present tense


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:

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...



id like to ask about number 5and 8 I thought the answer is present but the correct answer is the past . could you please explain it ti me?

Hi Sam Os,

Number 5 uses a present simple verb but the time reference is past time, and it is describing a narrative (story) which is always set in the past. The present tense is used to make it sound more immediate, just as sports commentators use present tenses.

Number 8 is similar. It describes a performance (either an actor or a director) which is in the past - the film or show has been made - using a present form to make it sound more immediate.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Greetings from China. I am lucky to have found your website that is both educational and informative!

I am a native Chinese living in China. I am currently writing a memoir in English, stories that happened in the past. So past tense is used. But one thing puzzles me -- should past tense or present tense be used, when a fact that has existed in the past till the present day is mentioned?

Such as in the sentences:

1) So we arrived in Nanjing in 1962. Nanjing is the capital city of Jiangsu province.

Nanjing has been the capital city of Jiangsu province for hundreds of years till today. Should the above be "Nanjing is..." or "Nanjing was..."?

2) It was mid-autumn and the weather was still hot as the old saying goes, "There will still be 18 'autumn tigers' to catch" ( that is, 18 more hot days to go) after autumn descends.

A) Should it be "as the old saying goes" or "as the old saying went"? B) "There will still be..." or "there will still be..."? and C) "autumn descends" or "autumn descended"?

3) He died on September 3, 1994. A tragedy that had happened to his family two months ago might have hastened the arrival of his final day.

A) Should it be "might have" or "may have"? B) Is the "two months ago" usage here correct? If not, how many ways to make it correct? and C) Overall, after you have corrected the above two issues, does the above sentence agree to the standard written English?

Thanks a million from a loyal foreign user of your great site!

Hi Kevin,

I don't know if anyone has answered your interesting questions already, but here's my 2 cents (as a native English speaker from the US).

1. In the phrase "Nanjing is the capital city" the meaning is clear that it is now the capital city. If you said "Nanjing has been the capital city for hundreds of years" the meaning would still be clear that Nanjing is still the capital city. If you said "Nanjing was the capital city" the meaning is that Nanjing is no longer the capital city.

2. A. Depends on whether it is still a current saying or not. Is it something your grandmother used to say but a youth of today would not be familiar with? In that case use "went". If it is still a saying in use, then use "goes". Personally, I would use a period after "hot" because "hot as" is a phrase and so it's a little confusing to read. "... the weather was still hot. As the old saying goes..."

B. "There ...catch. " It's a stand-alone sentence.

C. To me "autumn descends" is the one to use. It's talking in generalities. "Autumn descended" sounds like a one-time event in the past.

3. Either "might have" or "may have" will work. But "two months ago" sounds like you're talking from the perspective of now. If you mean 2 months before his death in 1994, that is not clear. So you could change "ago" to "before" or "before his death" to make it clearer. Personally I would change the sentence to be "A family tragedy two months before may have hastened his death." But there are different styles of writing.

Your command of English is excellent. I am not an English teacher, but I am a native speaker.

Trying to help.

Hi Trying to Help:

I find your advice extremely helpful. For example, the use of "before" but not "ago" in the perfect tense, which has puzzled me for years.

In my memoir, I used the past tense (including "past simple", "past continuous", and "past perfect") tenses throughout. I was told that using the present tense to tell stories that had happened in the past will make the reading more appealing. Would you think so, too?

Thanks a lot !


Hello Trying to help,

It's always great to see our users helping each other out - thanks for your contribution!

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi...for more explanation on my question above. In the above quiz I failed these questions completely and when I checketd out the answers the present tense used here explain about past events please help me.
So I say to him, 'What's your game, son?
McEwan handles the characters with his customary skill.
Brando plays an ex-boxer standing up to corrupt bosses.

Hello MamaAisha,

The first sentence could be from a story that you are telling. Perhaps you had an argument with a young man and you're describing it to a friend later that day or even months later. When we tell such stories, we often use the present tense to narrate the story. It can make the story more lively to do this. It's also possible to use the narrative tenses (past simple, past continuous and past perfect) to tell a story, but the present is another option.

The second two sentences could be from novel or film reviews (McEwan is a famous English novelist and Brando was an actor). Reviews often use the present tense in their reviews of artistic works. Novels and films were obviously created in the past, and so this use of the present is speaking about the past in that sense.

I hope this clarifies the issue for you.

Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi...I'v not understood when present tense can explain past event. can you please give me more elaboration on that? thanx...