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

I've noticed you don't comment on other websites or books not on this site. Please can someone tell me something about this site that I've noticed as I've trawled through the pages.
This page states there are only two tenses: Present and past. Then it states there are "Four tense forms". But, the table shows a column with the title "TENSE", and lists Present simple, present continuous, present perfect and present perfect continuous", and a column next to it with the title the FORM, showing examples of the TENSES listed on their left.
You then say further down, "we can use these FORMS to talk about the present", and further down say "we can use the PRESENT TENSES to talk about the past" (yes, already sounds messy) with a "..." showing us there's more to come on the next page.
That "next page" tab is titled "Present Simple". Present simple what, I ask? Tense? Form? What?
Click the tab, and the title is Simple Present. The page begins with "The present tense is the base form of the verb". What? Base FORM? On the previous page you said there were 4 forms, and "base form" is NOT mentioned anywhere. Then, to confuse matters further, NOT ONCE on the entire "present simple" page (which is what the page is supposed to be about given the page title) is there mention of "present simple". Not once. But you say again "we use the present tense to talk about....". The exercises at the bottom are then titled "Verbs - Present Simple" (not tense, or form, just "present simple").
The next page "Present Continuous" starts by saying "the present continuous TENSE is FORMED from the present TENSE of the verb be and the...(-ing) form of a verb". And "we use the present continuous TENSE to talk about...". Great. This TENSE is formed by a TENSE and the -ing FORM of a verb. Nice!
However, click on the "Continuous ASPECT" page and it starts by saying "Both tenses have a continuous FORM. These continuous TENSES are FORMED with the verb be and the –ing form of the verb: We use the CONTINUOUS ASPECT [for....]". Wait, isn't that the exact same description of the Present Continuous TENSE formation just mentioned?
Click on the "Verb Phrases" and we're told "A verb phrase with "be" and –ing EXPRESSES CONTINUOUS ASPECT. Wow!

And people wonder why there's so much confusion for a lot of people learning about TENSE, FORM and ASPECT. This site doesn't DEFINE each of these terms, but throws them around as if its common knowledge, and, to me at, shows that they can be used INTERCHANGEABLY, or sometimes, you can not even mention "tense", "form" or "aspect", and merely state "we use present "simple/continuous/etc" for "X".

So, you expect students to know the difference between 4 types of "description", all of which have the same words in, ie, "Present" with extras added for "distinction". For example, "we use the Present continuous for somethings, and we use the Present continuous tense for somethings as well, oh, and don't forget the present continuous form that we use for somethings and there's also the present continuous aspect that we're "expressing". Read our website and you'll discover how to learn English".

Please, I'm not trying to be difficult. I MYSELF am attempting to distinguish between all this terminology and "apparent" cross-over of usage of such terms/phrases.

Maybe I've completely missed the boat, but like I showed, there is a LOT of "reading between the lines" needed when browsing this site.

Hello DavidKaspar,

Thank you for your comment. We appreciate feedback on our site and are always looking to improve its accessibility for our users.

I think your frustration is understandable and I agree that there is a problem in how the English language is described, particularly with regard to terms such as tense, form and aspect.

 

In answering your questions it would be helpful to first deal with the definitions. However, when we try to do this we immediately run into problems, and this is quite instructive with regard to the issues which you raise. For example, the wikipedia entry for tense is here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense

As you can see, there are many caveats and qualifications to the use of the term, and reference to different interpretations in different schools of linguistics, as well as in the broader language teaching profession.

 

We can also turn to academic sites for linguistic definitions:

http://www-01.sil.org/linguistics/glossaryoflinguisticterms/WhatIsAGrammaticalCategory.htm

As you can see, once again there is quite a lot of overlap and qualifications in the definitions.

 

Finally, let me quote from a linguistics dictionary. This is the entry for tense in A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics by David Crystal (Blackwell Publishing, 2008):

tense (adj./n.) (1) (tns, TNS) A category used in the grammatical description of verbs (along with aspect and mood), referring primarily to the way the grammar marks the time at which the action denoted by the verb took place. Traditionally, a distinction is made between past, present and future tenses, often with further divisions (perfect, pluperfect, etc.). In linguistics, the relationship between tense and time has been the subject of much study, and it is now plain that there is no easily stateable relationship between the two.

It continues with a description of tense forms:

Tense forms (i.e. variations in the morphological form of the verb) can be used to signal meanings other than temporal ones. In English, for example, the past-tense form (e.g. I knew) may signal a tentative meaning, and not past time, in some contexts (e.g. I wish I knew – that is, ‘know now’). Nor is there a simple one-to-one relationship between tense forms and time: the present tense in English may help to refer to future or past time, depending on context (e.g. I’m going home tomorrow, Last week I’m walking down this street . . . (see historic present)). Furthermore, if tenses are defined as forms of the verb, it becomes a matter of debate whether a language like English has a future tense at all: constructions such as I will/shall go, according to many, are best analysed as involving modal auxiliary verbs, displaying a different grammatical function (e.g. the expression of intention or obligation, which may often involve futurity). English illustrates several such problems, as do other languages, where tense forms, if they exist, regularly display analytic difficulties, because of overlaps between tense and other verbal functions, such as aspect or mood. Alternative terminology (e.g. ‘past’ v. ‘non-past’, ‘future’ v. ‘non-future’, ‘now’ v. ‘remote’) will often be needed. In later government-binding theory, the term tense phrase (TP) is used for what was earlier called an inflection phrase (IP), referring to a verb and its inflectional elements.

I quote these to demonstrate the difficulties inherent in the use of these terms in linguistics. They are the subject of much discussion and have different meanings in different contexts. Different linguists have different ways of viewing language and their use of the term is often reflective of their different perspectives and beliefs.

 

Here on LearnEnglish we have a further issue to consider. This is not a linguistics site, but a site which is aimed at learners of English. Therefore it is our obligation to present the information which we have in a way which is both accurate and accessible to our users. There is little point in providing users with maximally accurate information in terms of linguistic theory if it is unintelligible or unhelpful to them in their learning. One of the criteria which we must take into account is the way in which these terms are used in the English language teaching community of teachers and learners. Here, 'tense' (to take one example) is used both in its more pure linguistic way (which is where the reference to two tenses is based) and in a more general way to refer to the range of verb forms which are available (past simple, past continuous, present perfect etc). Our pages are aimed at providing practical and accessible help for those learning the language and it is this which guides us. If this means that we use terminology in a less pure way in terms of linguistics in order for the information to be accessible to our users, or use the term with narrower and broader meaning on different pages, then we consider that a reasonable decision.

 

Once again, I understand your frustration. It is a difficult area and not one which we have created, but rather one in which we, like all teachers and learners of English, must operate. We will make a note of your comment and consider if we can improve the clarity of our pages, of course, when we next edit this section.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello sir,
am santosh. actually i think am poor in tenses and parts of speech can you suggest any book or any other method to learn myself. And i want to spell the english words like the british people and i want to build up vocabulary. So sir i need suggestions from you can you help me out please
thanking you

Hello Santosh,

I'm afraid we don't recommend books, but I'd recommend you read through our Getting started and Frequently asked questions pages, where you'll find advice on expanding your vocabulary. I'd also particularly recommend reading a lot – our Magazine might be a good place to start, though you could also read news, for example, at the BBC or the Guardian.

You might also want to look into a course at a British Council Teaching Centre if there is one near you. Your teacher there could help you with grammar and recommend an appropriate book.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello everyone :

Why am always hear in movies they say
What you doing here ? instead of What are you doing here?

Hello nkmg,

In English, like in most any language, when people speak quickly, some sounds are de-emphasised so much that they are very difficult to hear, and sometimes not even pronounced.

It's great that you noticed this. Even though native speakers speak like this in films, I'd recommend that you not leave out words, as people might think you're making a mistake rather than speaking like a native!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello I'd like to ask for the correct form of this sentence:

1. Are you watching that new police drama series on Monday nights ?

2. Do you watch that new police drama series on Monday nights ?

thank you

Hello Tomas,

As a series is temporary and not permament, and since you are asking about the current time period, the first sentence is correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
so why do we use present simple and not present progressive when we talk about our age which is
almost always in progress ?
Thank you .

Hello Tad90,

First of all, we generally use 'be' when we are saying our age ('I am fifty-eight', for example) and this verb is rarely used in continuous forms. Second, age is a state rather than an action so just as we say 'I love...' rather than 'I am loving...' and 'I have...' rather than 'I am having...', so we do not use the continuous aspect when talking about age.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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