A7 – Verb Tenses

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A7
Verb Tenses: An Easy Reference Guide
One of the most difficult – and most important – parts of grammar is verb tense. There are three
basic verb tenses in English: present, past and future. Each tense has three additional forms to convey
completed actions (perfect), ongoing action (progressive), and ongoing action that will be completed at a
definite time (perfect progressive). Following are some brief definitions of each verb tense and examples
of forms.
Simple Forms:
PRESENT– indicates actions or conditions occurring at the time of speaking, as well as those occurring
habitually. The simple present tense can also indicate general truths and scientific facts, and, with
appropriate time expressions, can be used to indicate a scheduled future event (i.e. The study group
meeting is tomorrow at five p.m.).
You are very irritable today.
I eat breakfast very early in the morning.
In his newest book, David Smith writes about the importance of flossing.
PAST – indicates actions or conditions that occurred at a specific time and do not extend to the present.
You were irritable yesterday.
I ate breakfast very early this morning.
Last year, David Smith wrote a book on flossing.
FUTURE – indicates actions or conditions that have not yet begun.
Do you think you will be irritable tomorrow?
I will eat breakfast early.
David Smith will write another book about how to achieve healthy gums.
Progressive Forms:
Used to draw attention to the continuity of an action rather than its completion.
PRESENT PROGRESSIVE – indicates actions that are ongoing or continuous in the present, typically at the
time of speaking.
You are being irritable.
I am eating breakfast early.
David Smith is currently writing about toothpaste.
PAST PROGRESSIVE – indicates continuing actions or conditions in the past, often with specified limits.
You were being irritable.
I was eating breakfast
David Smith was writing a book.
FUTURE PROGRESSIVE – indicates continuing actions or conditions in the future.
I will be eating breakfast early tomorrow.
David Smith will be writing about many aspects of dental care.
Perfect Forms:
Used to talk about an action that occurs at one time but is seen in relation to another time.
PRESENT PERFECT – indicates actions begun in the past and either completed at an unspecified time in the
past or continuing into the present.
You have been irritable for a while.
David Smith has also written about the lives of dentists.
PAST PERFECT – indicates actions or conditions completed by a specific time in the past, or before some
other past action occurred.
I had eaten breakfast by the time you called.
FUTURE PERFECT – indicates actions or conditions that will be completed by or before some specified
time in the future.
I will have eaten breakfast by eight a.m., would you like to study then?
At this rate, Smith will have written eight books on dental care before his next birthday.
Perfect Progressive Forms:
PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE – indicates actions begun in the past and continuing into the present.
David Smith has been writing all day.
PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE – indicates continuing actions or conditions in the past that began before a
specific time or before some other past action began.
I had been eating breakfast when the phone rang.
FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE – indicates continuing actions or conditions that will be completed by
some specified time in the future.
In two minutes, she will have been yelling at him for a full hour.
For additional practice, try to correct the verb tense errors in the following sentences. The answers are at
the bottom of the page.
Yesterday, I show1 my class that the earth revolved2 around the sun.
I decide3 that I was going to give him his birthday present early.
They argued4 for a whole afternoon, and no one knows when they will stop.
Last week she told me that she forgot5 to send her mother a birthday card.
I asking6 him a question when the phone suddenly rang.
He will be visit7 the park tomorrow.
Soon, she create8 a new piece of artwork for display in the gallery.
ANSWERS: 1) simple past: showed; 2) simple present: revolves; 3) simple past: decided; 4) present
perfect progressive: have been arguing; 5) past perfect: had forgotten; 6) past progressive: was asking; 7)
future progressive: will be visiting; 8) simple future: will create
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