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General Tips for Tenses in English Grammar

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Tense of a verb indicates the time period during which an action or event has occurred. Tenses constitute a major part of our written and spoken English and is key in understanding conversational English. Quite often, we end up making grave errors where these tenses are concerned. Here are a few general rules of tenses.

There are three major tenses and theses are further subdivided. They are:

1. Past

  • Simple past (Verb+ed)

This tense can be used to denote a single act in the past or a habitual action in the past. It is formed using the past participle form of the root verb. This usually involves adding ‘ed’ to the end of the root verb.

E.g.: Sachin scored a century in the last match.

E.g.: He studied many hours a day.

However there are certain exceptions to the rule of forming past tenses by adding ed to the verb. These have irregular past participle forms.

E.g.: Blew, came, drove

  • Past perfect (Had/Have+Past participle):

This tense describes an action which has definitely ended in the past. It denotes an action completed at some point in the past before another action started. It generally compares two actions that took place in different time periods.

E.g.: I had completed my assignment way before its deadline (arrived).
E.g.: The rain had stopped when we came out.

  • Past continuous (Was/Were+Present Participle):

This tense is used to describe an action that went on for some time in the past. This tense is usually used when the action concerned was in progress during another action also in the past.

E.g.: I was playing the guitar when Lakshmi walked into my room.

  • Past perfect continuous (Had/Have been+Present participle):

This tense is indicative of actions that began at a particular point of time in the past and continued for a specific length of time up to another moment in the past.

E.g.: I had been practising Mathematics since ten in the morning.

2. Present

  • Simple present (Verb+s/es):

This tense describes universal truths, regular actions and habits which occur daily or at particular intervals of times.

E.g.: The Sun rises in the East.

  • Present perfect (Has/have+Past participle):

It indicates an action that has just been completed. It is also used to indicate a past action as continuing to the present moment.
E.g.: He has solved the sum.
E.g.: We have lived here for ten years.

  • Present continuous (Am/is/are+Present participle):

This tense is used to describe an action that is happening right now, at this very moment. It may be a short-term or a long-term action.

E.g.; The girls are getting ready for their performance.

  • Present perfect continuous (Has/have+been+Present participle):

It describes an action which began at a particular point of time in the past and has continued till now.

E.g.: I have been studying for my examinations for over a month.

3. Future

  • Simple future (Will+Verb/Am/is/are+going to+verb):

This tense describes an action that is going to happen in the future.

E.g.: Reeta is going to visit her relatives next month.

E.g.: I will call him tomorrow.

  • Future perfect (Will have+Past participle):

This tense compares two actions and describes an action that will take place before something else in the future.

E.g.: By tomorrow evening, I will have completed my project.

  • Future continuous (Will be+Present participle):

It describes a continuous action in the future or two actions occurring simultaneously in the future.

E.g.: Next year I will be applying for entrance to colleges.
E.g.: Tomorrow, I will be going to the university to get my certificates.

  • Future perfect continuous (Will have been+Present participle):

This is rarely used in actual practice. It is used either to show a period of time before something will occur in the future or to establish a cause and effect relationship.

E.g. Derek will be exhausted by the time he makes his million because he will have been managing two companies by himself for over three years.

In each case above, the same rule applies to each sub-type, whether the sentence be affirmative, negative or interrogative. Examples-

  • Sheila goes for a jog daily. (Affirmative)
  • Sheila does not go for a jog daily. (Negative)
  • Does Sheila go for a jog daily? (Interrogative)

For a general sentence, this is how the conversion will take place:

  • Yash ate an ice-cream yesterday. (Simple past)
  • Yash had eaten an ice-cream the day before. (Past perfect)
  • Yash was eating an ice-cream an hour ago. (Past continuous)
  • Yash had been eating an ice-cream before going to class. (Past perfect continuous)
  • Yash eats an ice-cream every other day. (Simple present)
  • Yash has eaten an ice-cream. (Present perfect)
  • Yash is eating an ice-cream now. (Present continuous)
  • Yash has been eating an ice-cream for the past half an hour. (Present perfect continuous)
  • Yash will eat an ice-cream after dinner. (Simple future)
  • Yash will have eaten an ice-cream by the time you come. (Future perfect)
  • Yash will be eating an ice-cream when you come. (Future continuous)
  • Yash will have been eating an ice-cream by the time you come. (Future perfect continuous)
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