If you speak English, you make use of the English present tense every day. And chances are, if you're not an English scholar or planning on teaching English, you don't know how to explain how each of the four tenses making up the present tense are formed and used (or even that there are four variations!). For the average person; there is one present tense and that's all there is to know. If you want to know more (or plan on teaching English) then knowledge of each of the four minor tenses that make up the present tense is required. The four present tenses are: present simple, present continuous, present perfect, and present perfect continuous.
This simple guide will tell you everything you need to know about the first of the present tenses, the present simple tense.
When is the present simple tense used?
The present simple tense is used for:
- 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
How is the present simple tense formed?
Tenses have three variations: Affirmative, Negative and Question
-Affirmative: Subject + base form of verb (+ "es" or "s" for third person singular)
I love soccer; They race cars; He rides horses; We own this house; It makes no sense
-Negative: Subject + auxiliary verb "do" + not + base form of verb
They do not eat meat; He does not know them; I don't attend the meeting
- Question: Auxiliary verb "do" + subject + base form of verb
Do you live here?; Do they understand?; Does it work?
Note: For this tense, only the base or present form of the auxiliary verb "do" is used (do, does).
Third person singular
When talking about the third person singular (he, she, it) the verb (and auxiliary verb) changes its form.
When forming an affirmative sentence using the third person singular, "s" or "es" is added to the base form of the verb. The rules to form most verbs are as follows:
If the verb ends with a consonant + "y", change the "y" to "i" and add "es" e.g.
Fly = Flies, Try = Tries, Spy = Spies
If the verb ends with "o", "s", "z", "x", "ch" and "sh", add "es" e.g.
Squash = Squashes, Hex = Hexes, Watch = Watches
For most other verbs, add "s" to the base form of the verb e.g.
Sit = Sits, Hit = Hits, Play = Plays
The auxiliary verb also changes when using the third person singular. "Does" is used instead of "do" e.g.
It does not matter; Does he like watching movies?
Keep it simple
"Do not" and "does not" can be shortened to "don't" and "doesn't". All of these forms are correct, but the shorter, more contracted version is more commonly used in spoken dialogue.
It may seem that there is no simple way of learning the English tense system, but by taking one minor tense at a time and practicing its formation and different uses, one will find that the tense system can be learnt fairly quickly. Knowledge of parts of speech and the rules to form each tense is important in the beginning, and once these are fully remembered, practice will see the entire system becoming much easier to understand and use naturally and correctly.