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Basic tenses and how to use them.

Tenses are potentially one of the most difficult parts of the English language, simply because many other languages don’t have so many tenses. As a TEFL teacher it’s our job to be able to name, explain and teach each individual tense. So, what are they?


Simple Tenses 

The most simple of tenses and where all English learner will begin. You have 3 simple tenses; present, past and future.


Simple present - is something that happens regularly and will be permanent. For example:

‘We walk the dog at the park.’ 

Something that will probably happen everyday for the foreseeable future. All verbs used in the simple present will be the original form, go, play, and swim are all examples of verbs in their original state. 


Simple past - is used for anything that happened at anytime before now. For example:

‘I ate a banana at lunch.’

In this sentence ‘lunch’  happened at a time before now. Whether it was 10 minutes ago or 4 hours ago doesn’t matter, the fact that you have used ‘ate’ shows that the sentence is ‘past tense.’  

All verbs used in the past tense will be past tense (obviously), went, played, and swam are all examples of verbs in the past state. 


Simple future - is used for anything that will happen anytime after now. For example:

‘I will go home later.’ 

As you can see, the word ‘later’, is quite clearly not now. So when talking in the future tense you need to add will before any verbs you plan on using. Verbs in the future tense are also in their original state, the only difference is that you add the word will before using them, will go, will play and will swim are all examples of verbs in the future tense.


Perfect Tenses

Perfect tenses are far from perfect, in fact, in many countries people see them as completely pointless, but we use them so often, that they are far from pointless. 

Perfect tenses also have past, present and future forms, and all verbs come with a helper word such as; have, has, had, will and shall. Also, any verb used in a perfect tense will be the past participle, verbs go like this; go-went-gone or play-played-played. Let’s get started…


Present perfect - is used to show something that was recently finished or something that was finished/completed/done and indefinite time ago. It cannot be used with specific times, such as, last Wednesday or at 1:00 etc. These sentences use have/has. For example:

‘I have seen that film.’ 

‘She has eaten dinner.’ 

As you can see, the verbs used in these sentences look like past tense verbs, but they are not. Any verb used in a perfect tense will be the past participle, as stated above. When using present perfect, the most important words for students to remember are have and has.


Past perfect - is used to show something that happened before a past even occurred. For example:

‘I had gone to the shop before you came.’

‘Tim had jumped into the water before I caught him.’

Students should be careful when using this tense, because lots of them find it hard to differentiate between present perfect and past perfect. Using the example of a past sentence then adding something that happened before that past sentence usually confuses them at first, but then makes it quite clear after. 


Future perfect - is used to show something that will happen before a future even occurs. For example:

‘I will have finished my homework by lunch.’

‘By tomorrow, he will have landed in England.’

With the future perfect, using the word by gives the future event, by tomorrow, by lunch, by the time you’ve finished, are all events/times in the future. We use the future perfect to show something that will happen by that time.


Progressive Tenses

Progressive, or continuous, tenses show things that will be/are/were continually happening. All verbs in these tenses end with ‘ing’ .


Present progressive - is used to show something that is happening now. For example:

We are playing a game.’

‘I am watching T.V.’

‘She is waiting for her friend.’

Now, I’m not 100% sure on the correct terminology of these words, but I learnt them as being words, they are words to show things that be. Examples of these are shown in red above. When we use the present progressive, a being word must be used before the verb. 


Past progressive - is used in a very similar way to the simple past. But it’s used to show something that continuously happened. For example:

I was playing football.’ 

‘They were watching T.V.’

As mentioned above, it’s used in nearly the exact same way as the past tense, but shows something that happened for a length of time. The use of being words is present again, but this time they are in the past tense, am-was, are-were, is-was.


Future progressive - is used to show something that will happen continuously in the future. For example: 

‘I will be playing football.’

‘They will be watching T.V.’ 

As with the past tense and the past progressive tense, the future tense and the future perfect tense  are used in nearly exactly the same way, but, again, it will be continuously happening. 


So, there are the different tenses and how to use them. When teaching these tenses, I suggest that you do some research on regular and irregular verbs. 

Stay tuned for another post on how to teach each tense.


We hope you enjoyed reading this post. Remember to share with your friends and fellow teachers. Do you have anything to share? If so, get in touch!



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