + verb + “ing”
Example: They will be watching the play tomorrow.
Learning English verbs can be confusing compared to other languages. Remember not to get overwhelmed. Proper usage will come with practice. If you use the incorrect verb tense while you are still learning English grammar, the majority of native speakers will still easily understand what you mean to say.
Photo Credit: ALCC American Language