Time can be split into the present (what you are doing now), the past (what you did) and the future (what you are going to do.) In English, tenses show the time of a verb's action or being, achieved by changing (conjugating) verb endings to show roughly what time a verb is referring to. Using tenses in the various time frames may appear complicated initially, but you can use English tenses correctly by keeping a few things in mind.

Show permanent characteristics of events and people or things that happen regularly, habitually or in single completed action using simple tenses. Simple tenses include simple present tenses as seen in the sentence: She plays tennis (verb tense = plays), simple past tenses as seen in the sentence: He played tennis (verb tense = played) and simple future tenses as in the sentence: I am going to play tennis next year (verb tense = going to play).

Talk about a particular point in time using continuous tenses. Continuous tenses include present continuous tenses as found in the sentence: I am eating (verb tense = eating), past continuous tenses as in the sentence: He was watching television (verb tense = watching) and future continuous tenses as seen in the sentence: You will be waiting for him when the plane arrives (verb tense = will be waiting).

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Use perfect tense to give more information about an action or situation in the present that is linked to a moment in the past. Perfect tenses include present perfect tenses as seen in the sentence: She has seen that movie many times (verb tense = has seen), past perfect tenses as seen in the sentence: She had seen that movie before she came to the cinema (verb tense = had seen) and future perfect tenses as seen in the sentence: She will have perfected French by the time she comes back from Paris (verb tense = will have perfected). Perfect tense shows things that have happened up to and including now but aren't finished yet, or emphasizes that something happened but is not true anymore.

Discuss the future using future tenses with verb forms such as "shall," "will" or "going to." Future tenses include simple future tenses as found in the sentence: She will help him later (verb tense = will help), and future perfect tenses as in the sentence: She will have cleaned the car by tomorrow (verb tense = will have cleaned).

Tips

  • Technically, there are no future tenses in English because future tenses are often called modal tenses. Modal verbs include "will," "can," "may" and "must." "Will" and "shall' are common modal verbs used in future tenses. Read, study, practice and listen to grammatical English on a regular basis to improve your use of English tenses.

About the Author

David Kiarie has been an independent writer and communications practitioner since 2007. Based in Africa, he has written works that have been published in various platforms, including "Prime Scope Magazine." Kiarie particularly enjoys writing about Africa, including African travel and art. He has a Bachelor of Arts in language and communication and literature from the University of Nairobi.