Verb Tenses

Verbs are known as action words. They signal an action, occurrence or a state of being.

English verbs come in three tenses: past, present and future. Here is how to form the different kinds of verb tenses in English:

Simple Past

The simple past tense is used to talk about actions that were completed before now (in the past).

Subject + past tense verb

I ate the banana you are looking for this morning.

We slept in the spare room last night.

The team played icebreaker games before the event started.

She hadn't thought about how many people would be coming to dinner.

Ritu hasn't eaten since breakfast.

They haven't taken the driving test yet.

Past Continuous

The past continuous tense is used to talk about unfinished or incomplete actions in the past. This tense shows that the action that was started in the past is still going on now.

Subject + was/wasn't/were/weren't + present participle (verb + ing)

Henri was playing the guitar when I came over.

When we got there the girls were running around.

I was mad that Mari wasn't ready when I drove up to her house.

We weren't singing when she got to the concert hall.

Past Perfect

The past perfect shows that one event happened before another event in the past and makes it clear which event happened first.

Subject + had/hadn't + past participle verb

Angel had saved his work before the computer crashed.

We had prepared the buses by the time the tourists arrived.

I hadn't cooked anything when my friends turned up.

There was nothing to eat because he hadn't been shopping.

Past Perfect Continuous

The past perfect continuous tense shows actions in the past that ended before other actions in the past.

Subject + had/hadn't/ been + present participle (verb + ing)

By the time the restaurant opened we'd (we had) been waiting for an hour.

John had been swimming already by the time his friends go there.

She hadn't been doing her homework when her dad got home from work.

Simple Present

The simple present tense shows repetition, habit or generalization.

Subject + present tense verb

I go to work every day.

He loves to eat something sweet after dinner.

Americans eat lots of junk food.

The boxing class starts at 6 p.m. every week night.

It rains in Vancouver all the time.

Present Continuous

The present continuous tense is used to describe ongoing actions taking place in the present.

Subject + am/is/are + present participle (verb + ing)

She is cleaning out her car.

Megan's putting together the annual report.

We're living in Moscow right now.

They're having breakfast, let's join them.

Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense shows a past event that has present consequences.

Subject + have/haven't/has/hasn't + past participle verb

I have lived in this house since 1992.

She has worked at the same job for 22 years.

She hasn't studied Japanese for very long so she finds it tough to speak.

He hadn't seen her at all yet today.

Present Perfect Continuous

The present perfect continuous tense expresses actions started in the past that continue in the present or have just now finished.

Subject + have/haven't/has/hasn't been + present participle (verb + ing)

It has been raining for five days straight.

She hasn't been eating breakfast because she's been sick.

The tourists have been feeding the birds in the park.

We just haven't been taking care of the yard this summer as it's been so hot.

Simple Future

The simple future is used to talk about actions that will happen after the present. This tense expresses facts and certainty.

Subject + shall/ shall not / will/ will not + base verb

I will go to the office tomorrow.

We won't leave until later this evening.

They shall eat at the table and not on the sofa.

He shall not run in the race if there is a thunderstorm.

Future Continuous

The future continuous tense expresses a continued or ongoing action in the future.

Subject + will / will not be + present participle verb (-ing form)

Jake will be coming over later to watch a movie.

The team will be playing in the tournament on Wednesday of next week.

My brother won't be joining us at next week's practice.

I will not be drinking that milk, it's sour.

Future Perfect

The future perfect tense is used to show an action that will occur in the future before another action or time in the future.

Subject + will / won't have + past participle verb

I will have lived in Barcelona for three years on the 20th of this month.

He won't have finished the essay by tomorrow's deadline.

Ami will have finished high school by the time her dad returns from working abroad.

Future Perfect Continuous

The future perfect tense is used to show an action that will occur in the future before another action or time in the future

Subject + shall/ shall not / will / will not + have be/been + present participle verb (-ing form)

We will have been driving for 10 hours come 6 o'clock.

Next month I will have been coming here for lunch every day for a year.

They will have been sleeping for an hour by the time you get home from work.

Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is used to express general truths.

If + present simple + present simple

People bleed if you cut them.

Water boils if you heat it enough.

First Conditional

The first conditional talks about possible condition and its probable result. It basically says "if this thing happens, this thing also happens/might happen."

If + simple present + simple future

If you fails the test, he will not graduate.

If he drops the glass, it will smash.

If she eats that meat, she might get sick.

If he climbs that tree, he may fall.

Second Conditional

The second conditional talks about situations or actions in the present or future that are unlikely, hypothetical, imaginary or impossible.

If + simple past + present conditional or present continuous conditional

If I were younger, I would go backpacking around the world.

If she were taller, she would have tried out for the basketball team.

If I won the lottery, I would buy a Ferrari.

Third Conditional

The third conditional expresses an impossible condition in the past and the result of this condition in the past.

If + past perfect + would have + past participle verb

If I had trained harder I would have run a faster time in the marathon.

If you had gone to law school, you would have been a great lawyer.

If you had invited them to, they would have played for longer.

Mixed conditional

In mixed conditionals the tense in the main clause is different from the tense in the conditional-clause or if-clause.

If + past perfect + present conditional
If + simple past + perfect conditional

If we had checked the directions before we left, we wouldn't be lost now.

We wouldn’t be lost now if we had checked the directions before we left.

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs give additional information about the function of the main verb that comes after iot in a sentence. These kinds of verbs are used to express permission, obligation, lack of necessity, possibility, ability, prohibition, advice and probability.

Some example modal verbs and sentences:

Can Can I please come to your party?
May May I take a cookie from the jar?
Might Might I suggest a different approach?
Must You must tell me what he said.
Should He should leave the room.
Ought to They ought to find a place to stay.
Lack of necessity
Need not You need not worry, I will take care of it.
Can Eating more fruit can make you healthier.
Could Rewriting the paper could get you a higher grade
May It may be cheaper at the other store.
Might It might be better to try tomorrow.
Can I can run faster than Jim.
Could (past ability) I could swim for miles when I was a teenager.
Must not You must not drink alcohol until you are at least 18 years old.
Had better You had better go to bed now if you want to get up at 5 a.m. tomorrow.
Should You should call your grandmother, she would like that.
Ought to They ought to clear their driveway so we can park our car.
May It may rain this afternoon.
Might We might go play tennis tomorrow.