Do you get tense about tenses?  No need to! Here’s a quick reminder.

The word tense comes from the Latin tempus, which means “time” – and the tenses of a verb alter depending upon when the action takes place and how long it continues.  You know that it’s not correct to say “Yesterday I walk, today I walk, tomorrow I walk”?  Of course you do – the form of the verb alters in each case.

The three basic tenses are the past, the present and the future. Each of these has:

  • a simple form,
  • a perfect form,
  • a continuous form, and
  • a perfect continuous form.

Simple verb tenses

The simple past tense

This expresses an action that began and ended in the past.  Unless they are irregular (meaning they don’t follow the rules) the simple past tense is formed by taking the infinitive of the verb and adding -ed at the end.  This is called the past participle.

Explanation of past and present participles


  • I worked
  • You worked
  • She worked


The simple present tense

This is what’s happening here and now. It is the simplest form of the verb.


  • I work
  • You work
  • He works

The simple future tense

The third case is used to express an action that will take place in the future.  A regular verb’s future form is made by using what’s called an auxiliary verb (I’ll cover those another time) such as will and adding it before the infinitive.


  • I shall work.
  • You will work.
  • She will work.

(This looks tricky because the first person form of will is shall – but just roll with it for now.)


The perfect tense

Then it gets a bit harder. The perfect tenses tell us about an action that has started and completed.

The past perfect tense

This tense tells us about something that happened in the past before something else happened.  It is formed by using the auxiliary verb To Have and the past participle of the verb in question.

  • By the time he arrived, I had finished.
  • When you called, he had left.
  • You had driven away before he realised.

The present perfect tense

The present perfect form is created by using the auxiliary verb To Have and the past participle of the verb in question. The phrase “I have worked” is in the present tense, it is telling you about now but it is also telling you about something that has happened until now.  

  • I have worked all morning.
  • You have slept for three hours.
  • He has painted the walls.

The future perfect tense

This is tells us about something that will happen in the future, before something else happens. It is formed by using will have and the past participle of the verb. I know, it’s the future tense, and we are using something called the past participle. Who ever wants a simple life?

  • I will have finished by the time he arrives.
  • You will have left by the time I am ready.
  • She will have guessed before you tell her.

The continuous tense

Continuous tenses tell us about actions that are ongoing.

The past continuous tense

This tells us about something that was going on at the same time as something else happened. It is formed by using the past form of To Be and the present participle of the action verb.  (Yeah yeah, it’s the past tense and we use a present participle . . .)

  • was eating when the news started.
  • You were sitting when he called.
  • He was sleeping when the phone rang.

The present continuous tense

This tells us the situation at this moment in time. It is formed by using the verb To Be and the present participle of the action.

  • I am sitting at my desk.
  • You are running around the park.
  • He is eating his dinner.

The future continuous tense

This describes something ongoing that is going to happen in the future.  It too uses the present participle and is preceded by will be.

  • I will be sittingin the hall if you want me.
  • You will be leaning on a lamp post.
  • She will be singing for the queen.


 The perfect continuous tense

This form of a verb describes ongoing actions that have an ending at some point.  It might seem tricky, but it’s just a natural progression of what we’ve covered already, and when you get it right, it’s a very elegant way to express yourself.

The past perfect continuous tense

This describes a situation that started in the past, continued, and then ended in the past.  It uses had been and the present participle.

  • When I took a break, I had been working very hard.
  • You had been studying for hours when I called you.
  • By dawn, he had been crying all night.

The present perfect continuous tense

This describes something that started in the past and is still continuing in the present. It uses has/have been and the present participle of the action.

  • I have been working since 9am.
  • You have been studying for hours.
  • He has been crying all night.

The future perfect continuous tense

Finally, this form describes something that will start in the future, and will have ended by the time something else happens. It uses will have been and the present participle.

  • When you wake up, I will have been working since 9am.
  • You will have been studying for hours when I get home.
  • One more hour and he will have been crying all night.


Let’s stop there.  Although there’s a lot of words here, I hope they’ve cleared up any confusion you had about verb tenses.


Where do you get confused with English grammar?  Let me know and I’ll happily write another Masterclass summary to clear it up.