Verb Tense

The idea of verb tense usually concerns three divisions: past, present, and future.

English is unique because it also has another three divisions for each of the basic tenses: perfect, simple, and progressive.

(progressive = continuous)

In all three basic tenses (past, present, and future), the simple tense uses the verb all by itself. There are no helping verbs, such as “is, are, am, was, were, have, has” or modal verbs, such as “can, could, must, etc.”  - Simply the verb.

The progressive tense always has a helping word, which is some form of the verb “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, will be) PLUS a verb with the ending -ing.    E.g. We are going.

                                                                                be  verb-ing        

  1. We play all day.    simple verb
  2. We are playing today.  “be” + play + ing  progressive
  3. They don’t sing very well.     simple verb
  4. They should stop singing now.   “should” + sing+ing    progressive
  5. He takes me to school.   simple verb
  6. He is taking his girlfriend to the movies.  progressive
  7. He has taken her there before.  perfect
  8. I like working.  gerund noun
  9. I am working.  progressive verb
  10. I suggest a book. I suggest reading.  gerund nouns     (incorrect: I suggest to read.)

                        Perfect                I had worked before then        HAD +PARTICIPLE

Past                        Simple                        I worked yesterday                          verb

                        Continuous                I was working back then      WAS +GERUND  

                        Perfect                I have worked before now  HAVE +PARTICIPLE (-ed word)

Present                Simple                        I work now                           verb

                        Continuous                I am working now       BE +GERUND   (-ing word)

                        Perfect                    I will have worked by then    WILL HAVE+PARTICIPLE

Future                        Simple                        I will work later                        WILL +  verb

                        Continuous                I will be working soon        WILL BE + GERUND  

“Present perfect” is a past tense even though it has the word “present” in its name. This is because the helping word “have” is in the present tense. In the “past perfect,” the helping word “have” becomes “had.”

Tom lost his key.  (simple past)  Since the verb is simple past, then the condition is over, which means that Tom found his key.

Tom has lost his key.   (present perfect)  - Since the word has tell us that the condition is still true in the present, then it means that Tom’s key is still lost. He hasn’t found it yet.

to be  irregular  am, is, are, was, were


past perfect: (use if there are 2 past events)

Past                        Perfect                 I had worked before then        HAD +PARTICIPLE

                                        I had run a mile, eaten a meal, and slept for an hour.

Present                Perfect                I have worked before now  HAVE +PARTICIPLE

Future                        Perfect                     I will have worked by then    WILL HAVE+PARTICIPLE

There are TWO past tense forms in English: Simple and Perfect


For regular verbs, the two forms are identical, but for irregular verbs, there are two different forms, a simple and a perfect.

        simple past: ran        Perfect: (have) run

                ate        have/has eaten

                was        have/has been

eaten, been, run  are all participles

have/has  is/are/was/were   are all helping verbs (auxilaries)

She has been telling the truth, but no one believes her.

      present perfect                                present

She had been telling the truth, but no one                                                                                                  her.

    past perfect                                        simple past

She was reading a book, when the phone rang.  

 past continuous                                        simple past

Only use the past perfect if there are two past events.

I worked yesterday, but I had never worked before then.

      |                                   |                  |

simple past                        past perfect

      |                                    |                 |

past tense verb          auxilliary        participle

                            (helping verb)     (past participle)

                                      (present participle)


                      Right now, I am  working.


                                continuous tense

English has three verb forms for each of the three tenses (past, present, and future).

The three forms are 1) simple 2) perfect, and 3) continuous

1) simple uses simple a single word verb form                         I work. I worked, I will work.

2) perfect uses a helping verb (have, has)                 I have worked, I had worked, I will have worked.

3) continuous uses a helping verb (to be = am, are, is)   I am working, I was working, I will be working.

Tom lost his key. He finally found it under the couch.  (past situation, the key has been found now.)

Tom has lost his key. He can’t get into the house.   (present situation, the key is still lost)

I saw him smash the window.                        simple         (a completed action)

I saw him climbing through the window.                  progressive  (a continuous action)

I saw him smashing the window.   a continuous action   (How long did it take?)

I saw him climb through the window.        

I saw as he smashed the window.

I saw how he climbed through the window.