The 12 Tenses of the English Language
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The 12 Tenses of the English Language

A quick introduction to the 12 tenses of the English language: past, present and future.

This article is going to provide a basic outline of the 12 tenses in the English language. There are past, present and future arranged into simple tenses, continuous tenses and perfect tenses.

Past Simple

You use the past simple to describe an action that happened in the past, it started and finished in the past.

For example, I cooked dinner. In this sentence, the cooking of the dinner took place at some point in the past. You would usually add something to this sentence, e.g. I cooked dinner, at 5 o'clock.

Past Perfect

The past perfect is used to describe an action that happened before another action in the past.

For example, I had cooked dinner, before the movie started. In this sentence the person cooked the dinner and then a movie started after they had finished cooking the dinner.

Past Continuous

The past continuous indicates an interruption in an action that happened in the past.

For example, I was cooking dinner, when the door bell rang. In this sentence the door bell interrupted the cooking of the dinner.

Past Perfect Continuous

This tense, the past perfect continuous denotes an action that started and continued for a specified time and then finished in the past.

For example, I had been cooking dinner for 2 weeks. In this sentence, the person has been cooking for a period of 2 weeks, but this action both started and finished in the past.

Present Simple

This tense, the present simple, is used when an action is repeated or usual.

For example, I cook dinner. This implies that the action being spoken about is a repeated or usual action.

Present Perfect

This tense, the present perfect, is used when an action happened at an unspecified time before now and that time isn't important.

For example, I have cooked dinner, ten times already. Here we can see that dinner has been cooked ten times in the past up to now.

Present Continuous

We use this tense, the present continuous, to signify that something is happening now.

For example, I am cooking dinner. In this sentence, at the time of speaking dinner is being cooked. 

Present Perfect Continuous

You use this tense, the present perfect continuous, to signify that something started in the past and continued up until now.

For example, I have been cooking dinner until you arrived. Here the person arrived at the time of speaking and the action of cooking dinner started in the past and continued up until the present moment when somebody arrived.

Future Simple

We use the future simple to talk about a voluntary action, a promise, a plan or prediction that will happen in the future.

For example, I will cook dinner. Here the speaker is going to cook dinner at some point in the future, this will be a voluntary action as the speaker says they will cook, it might be a promise or a plan. 

Future Perfect

We use the future perfect for a completed action before something else in the future.

For example, I will have cooked dinner before 7pm. This means that the action of cooking will be finished before the 'something else' in the future, i.e. 7pm.

Future Continuous

We use the future continuous when you talk about a continuing action in the future that will be interrupted by something else in the future.

For example, I will be cooking dinner, when you arrive home. Here the action of cooking dinner will continue until the other person arrives home.

Future Perfect Continuous

The future perfect continuous tense is used to describe a cause of something in the future

For example, I will be hungry because, I will have been cooking dinner all afternoon. In this sentence, the cooking of the dinner will cause the person to be hungry.

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Comments (4)

You may qualify to become our very own Strunk and White William. Excellent work

Hi Jerry. Thanks for the comment. I googled 'skrunk and white' and it seems that even this time, google doesn't have an answer. What is 'strunk and white'?

Hi William, Professor Willian Strunk Jr. originally published the "Elements of Style in 1919. The original book was less than 56 pages in length but covered all the basics of English grammar in a very comprehensible way for his students. Professor E. B. White was a student of Strunk and revised the original edition twice, once in 1959 and again in 1972. the fourth edition of Strunk and White has been expanded to 104 pages. there's a great deal of controversy over the book today but most English professors and writing instructors still recommend it as a basic reference for their students. I have a copy of the 4th edition on my reference book shelf. The complete original edition is online at Bartleby.com. Here's the link http://www.bartleby.com/141/

Many thanks Jerry, I'm going to take a look. In England the authoritive book is the 'Cambridge Grammar of the English Language'. British English and American English differ ever so slightly, so it will be good to see more examples of this difference.

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