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Present tense

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
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Present tense 2
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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
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Present tense 4
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Intermediate level

Comments

Hi,

Firstly, are there a total of 12 tenses in the English Language?

Secondly, I would like to know if there is any difference between American English and British English when it comes to all 12 tenses in the English language? Or is it a case where generally speaking, there isn’t any difference between American English and British English when it comes to the use of the 12 English tenses?

Thirdly, apart from tenses, with regards to other major aspects (such as syntactic structure and sentence structure) of the English Language, are there any key differences between British English and American English?

Regards,
Tim

Hello Tim,

That depends on how you define 'tense'. The author of this grammar, Dave Willis, followed one tradition in which 'tense' refers to a single-word verb form, but in most English language teaching contexts, you're right in thinking that people usually refer to 12 tenses. 

We have a page that covers five of the most salient grammatical differences between British and American English. There are others, but most are minor, and really most of the differences between the two varieties are in the area of vocabulary and pronunciation more than in grammar.

Despite these differences, the two varieties (each of which is actually composed of many different varieties) are very similar and in most cases entirely mutually comprehensible. As someone who grew up in American English but now works mostly with speakers of British English, I can assure you of this from personal experience.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,I have a doubt in one thing ,that how can we say that present tense is used to talk about the future.I am also stuck in one question which is

The principal along with the vice principal———— the board’s metting almost every month
A.attended. B.attends. C.will attend. D.May attend
Can you tell the correct answer with explanation

Hello Aditya,

I'm afraid that's just how the grammar works. A verb in the present form can be used to speak about habitual or regular actions. These actions take place in the present, but also they are also future actions in a sense. The sentence you ask about is a good example -- the board meeting happened in the past, but will also happen again in the future. The best form to speak about this kind of action is the present simple, i.e. the answer is B.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

If I say "I watched a movie yesterday", this being in the simple past tense, the meaning is clear in that I started watching and finished watching the movie at some point in time in the past (that is "yesterday" - specifically, this means any duration of time within yesterday). Is my understanding of this correct right?

But if I say "yesterday, at 8 o'clock, I watched a movie", does this mean that my action of watching started and finished at 8 o'clock yesterday, or simple that I started watching at 8 o'clock yesterday?

Since one of the main use of the simple past tense is to indicate that an action began and ended at some point in time in the past, and "time" can refer to both a brief moment or a long duration, is it right to say that this "point in time" can refer to a brief moment (such as a few seconds), or longer duration implied by words such as "yesterday" - which can refer to any duration of time within yesterday, or long durations like "for two years"?

Appreciate your advise regarding the above three questions. thank you.

Hello magnuslin

Your understanding in the first paragraph is correct.

The sentence you ask about in your second question is ambiguous. I think most native speakers would interpret this to mean that you began watching the movie at 8, but the sentence itself is a bit odd, since most movies last for some time. Perhaps someone would say this when they thought the meaning was clear, but if you wanted to be precise about the time period involved, this sentence would be one to avoid due to its ambiguity.

I'd say the answer to your third question is related to this. The only thing the past simple in itself makes clear is that the speaker regards the time as a past time. As you rightly point out, the time referred to can be very short -- nanoseconds -- or very long -- millenia or even aeons. Therefore, if specifying the beginning, end or length of the time period is important, one must use an adverbial or some other phrase to specify the time being spoken about.

Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk, I think my confusion stemmed from the explanation on the use of the simple past, which is "an action began and ended at some point in time in the past". Firstly, this got me wondering whether "some point in the past" could mean a short duration (like few seconds) to long periods (like years or aeons) - but if i understand what you are saying, "point in time" can indeed refer to short or long durations, right?

Secondly, whenever I use the simple past with a time reference, I usually mean it to say that my past action began and finished within that time reference, but again if I understand you correctly, you are saying that the way the time reference is phrased matters too - for instance if I use the time reference "yesterday", every native speaker will understand this to mean the action began and ended anytime (that is any duration of time) within "yesterday", however if i use terms such as "at 8 o'clock", the very use of the preposition "at" will convey to the reader more of the sense of when the action began, correct?

Hello magnuslin

Yes, the past simple can refer to periods of both long and short duration.

I can't speak for all native speakers, but I think most would interpret the sentence in the way I did. My point was that the sentence was unnatural, i.e. not one a native speaker would normally produce, not that people would understand 'at 8' to mean 'began at 8'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk, thanks. If the example I quoted was unnatural, how then would you phrased it? Maybe something like "I did my homework from 8 to 9 o'clock"?

Also (sorry if I seem to be repeating, but just trying to better understand), If I used another action, would it make any difference? For instance, if I say "I did my homework at eight o'clock", am I right to say that this can mean either that I started doing my homework and presumably finished sometime after eight o'clock, or that I started and finished doing my homework at exactly eight o'clock? - but that the first meaning is the one that most speakers will understand and interpret to mean since it is the logical one (in that you will need some time to complete the homework and that rules out the second meaning)?

Thank you.

Hi magnuslin

Yes, what you suggest for your sentence sounds good to me.

Regarding your second question, I'd assume that you meant you either began or finished it at 8, but literally it could mean that you did it in less than one minute. Most of the time, this level of detail is probably not too important, but if it is, usually either the context will make it clear or the speaker will be more specific.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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