The 3 Basic Tenses

Summary and TIPS


Perhaps the greatest challenge learners of English as a second language (ESL) will face is remembering the grammatical rules of all 16 verb tenses that describe actions happening in the past, present and future. On top of that, they must be able to use them in the correct situation!

The best way to tackle this seemingly impossible task is to fully understand the most basic of English verb forms before worrying over the more complex ones. So, let’s examine the four fundamental tenses you need to know:

Present Simple
This verb tense is all about general facts (the earth revolves around the sun, my father has brown hair) or the things we do on a regular basis – this could be every day, every week, every year, sometimes, rarely or always. If you exercise three times a week or if your brother plays basketball for the school team, use the present simple to talk about those actions.

Past Tense
Like its name suggests, this tense is all about the past; specifically, completed actions in the past that are connected to a specific time. These use past tense verbs (v2) that are either regular (with a d -or -ed at the end) or irregular, which means they change slightly from their base forms.

Future Tense

Indicates that an action is in the future relative to the speaker or writer. There are no inflected forms for the future in English (nothing like those -ed or -s endings in the other tenses). Instead, the future tense employs the helping verbs will or shall with the base form of the verb:

She will leave soon.
We shall overcome. 

The future is also formed with the use of a form of "go" plus the infinitive of the verb:
He is going to faint.
English can even use the present to suggest the future tense:
I am leaving later today."

Note that the auxiliary will can be combined with "be" and a progressive form of the main verb to create a sense of the future that does not harbor any hint of insistence (which is possible with the auxiliary alone). For instance, if stress is placed on the word will in "When will you arrive?", the sentence can sound impatient, insistent. In "When will you be arriving?" there is less of that emotional overtone.

After studying the details of these English tenses, remember to put them to use and practice, practice, practice!

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