Module 3, Verbs: Types, Tenses, and Moods, Lesson 8:

Tenses of Verbs


Definition: Earlier in this module you learned that verbs are action words. Verbs have multiple forms called tenses that tell us when an action occurs. In this lesson you'll learn about the simple, progressive, and perfect tenses.

Simple Tenses

The present, past, and future tenses are called simple tenses.

Simple Tenses
Present Past Future
walk(s) walked will walk
Simple Present Tense

The term present tense is a little deceiving. You're probably thinking to yourself, "It's a no-brainer, isn't it? The present tense is used for actions that are happening now, right?"—not exactly. Although it's true that the present tense does have to do with current events, there are several specific ways in which it's used, including:

  • Talking about actions that occur repeatedly
    These are actions that happen on a regular basis, such as habits or routines. They can have a specific or general time frame.

    I brush my teeth every morning and every night.
    Bret runs five miles every day.
    We visit my grandparents twice a year.
    Sometimes Sean and Jaimie go to the pool.
    Mom never lets us eat chocolate cake for breakfast.
  • Discussing current facts, basic truths, or widely accepted beliefs

    The sky is blue, and the grass is green.
    Cats catch mice.
    Stealing is unethical.
  • Describing people or things
    Use the present tense to describe physical characteristics, personality traits, feelings, abilities, and likes and dislikes that are true in the present.

    Her brothers are both over six feet tall.
    He is the nicest person I know.
    I feel sick today.
    My best friend plays minor league baseball.
    Many people love dogs, but many also love cats.
    This milk smells funny.
    Your new rose bush looks beautiful!
When you want to talk about an action that is occurring at this very moment, you typically use the present progressive tense, which you'll learn about later in this lesson.

You already learned how to form the present tense in Lesson 5, but let's review. The base alone is used for most forms of the present tense, including the first person (I and we), second person (you), and third person plural (they). The only time the base changes is in the third person singular (he, she, it). To form the third person singular, just add the letter -s to the end of the base.

Simple Past Tense

The past tense is more straightforward than the present tense—you only use it to talk about actions, events, or feelings that happened at an earlier point in time.

Olivia closed the door behind her.
We pushed through the crowd to get a better view of the stage.

Let's also review how to form the past tense. Simply take the base form and add -ed. If the base ends in a silent e, just add -d, not -ed. Unlike the present tense, the past tense always uses the same form regardless of person or number. If you would like to see more examples, you can go back to Lesson 5.

The English language has quite a few irregular past tense forms that don't end in -ed. You can learn about them here.
Future Tense

The future tense is one of the easiest tenses to learn because it has no irregular forms. Just as its name suggests, it's used to describe actions that will happen in the future. It is formed by combining the helping verb will with the base form of the main verb.

Tomorrow I will walk home from school.

Progressive Tenses (A.K.A. the Continuous Tenses)

Progressive tenses are used to discuss ongoing or continuing actions. They can also be used to talk about an action that is, was, or will be occurring at the same time as another action. The progressive tenses use a form of the verb to be plus the present participle of the verb.

Progressive Tenses
Present Progressive Past Progressive Future Progressive
am walking was walking will be walking
am eating was eating will be eating
Present Progressive

The present progressive tense is typically used to talk about something that is happening right now. It can also be used to talk about a future action or an action that is occurring at the same time as another one. It is formed by using a present tense form of the verb to be plus the present participle of the main verb.

I am walking to school right now. (current action)
He is walking to school tomorrow. (future action)
Most days we are walking to school when you see us. (simultaneous actions: are walking and see)
The word simultaneous means happening at the same time.
Past Progressive

The past progressive is used to describe an action that was occurring at the same time as another past action.

Yesterday I was walking to school when you saw me.
(simultaneous actions: was walking and saw)
Future Progressive

The future progressive is usually used to describe an action that will occur at the same time as another future action. To form the future progressive tense, use this formula: will be + present participle.

Tomorrow I will be walking to school when you see me.
(simultaneous actions: will be walking and see)

Notice how the verb see is in the present tense, not the future tense. When people talk about future simultaneous actions, usually one verb is in the future progressive and the other is in the simple present.

Perfect Tenses

Perfect tenses show when an action happened in relation to another action. To form the perfect tenses, use a form of the helping verb have (have, has, had, will have) plus the past participle of the main verb. The verb have changes to show the tense.

To review irregular past participles, visit Lesson 7.
Perfect Tenses
Present Perfect Past Perfect Future Perfect
have walked had walked will have walked
have finished had finished will have finished
Present Perfect

An action in the present perfect began in the past and continues in the present or has ended by the present. It can also be used to talk about past actions that happened multiple times. To form the present perfect, use the present tense of the verb to have plus the past participle of the main verb.

Most days I take the bus to school, but for the last two weeks I have walked to school.
I have finished my homework already.
Past Perfect

An action in the past perfect began and ended before another past event. To form the past perfect, use the past tense of the verb to have plus the past participle of the main verb.

Yesterday I rode the bus to school, but the day before I had walked to school.
I was watching TV because I had finished my homework already.
Future Perfect

An action in the future perfect tense will be finished by a particular time in the future. To form this tense, use this formula: will + have + past participle.

By the time I arrive at school tomorrow, I will have walked to school 100 days in a row.
By 8 p.m. I will have finished my homework.

Perfect Progressive Tenses

Perfect progressive tenses are a combination of perfect (completed before) and progressive (ongoing) tenses, which show that something began, continued, and ended before another action. The perfect progressive tenses combine the perfect (have, has, had, will have), the progressive (been) and the present participle of the main verb.

Perfect Progressive Tenses
Present Perfect
Past Perfect
Future Perfect
have been walking had been walking will have been walking
have been finishing had been finishing will have been finishing
Present Perfect Progressive

This tense is used for recent past actions that happened repeatedly.

I have been walking to school on sunny days.
He has been finishing his homework by 7 p.m. every day this week.

It is also used for continuous past actions that are affecting the present in some way.

I have been walking to school a lot, so I'm in much better shape than I was before.
He has been finishing all his homework, and his grades have improved a lot.
Past Perfect Progressive

Use the past perfect tense to express actions that happened in the more distant past that happened repeatedly. This tense is frequently used in relation to another past action that occurred at a later time.

I had been walking to school every day, but then the weather turned cold.
Isabella had been finishing her homework on time all month, but then she caught a cold and missed school.
Future Perfect Progressive

This tense is used when you are anticipating a time in the future when a continuous action will be finished.

By tomorrow I will have been walking to school for six weeks straight.
Choosing the correct tense to use in a sentence requires you to pay close attention to the clues in the sentence.

Emphatic Forms

Not a tense, but logically included in this section is the emphatic form. The emphatic form emphasizes that an action happened. It is also used in questions and in negative statements. The emphatic form uses the verb do with the present form of the verb.

Emphatic Form
Present Emphatic Past Emphatic There is no future emphatic because you can't emphasize something that hasn't happened yet.
do/does walk did walk
do/does finish did finish

Practice What You've Learned

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Part 1

Identify the tense of the underlined verb.
Yesterday we were walking along the river when we saw two otters.
present perfect / past progressive / future / emphatic
Medieval painters made their paintbrushes from squirrel or mink tails.
future perfect / past / present progressive / past perfect progressive
My little sister pretends her stuffed animals can talk.
present / emphatic / past progressive / future perfect progressive
That blue car does get better gas mileage than the red one.
present / future perfect progressive / past progressive / emphatic
My laptop has been working very slowly lately.
future / present perfect progressive / emphatic / past progressive
This tree will have oranges on it in November.
present perfect progressive / future / past progressive / emphatic
I hope Matthew has completed his science project.
present perfect / past perfect / future / emphatic
Tomorrow we will have eaten pizza five days in a row.
present perfect progressive / past / future perfect / emphatic
My Akita does love those treats, but my German shepherd doesn't.
present perfect / past progressive / future / emphatic
The ancient Egyptians mummified their dead.
present perfect / past / future progressive / emphatic

Part 2

Choose the correct tense of the verb to complete the sentence.
By tomorrow we have completed / will have completed our science project research.
Michelle has been / goes to Paris six times.
On our field trip next week, we will have gone / will be going to the local zoo.
Yesterday Shelly will go / went to the mall after school.
Every day Daniel eats / ate a hot dog for lunch.
This past month, my mother will be growing / has been growing vegetables in her garden.
In the Middle Ages, people will believe / believed that illness was caused by witchcraft.
I hope tomorrow was / will be sunny, unlike today.
After the spill last month, we drank / drink bottled water until the city said the water was safe.
In the tournament, the boxers fought / will fight until the champion knocked out the contender.