5 Tenses in English and 5 Forms of the Verb
2.2.1 There are 5 tenses that it is most important to know well at this level, because they are the most common tenses:
- present simple
- present continuous
- past simple
- present perfect
- future simple
We focus on them because if you know these 5 tenses, you have a very good foundation for learning the rest of the tenses.
2.2.2 There are 5 forms of each verb, e.g. eat:
- infinitive > eat
- s form > eats
- past tense > ate
- past participle > eaten
- ing form > eating
It is important to learn the different forms of the most common verbs. Not all verbs have 5 different forms, for example, put has only 3 different forms – put, puts, and putting:
- infinitive > put
- s form > puts
- past tense > put
- past participle > put
- ing form > putting
The verbs ‘eat’ and ‘put’ are irregular verbs. This means that they have different past tense and past participle forms. However, if a verb is regular, the past tense and past participle forms will be the same: ending with -ed, e.g. walk / walks / walked / walked / walking.
2.2.3 Each of the 5 tenses uses different forms of the verb:
If we do not match correctly we make a mistake, e.g.
- I going for a walk every day.
The sentence appears to be present simple because of the time phrase ‘every day’, but uses ing form, which is not used in present simple.
- I will eaten an apple later.
The sentence appears to be future simple because of the future time phrase ‘later’, but uses past participle form, which is not used in future simple. Rather it belongs with present perfect tense.
…and so on. See this download for a diagram showing the 5 tenses and 5 forms of the verb: the-most-common-times-and-tenses-in-english.
2.2.4 Here is a table showing the most relevant information about the 5 tenses:
Now let’s look at each tense in more detail.
2.2.5 Present simple:
We usually use present simple to talk about actions that take place in general time (also known as regular time), for example:
- I go swimming every day.
- Bob usually meets his friends at the coffee shop.
…or things that are generally true, e.g. ‘I like cereal for breakfast.’ General time is not connected to the past-present-future timeline. It is outside of linear time. We do not use present simple to talk about what we are doing now, but rather present continuous (see below). For example:
- I sit on the sofa now.
- I am sitting on the sofa now.
We use infinitive, apart from for he/she/it when we use s form.
We need to use auxiliary verb do to make negative and question forms, but not for positive sentences.
We can also use present simple to talk about future actions connected with timetabled events, e.g. ‘The bus leaves at 2pm.’ or ‘The play starts at 8pm.’
2.2.6 Present continuous:
We usually use present continuous to talk about actions that are taking place at the moment, for example:
- I’m swimming at the moment.
We don’t need to add a time phrase because by using ing form we understand that the time is now, for example:
- Bob is chatting with his friends at the coffee shop. (now)
We can also use present continuous to talk about future arrangements, with a time phrase, such as ‘at 4pm’. For example:
- I’m meeting my friend on Saturday at 4pm.
We use ing form for positive, negative, and question forms.
We use auxiliary verb be in all forms.
2.2.7 Past simple:
We use past simple to talk about finished actions that took place in the past, in finished time. The time is finished and the action is finished. For example:
- I went swimming two days ago.
- Billie did her homework after school last night.
We use past tense, except when making negative and question forms, when we use infinitive (see above). If a verb is regular, the past tense form will end in
-ed and will be the same as the past participle form, e.g. I asked / I have asked.
We also need to use auxiliary verb did to make negative and question forms, but not for positive sentences.
Past simple is the most common tense in English, because it is the tense that we use to talk about ‘what happened?’ When we come home from work or school and talk about our day, or gossip about our friends, we use mainly past simple. When we read a story or novel, or a newspaper report, we find mainly past simple. When we recall our lives and the things that happened to us in the past, we use mainly past simple. Past simple is everywhere, which is why it is so important to learn the past tense forms of irregular verbs.
2.2.8 Present Perfect:
Present perfect may be difficult to understand because it seems to overlap with past simple. In fact, the two tenses contrast. While we use past simple to talk about finished actions in the past (finished time), we use present perfect to talk about finished actions in unfinished time. The action is past but the time is not finished. Time is the big difference between these two tenses. For example:
- I have been for a walk this morning.
The action of going for a walk is in the past, but it happened in time which is not yet finished: this morning. Therefore we use present perfect rather than past simple. If the time was finished – in the past – we would use past simple:
- I went for a walk last night.
Present perfect is especially suitable for talking about what we have done in time close to now, e.g. today, or ‘just’ (a few moments ago), and for talking about life experience, e.g. ‘I have never been to Rio.’ (In my life, which is not yet finished.) Our lives are unfinished time – they are not yet finished! We can use past simple when our lives are nearly finished, e.g. an old man complains, ‘I never went to Rio.’ When we are dead, others will use past simple too: ‘He never went to Rio.’
We use past participle form. If a verb is regular, the past participle form will end in -ed and will be the same as the past tense form, e.g. I looked / I have looked.
Present perfect is common in British English, but in other varieties of English such as American English it may be less common, with past simple being used instead.
2.2.9 Future Simple:
We use future simple to talk about actions that take place in the future. We often use it for immediate future, predictions, and promises. For example:
- Immediate future: [The doorbell rings] I’ll get it!
- Predictions: John will win the race tomorrow.
- Promises: I will be there to watch you win.
We need to use modal auxiliary verb will to make all forms – positive, negative, and question forms. After a modal verb we must use infinitive, which is why future simple uses infinitive form.
Ex. 2.2.1 Reading Match time, tense and form. Correct the errors below:
Ex. 2.2.2 Writing Complete the table with five regular verbs:
Ex. 2.2.3 Writing Complete the table with five irregular verbs:
Ex. 2.2.4 Writing Choose an infinitive verb and a tense and write 3 sentence – positive, negative, and question:
Ex. 2.2.5 Writing Write each word in the correct box:
Ex. 2.2.6 Writing Read the story below and underline all the main verbs. Then write a number above each one to show whether it is:
Yesterday I drove to Somerset. I wanted to buy a new car. There is a garage in Somerset which sells second-hand Fords. My friend Roy works there. I have known him for many years. He showed me some really expensive models. I said, ‘I’m not spending £20,000 on a second-hand car!’ Then we looked at some cheaper models and I chose a green Ford Focus. After I paid, I said goodbye to Roy, who lives in Frome. I have never owned a Ford Focus before, but so far it has been really great. I’m enjoying it a lot. I hope it will be reliable!
Ex. 2.2.7 Reading Read each statement and say whether it is true (T) or false (F):
- We use did to make question and negative sentences in past simple tense.
- We use present simple to talk about regular actions and things that are always true.
- Present simple tense is used to talk about past actions in unfinished time.
- S form is only used with present perfect tense.
- In present perfect the action is past and the time is finished.
- We need infinitive form to make questions and negative sentences in past simple.
- It is incorrect to use do and does as auxiliary verbs in present simple.
- Present simple for third person (he, she, it) uses infinitive form of the verb.
- After will we must use infinitive form.
- It is correct to use have and has as auxiliary verbs in present continuous.
Ex. 2.2.8 Reading Complete the gaps below:
- We use ______________ tense to talk about actions in the future.
- If an action has happened today I would use ______________ tense.
- We use ______________ tense to talk about actions in the past.
- To make present continuous tense I need to use ‘be’ + ______________ form.
- If an action happened yesterday I would use ______________ tense.
- We use ______________ tense to talk about regular actions.
- To make questions and negative sentences in past simple I need to use ______________ form.
- If an action has just happened I would use ______________ tense.
- We use ______________ tense to talk about actions at the moment.
- To make future simple tense I need to use ‘will’ + ______________ form.
- If an action happened two days ago I would use ______________ tense.
- We use ______________ tense to talk about actions in the past but in unfinished time.
- If an action happens tomorrow I use ______________ tense.
- To make present simple tense I need to use ______________ form for I, you, we, they, and ______________ for he, she, it.
- If an action happened every day I would use ______________ tense.
- To make past simple tense I need to use ______________ form.
- If an action happens next week I use ______________ tense.
- To make present perfect tense I need to use ‘have’ or ‘has’ + ______________ form.
- If an action is happening now I use ______________ tense.
- ______________ tense is the most common tense in English.
Ex. 2.2.9 Writing Complete the table from memory, then check your answers: