Level: intermediate

There are two tenses in English: past and present.

The present tense is used to talk about the present and to talk about the future.

There are four present tense forms:

Present simple I work
Present continuous I am working
Present perfect I have worked
Present perfect continuous I have been working

We can use all these forms:

  • to talk about the present:

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

  • to talk about the future:

The next train leaves this evening at 17.00.
I'll phone you when I get home.
He is 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.

Present tense 1
Present tense 2

Level: advanced

We can use present forms to talk about the past:

  • when we are telling a story:

Well, it's a lovely day and I'm just walking down the street when I see this funny guy walking towards me. Obviously he's been drinking, because he's moving from side to side …

  • when we are summarising something we have read, heard or seen:

I love Ian Rankin's novels. He writes about this detective called Rebus. Rebus lives in Edinburgh and he's a brilliant detective, but he's always getting into trouble. In one book, he gets suspended and they tell him to stop working on this case. But he takes no notice …

Present tense 3
Present tense 4
Intermediate level


Hi Kirk, I came across this sentence in a news article:

His modus operandi to fulfill his desire to have sex was to choose a woman he liked then follow her into a toilet to ambush her for the purpose.

I don't understand the reason for using the present tense form for the word "follow" in the sentence. Shouldn't it be in the past tense?

Hi CareBears07,

The verb 'follow' is not in the present tense but is an infinitive. The form is as follows:

was to choose ...then (to) follow

The verb 'to ambush' is a different use of the infinitive. This is an example of an infinitive of purpose with the meaning 'in order to ambush'.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Oh! The "to" was dropped in the sentence. Is this under textual ellipsis? I didn't realise it can be applied for "to" as normally we drop words like "that" or don't repeat words after and, but and or (coordinating clauses).
Thank you, Peter, for pointing that out. :)

Hello Kirk,
There are two tenses in English language.
Is this true?
Where is the other one(Future Tense).

Hello Hzazai,

It depends how you define the term 'tense'. When we speak of only two tenses in English, 'tense' means a single word -- see the Wikipedia entry on Grammatical tense for more. When we use 'tense' in a way that includes other combinations (e.g. the present perfect, which consists of the auxiliary 'have' plus a past participle, i.e. 2 words), then there are many more than just two. 

Does that make sense?

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you. Now i better understood.

"McEwan handles the characters with his customary skill."

How would I know that sentence above talks about past and not present? It seems to mee to be present!!
Notice that there is no enough context!!

Hello Yasser Azizi,

Usually the context will make it clear. In this case, the writer assumes you're familiar with the novelist Ian McEwan, but you're right, there's no context for this. Though in this sentence, the ideas of someone 'handling characters' (which suggests we're talking about fiction) and 'customary skill' (which suggests an established writer or director is being talked about) suggest that this comes from a critic's review of a novel or film.

This is a fairly specialised use of the present simple that you probably won't see used that often unless you read a lot of film or book reviews. Sorry for the confusion!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear sir,
We have not written the exams
She has not eaten anything
What type of tense are they?

Hello Daniel,

These are present perfect forms -- for more information, please see our present perfect page.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team