There are two tenses in English – past and present.

The present tenses in English are used:

  • to talk about the present
  • to talk about the future
  • to talk about the past when we are telling a story in spoken English or when we are summarising a book, film, play etc.


There are four present tense forms in English:

Tense Form
Present simple: I work
Present continuous: I am working
Present perfect: I have worked
Present perfect continuous: I have been working


We use these forms:

  • to talk about the present:

He works at McDonald’s. He has worked there for three months now.
He is working at McDonald’s. He has been working there for three months now.
London is the capital of Britain.

  • to talk about the future:

The next train leaves this evening at 1700 hours.
I’ll phone you when I get home.
He’s meeting Peter in town this afternoon.
I’ll come home as soon as I have finished work.
You will be tired out after you have been working all night.

  • We can use the present tenses to talk about the past...

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Hello,
What form of verb ( singular or plural) should we use in a question if the answer can be either singular or plural? For example:
What push/pushes the star into oblivion?
Thanks

Hello naghmairam,

Generally we use a singular verb in such questions. A plural verb is possible if we are sure that we are asking about multiple items, but even then a singular verb is more common.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello team,

I feel confused. Why the correct answer of these sentence are in Past and not in Present : "Brando plays an ex-boxer standing up to corrupt bosses" and "So I say to him, 'What's your game, son?' Thank you very much.

Hello mtere,

You could express this using past forms:

Brando played an ex-boxer standing up to corrupt bosses

So I said to him, 'What's your game, son?'

When we use present tenses we make the action seem more immediate. It is quite common in anecdotes, commentaries (football commentary, for example, but also when relating a story or the plot of a film) and jokes.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi team,

Could you please explain why the structure: "this is the last time" only followed by present tense / present continuos/ simple future? Eg. This is the last time I fix/ will fix/ am going to fix your toy. Can't I say : This is the last time I fixed your toy?
thank you

Hello Widescreen,

I'm not sure I can explain 'why' the structure works like this, but I can confirm that it does!

You can use the past form only when the introductory phrase is also in the past:

This is the last time I will fix your toy.

This is the last time I fix your toy.

but

That was the last time I fixed your toy.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
sometimes I have to frame questions about fictional stories, such as fairy tales, novels and plays. I wish to know what is correct tense to use----simple present or simple past?

Thanks

Hello naghmairam,

Although we can use present forms for narratives we generally do this only with certain kinds of story, such as jokes and anecdotes. Other forms almost always use past forms.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Team,

Aren't examples for "We can use the present tenses to talk about the past..." missing?

Hi Jarek_O,

Yes, they are! Thank you for pointing this out. I'm not sure why, but we'll make a note to add them next time we edit the page.

We use the term 'historical present' for this and you can read about it (and see examples) here. It's quite common in certain genres, especially history but also in anecdotes and jokes ('So I go into the bar, right, and then this guy comes up to me and he says...').

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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