How Many Verb Tenses Are There in English?

Tenses are key to learning English. What are tenses? In English grammar, tense refers to the moment when something happens. Generally, people think about past, present or future times for a verb as tenses. This is also called the verb form. For example, the present simple verb tense is also called the present simple verb form and concerns actions that happen every day. The past simple verb tense (or verb form) refers to something that happens in the past.

The simple answer to this question is that there are thirteen tenses in English. Some teachers refer to only three tenses: past, present and future that have a variety of forms. The most important thing to remember is that there are thirteen verb forms or tenses that are used for different situations that happen in the past, present or future.

Here are simple explanations of the tenses in English that give the most common use of each tense in English. There are a number of exceptions to the rules, other uses for certain tenses in English and so on. Each tense has examples.

Simple present – things that happen every day

He usually goes for a walk every afternoon.
Petra doesn’t work in the city.
Where do you live?

Simple past – something that happened at some time in the past

Jeff bought a new car last week.
Peter didn’t go to the meeting yesterday.
When did you leave for work?

Simple future with ‘will’ – used to express a future act

She will come to the meeting tomorrow.
They won’t help you.
Will you come to the party?

Simple future with ‘going to’ – for future plans

I’m going to visit my parents in Chicago next week.
Alice isn’t going to attend the conference.
When are you going to leave?

Present perfect – something that began in the past and continues into the present

Tim has lived in that house for ten years.
She hasn’t played golf for long.
How long have you been married?

Past perfect – what happened before something else in the past

Jack had already eaten when he arrived.
I hadn’t finished the report when my boss asked for it.
Had you spent all your money?

Future perfect – what will have happened up to a point in the future

Brian will have finished the report by five o’clock.
Susan won’t have driven far by the end of the evening.
How many years will you have studied by the time you get your degree?

Present continuous (progressive) – what is happening at the moment

I’m working at the computer at the moment.
He isn’t sleeping now.
Are you working?

Past continuous (progressive) – what was happening at a specific moment in the past

I was playing tennis at seven o’clock.
She wasn’t watching TV when he called.
What were you doing at that time?

Future continuous (progressive) – what will be happening at a specific moment in the future

I will be lying on the beach this time next week.
She won’t be having any fun this time tomorrow.
Will you be working this time tomorrow?

Present perfect continuous (progressive) – what has been happening up to the present moment in time

I’ve been working for three hours.
She hasn’t been working in the garden for long.
How long have you been cooking?

Past perfect continuous (progressive) – what had been happening up to a specific moment in the past

They had been working for three hours by the time he arrived.
We hadn’t been playing golf for long.
Had you been working hard when he asked for it?

Future perfect continuous (progressive) – what will be happening up to a specific moment in the future

They will have been working for eight hours by the end of the day.
She won’t have been studying for very long when she takes the test.
How long will you have been playing that game by the time you finish?