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Which tense should I use?

A beginners guide to choosing the correct tense.
by

Richard Lum

on 19 August 2013

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Transcript of Which tense should I use?

subject
+
verb(s)
We use present simple tense to talk about regularly occurring events, or things with no specific time frame.
Present Simple
In the future
In the past
In the present
No specific event or time frame
Which tense should I use?
When is the thing that I am talking about happening?
time
now
I

play
football.
He

plays
football.
She

likes
pizza
.
It

goes
fast.
You

like
pizza
.
We

go
swimming.
They

do
aerobics.
Remember to add 's' for third person singular subjects (he, she, it)
Present Continuous
subject
+
verb to be

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

am
play
ing
football.
He

is
play
ing
football.
She

is

eat
ing
pizza
.
It

is

go
ing
fast.
You

are

eat
ing
pizza
.
We

are
swim
ming
.
They

are
do
ing
aerobics.
We use present continuous tense to talk something that has begun, but not yet finished.
It is often something happening now.
Present continuous can also be used to talk about a planned event that is happening in the future.
Present Perfect Continuous
subject
+
have been

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

have been
play
ing
football.
He

has been
play
ing
football.
She

has been

eat
ing
pizza
.
It

has been

go
ing
fast.
You

have been

eat
ing
pizza
.
We

have been
swim
ming
since 6pm.
They

have been
do
ing
aerobics for 2 hours.
We use present perfect continuous tense to talk something that began in the past and finished recently, or is continuing at the time of speaking.
It is used with "for" or "since" to indicate how long something has been happening.
Present Perfect
subject
+
have
+
past participle
I

have
played
football.
He

has

never
played
football.
She

has

eaten
pizza
.
This year

has

gone
fast.
You

have

eaten
pizza
.
We

have
gone
swimming.
They

have
done
aerobics.
I
have

been

to Japan.
He
has

never

been

to the USA.
We use present perfect tense to talk about a recently completed past activity.
It is also used to refer to a person's entire life experience.
Past Simple
subject
+
past tense verb
I

played
football.
He

played
football.
She

ate
pizza yesterday
.
It

went
fast.
You

ate
pizza
.
We

went
swimming.
They

did
aerobics.
I
went
to Japan last year.
He
didn't go

to the USA.
We use past simple tense to talk about an activity, or event, that was completed at a specific time in the past.
Past Perfect
subject
+
had
+
past participle
I

had
played
football three times before.
He

had
played
football for a year.
She

had

finished
the pizza
when we arrived .
The time

had

gone
fast, and we missed the bus.
You

had

already
eaten
pizza
twice that day.
We

had
gone
swimming, and weren't at home.
They

hadn't
done
aerobics before.
I
had

been

to Japan, but hadn't been to Korea before.
He
had

never

been

to the USA, so he wanted to go .
We use past perfect tense to talk about something that took place and finished before something else in the past.
Past Continuous
subject
+
was/were

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

was
play
ing
football when I broke my ankle.
He

was
play
ing
football when I saw him.
She

was

eat
ing
pizza
when the phone rang.
It

was

go
ing
too fast to stop it.
While
you

were

eat
ing
pizza
, I did the dishes.
We

were
swim
ming
from 6pm to 8pm.
They couldn't come to the cinema, because
they

were
do
ing
aerobics .
We use past continuous tense to talk something that began before a particular point in the past and is still continuing at that point.
It may continue after that point.
Past Perfect Continuous
subject
+
had been

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

had been
play
ing
football for 2 hours when it started to rain
He

had been
play
ing
football for 5 years by the time he was ten.
She

had been

eat
ing
pizza
every day for a year.
It

had been

go
ing
fast when they saw it.
I knew that
you

had been

eat
ing
pizza
because the box was on the table.
We

had been
swim
ming
since 6pm and were all tired.
They

had been
do
ing
aerobics for 2 hours before they came to school.
We use past perfect continuous tense to talk about an extended, or repeated, event or activity that occurred before a particular point in the past.
Sometimes the event or activity ended at that particular point in the past.
key point in the past
now
[
----------------------------
]
now
[
----------------------------
]
key point in the past
now
X
now
X
key point in the past
now
------------------>
]
now
------------------>
]
now
X
Present Continuous
subject
+
verb to be

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

am
play
ing
football after lunch.
He

is
play
ing
football next year.
She

is

hav
ing

a party tomorrow.
We

are

work
ing
on Monday.
You

are

stop
ping

work at noon.
We

are
swim
ming
tomorrow.
They

are
do
ing
aerobics at 8:00.
Present continuous can also be used to talk about a planned event that is happening in the future.
now
X
planned event
Future Simple
subject
+
will/shall

+
verb
I

will
play
football tomorrow.
He

will
play
football if it isn't raining.
She

will
like
this pizza
, it's got chilli on it.
It

will
go
fast because we improved the engine.
John

will

help
you
.
We

shall
succeed
.
I

won't
tell
anyone your secret.
It
's
going to
be

hot tomorrow.
I
'm
going to
buy

a new car.
I
'm
not going to
play

tennis.
Future simple tense can be formed using "will", "shall" or "going to" to talk about planned, or predicted, future events.
subject
+
verb to be

+

going to
+
verb
Future Continuous
subject
+
will
be

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

will
be
play
ing
football at noon tomorrow.
He

will
be
play
ing
football and will miss the meeting.
She

will
be

hav
ing

dinner when we get there.
We

will
be

work
ing
on Monday.
You

will
be

stop
ping

work soon.
We

will
be
tak
ing
the bus.
They

will
be
walk
ing
to school tomorrow.
Future continuous is used to talk about an action or event that is planned, or predicted, to be in progress at a particular point in the future.
now
[
----------------------------
]
point in the future
Future Perfect
subject
+
will

+
have
+
past participle
I

will
have
played
football twice by then.
He

will
have
finished
his homework by 8pm.
She

will
have

eaten
all of the pizza
before we arrive.
It

won't
have

gone
very far by then.
You

will
have

eaten
pizza
5 times by the end of the week.
We

won't
have
gone
swimming yet.
They

will
have
prepared
eve
rything before the party.
I
will
have

already

been

to Japan when I meet you.
He
won't
have

seen

the movie yet.
We use future perfect tense to talk about activities, or events, that will have already taken place by a particular point in the future.
It is often used with "by" or "before" to reference the point in the future.
now
X
key point in the future
Future Perfect Continuous
subject
+
will
+
have been

+
verb
+"
ing
"
I

will
have been
play
ing
football for 2 years by the time I'm 15.
He

will
have been
play
ing
football for 3 years by then.
She

will
have been

eat
ing
pizza
for over an hour at 8:00.
John

will
have been

work
ing
for 45 years when he retires.
You

will
have been

driv
ing

for 3 hours by the time you get there.
We

will
have been
swim
ming
since 6pm.
They

will
have been
do
ing
aerobics for 2 hours by then.
We use future perfect continuous tense to talk about how long something has been happening for at particular point in the future.
It is usually used with "for" to indicate the length of time.
now
--------------------------------------------------------------->
]
key point in the future
now
X
planned event
Full transcript