The Scary World of Verb Tenses

dalek_by_ilmarinenn-d2y51xmGoodness, I’ve been a bad blogger lately! Between a mountain of work, and getting my son ready to go back to school, I’ve barely had time to sleep, let alone blog. But I’m here now. So let’s jump right into the deep end and tackle English verb tenses!

Wait! Don’t hit the back button! I promise to be gentle.

If you’ve ever googled English verb tenses, you know how crazy the results are. I bet you quickly closed your browser and walked away from your computer. Heck, maybe you even ran screaming from the room.

Well, despite what the Internet might try to tell you, verb tenses aren’t so scary. First of all, they exist for a reason. Most importantly, they tell us when something happens (or happened, or will happen). And there are only three options: the present, the past, or the future.

  • Present: He invokes.
  • Past: He invoked.
  • Future: He will invoke.

Makes sense, right?

Okay, so where people get tripped up is when we start talking about forms. The forms above are known as Simple. In addition, there is also Perfect, Progressive (or Continuous), and Perfect Progressive (or Perfect Continuous).

But why?

Well, the different forms tell us more about the timing of something AND they also tell us if something is (or was, or will be) ongoing or complete. In the charts below, I walk you through each of the three tenses and their four different forms.

Present Tense:

Simple present: I exterminate. This is happening now.
Present progressive: I am exterminating. This ongoing thing is in the process of happening.
Present perfect: I have exterminated. This started in the past and continued to happen until now.
Present perfect progressive: I have been exterminating. This ongoing thing started in the past, continues to the present, and may continue to happen in the future.

Past Tense:

Simple past: I exterminated. This happened in the past and is complete.
Past progressive: I was exterminating. This ongoing thing happened in the past over a period of time.
Past perfect: I had exterminated. This happened in the past before something else that also happened in the past.
Past perfect progressive: I had been exterminating. This ongoing thing happened in the past and is complete.

Future Tense:

Simple future: I will exterminate. This will happen in the future.
Future progressive: I will be exterminating. This ongoing thing will start to happen in the future and continue for some time.
Future perfect: I will have exterminated. This will happen in the future and will be finished by a specific time, also in the future.
Future perfect progressive: I will have been exterminating. This ongoing thing will happen in the future and will be finished by a specific time, also in the future.

If you made it this far, pat yourself on the back (and let me know in the comments)! Next time, I’ll break down the present tense and its forms in more detail. Then I’ll do the same for past and future.

In the meantime, I encourage you to read through the examples above and ask questions, if you have any.

Linking up with the moonshine grid over at yeah write.
It’s the place to be!


Image credit: Ilmarinenn @ deviantART

31 thoughts on “The Scary World of Verb Tenses

  1. To paraphrase the Dalek in “Doomsday”, DALEKS HAVE NO CONCEPT OF VERB TENSES.

    But seriously, very nice explanation. I wish more English lessons used Daleks as illustrative examples.

  2. My understanding was that Daleks always speak in present tense commanding. EXTERMINATE!! EXTERMINATE THE DOCTOR and so on. Interesting! Always educational.

  3. This was so helpful, Suzanne!
    Why, after 47 years, am I really starting to mess this up? I’ve noticed that I have to be careful–if I’m not, I start to mix them up.
    Here’s probably a silly question. When writing within a certain tense, is it a no-no to mix the forms? I think I do that. I can easily delineate between past, present and future…but seem to mix the forms to make it sound choppy and confusing. Kinda like this comment 😉

    1. I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂

      To answer your question, it’s okay to mix your tenses if it makes sense. For example: I’m wearing the dress my grandmother wore on her wedding day. I’m wearing it now. My grandmother wore it in the past.

      Does that help?

  4. Sometimes, the moving back and forth in time in an essay just wreaks havoc with tenses to the point where I end up relying on how it sounds when read aloud. I need your chart taped to the wall. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for this! I am super bookmarking (Future perfect progressive?) this page. I have trouble keeping my tenses in line when I write. No idea why.

        1. I only watched the first episode of the new season yesterday. But I give a definite thumbs up. I love Peter Capaldi – and I also kind of like having a Doctor that appeals to me more than my teenage step-daughter. 😉

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