Tense is used to show an action’s time within a sentence. You do this by conjugating the verb in the sentence. There are 6 main verb tenses in the English language: they are:




Present perfect

Past perfect

Future Perfect

Additionally, there are two forms for each of these tenses; the basic form and the progressive form. To simplify this, I am going to split these up into two categories; the simple tenses and their two forms, and the perfect tenses and their two forms.


Simple Tenses

The simple tense consists of the present, past, and future, along with their basic and progressive forms. Each of these will be conjugated differently within any given sentence, based on the time you are attempting to show an action took place.

                                Basic                      Progressive

Present                 walk                        am walking

Past                       walked                   was walking

Future                   will walk               will be walking

The present basic tense is used to show actions that happen often or sometimes; “I walk a lot.” or “I often go for a walk.” describe a feeling; “I like that.” or tell about a future action; “I leave tomorrow.”

The progressive form, or present progressive, is used to describe actions that are happening right now “I am walking.” Note that in the present progressive the helping verb ‘to be’ is needed to complete the tense.

 The simple past tense shows an action that has happened in the past. “I walked.” To form this for regular verbs, the suffix ‘ed’ is added to the present basic form of the word, but for irregular verbs this does not apply; “I saw.” --the present basic form being see.

The past progressive tense is used for actions that were happening in the past “I was walking and…” Again a form of the verb to be is needed to complete the thought: this is true for all of the progressive tense forms, as well as the remaining basic tense forms.

The future basic is made up of the helping verb will/shall and the base form of the word (or present basic tense). It is used to describe actions that aren’t happening yet, but are expected to. “I will walk someday.”

The future progressive tense is similar in structure, but uses the addition of the un-conjugated helping verb to be. It is used to describe a particular moment in the future. “I will be walking when it stops raining.” 


Perfect Tenses

The perfect tense is formed by adding the helping verb to have. This makes it, along with the progressive forms above and the future basic, what is known as a compound tense. Perfect tenses are used to add more clarification of the time an action occurred. Where simple sentences focus more on the action itself, perfect sentences are more concentrated on when the action happened. Perfect tenses, like simple tenses, have two forms; basic and progressive, and follow the same present through future pattern.

                                                  Basic                                    Progressive

Present Perfect                 have walked                      have been walking

Past Perfect                        had walked                        had been walking

Future  Perfect                  will have walked              will have been walking

The present perfect tense shows actions that have happened in the past and continue to have an effect on current actions. “I have walked, so I am tired.”

The present perfect progressive tense is used to show past events that continue to happen up until a specific time. “I have been walking since 3:00.”

The past perfect tense is used to separate two actions by the time that they occurred, using the past perfect for the earlier of the two actions. “I had eaten before I went for a walk.”

The past perfect progressive shows action that had happened at a specific time in the past. “I had been walking.”

The future perfect is used to show an action that is has been occurring up until a specific point in the future. “By 3:00, I will have walked a mile.”

The future perfect progressive is similar to the future perfect and is also used to show an action that is on-going, but the progressive form shows that the action will continue beyond the specific time in the future. “by 3:00, I will have been walking for a mile.”

Participle Form

A participle is the form of the verb that functions as an adjective.  Participle verb forms are the pieces of language that grammarians use to make up all the tenses we’ve just talked about. This is usually where it becomes confusing for most people because it seems that English teachers are just throwing more tenses on you, but in fact, these are easiest tenses to form because, unlike the above tenses, you have no need to conjugate the helping verb. They have only two forms; the present participle and the past participle. You’ll recognize the present participle by its ing ending and its functionality as an adjective in the sentence. “Watch for falling rocks.” Falling describes the rocks in the sentence. This is the form of the verb that is used to make all of the above progressive forms, by adding the helping verbs we just went over. The past participle functions in nearly the exact same way, though ending in ed, or in case of an irregular verb, en or t. “the frozen ground was difficult to traverse.”  Frozen functions as an adjective in this sentence, describing the ground. The past participle form of the verb is used to make all the basic perfect tenses. What this leaves is the present basic and past basic tenses which when grouped with the present and past participle become the principle parts of all verbs. But that’s another topic for another day. I hope this helped some.