The English Tense system can be a tricky topic for both teachers and students, but by gradually learning each tense, its formation and its use it can prove to be less daunting than what it seems. The trick is to keep things simple and do one at a time. Only practice and experience will help the student to remember the various uses of each tense. The following is a summary of the usual uses of each English Present Tense:
Present simple tense
- Routine actions, facts and generalizations that do not have a beginning or an end e.g.
He plays golf every weekend; I drink coffee; Spiders are dangerous; Kangaroos come from Australia
- Commentaries, and stories told as if they are happening at the time of speaking e.g.
He shoots, he scores!; So I dive left, and it just misses
- Directions, instructions and headlines e.g.
Turn left, then go around the bend and make a right; New Bridge Collapses
Present continuous tense
- Referring to actions and events that are in progress now e.g.
I am swimming; She is painting; They are training for the big race; The storm is approaching
- Referring to current actions and events that are not necessarily taking place at the time of speaking e.g.
I am writing my first novel; I am hoping to be selected as a contestant; I am enjoying my new book
- Referring to actions and events that take place around a regular time, or to emphasize actions and events that happen frequently (with no specific time mentioned) e.g.
He is always running late; They are usually practicing at this time;
- Referring to background events in a present story e.g.
I'm standing there, and guess who walks by?; I'm walking my dog, when this car comes speeding around the corner
Present perfect tense
- Referring to finished actions, with no specific time period being mentioned (this is how we refer to general experiences) e.g.
I have eaten sushi; She has been to Jamaica; I have not ridden a bike before
- Referring to finished actions, within a time period that hasn't ended yet e.g.
I have driven 400 kilometers today; I have gotten lost every day this week
- Referring to ongoing actions that began in the past e.g.
I have been a writer for six years; They have been living together since January
- Referring to actions that happened in the past and have present results
I've hit my head on the doorway (it now hurts); She has lost her car keys (They are now lost, she can't drive home)
Present perfect continuous tense
- Referring to ongoing activities (which may now be over) when describing how long they have been going on for and that have been going on up until this moment e.g.
I have been attending their meetings for the past year; I have been training since June; She has been running around all day