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.

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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 …

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Average: 4 (151 votes)

Submitted by Timothy555 on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 14:38

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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
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 30/08/2020 - 15:05

In reply to by Timothy555

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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

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 29/01/2021 - 16:45

In reply to by Kirk Moore

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Hi Kirk, So as far as grammar tenses are concerned (i.e. the 12 tenses), is it right to say that there is no difference between american and british english? That is to say all 12 tenses have the same meaning in both american and british english? For instance, from the article you quoted, it did say that american english tends to use the simple past more often than the present perfect, but that present perfect also carries the same meaning/use in american english as it does in british english. This means for example, that there isn't a case where a particular tense has a specific use in british english but not in american english and vice versa right? in short, no difference in tenses and their meanings between american and british english?
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Mon, 01/02/2021 - 08:16

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Timothy555,

Yes, I'd say there's no difference in meaning, though there are some minor differences in terms of use. One example would be the tendency in American English to use the simple past to speak of a recent event, which in many cases would be expressed with a present perfect in British English.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Thu, 02/09/2021 - 03:26

In reply to by Kirk Moore

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Dear team, Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure that their ‎applications (are not exploited) by criminals.‎ 1. Instead of (are not exploited), can we use (will not be exploited), If yes, how would the meaning change? 2. Using (are not exploited), does it, here, refer to general time or future? Thank you
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 02/09/2021 - 17:03

In reply to by Hosseinpour

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Hello again Hosseinpour,

Yes, it's possible to use 'will not be exploited', but 'are not exploited' is correct and probably more common. It refers to general time, which includes the idea of the future, just not a specific future.

I hope that makes sense and helps you.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aditya on Mon, 20/07/2020 - 05:32

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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

Submitted by VegitoBlue on Sat, 13/06/2020 - 09:39

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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.
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sat, 13/06/2020 - 14:26

In reply to by VegitoBlue

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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

Submitted by Timothy555 on Thu, 21/05/2020 - 14:18

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Hi, Is it grammatically correct to use the simple past tense without any time expression (e.g. simply "I went to the cinema", instead of "I went to the cinema yesterday", where the time expression is "yesterday"). In this case, I am simply indicating that these events began and concluded (i.e. occurred or happened) at some point in the past, and while i do have a time period in mind, I simply did not say it. Is this grammatical? Regards, Tim
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Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 08:23

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hello Tim,

Yes, that's fine. The time reference may be implied by the context or it may simply not be stated and we understand that it exists but is not relevant to what we want to say. For example:

Do you know any good doctors?

Sure. I studied medicine. I know lots of them!

 

Hey, guess what? I went to shop and Joe was there!

Really? How is he?

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 10:09

In reply to by Peter M.

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Hi Peter, thanks for clarifying. I guess just to add on, for the example you quoted (i.e. I studied medicine), We could also have used the present perfect (i.e. I've studied medicine) since the aim is to simply say that I've had the experience of studying medicine but when exactly the studying of medicine happened is not important - this would be a perfect situation to used the present perfect (i.e. for a past action that finished in the past but which still has an effect in the present/now), wouldn't it? Regards, Tim

Hi Tim,

That's correct, though I think we would be more likely to use the past simple here as the present perfect would suggest a more direct present result such as knowing first aid or being a qualified doctor.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Auden on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 22:52

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Hello, please advice. I do not understand why the exercise 'present tense 3' has the 'present perfect' as the correct answer? Thank you, Auden

Hello Auden,

The frog says "Read it!"

This is a shortened form of the present perfect: "I have read it!"

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ahmed S. Dawoud on Sun, 08/03/2020 - 08:44

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Hi! Which is correct and why? 1- What is your name and address? OR 2- What are your name and address? Can we consider" name and address"as one entity or two separate things?!
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Sun, 08/03/2020 - 09:08

In reply to by Ahmed S. Dawoud

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Hello Ahmed S. Dawoud

People say 1 and not 2. In other words, 'name and address' are treated as one thing here. In theory, there is no reason you couldn't treat them as separate, but I've never seen or heard a sentence like 2.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by raphway on Mon, 24/02/2020 - 13:40

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"The delicious round chocolate'' " the round delicious chocolate " Which is correct please?

Hello raphway,

Normally opinion words come first, so we would say delicious round rather than round delicious. However, sometimes a speaker or writer might change the normal order round to achieve a certain effect. This is common in marketing, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RT on Sat, 30/11/2019 - 06:21

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Hi, please kindly advise: If I say “one doesn’t get tired of going there no matter how many times they were (he/she was) there” Can I use “they” instead of he or she ? Thanks

Hello RT,

Mixing 'one' and 'they' does not sound natural. You can use 'one' in both parts of the sentence:

One doesn’t get tired of going there no matter how many times one has been.

(The present perfect is a better choice as the time period is implicitly unfinished, and there is no need to repeat 'there')

 

Alternatively, you could use a general noun at the start and then a pronoun afterwards:

A person doesn’t get tired of going there no matter how many times they have been.

A person doesn’t get tired of going there no matter how many times he or she has been.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RT on Fri, 22/11/2019 - 07:12

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Hi, please advise If I am talking to someone, I believe I can say “hope you understand what I said ? But if I am referring to something I said, like a few days ago, shall I say “ hope you understood what I said ?” Thanks

Hi RT,

You could actually use either form in either situation. If you consider the understanding to be something that is current then the present is appropriate, even if the conversation happened in the past. Conversely, if you consider the understanding to be a past action then you would use the past form, even if the conversation is still ongoing (but has moved on to other topics, for example).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RT on Sun, 10/11/2019 - 06:46

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Got some mixed up on the tenses of the following sentence: Let’s say after I received a report and wish to tell my wife what it is (was) Shall I say it is (was) a report of your property and everything is (was) in order? Thanks

Hello RT,

If you have the report and it is still current (i.e. your wife's situation has not changed), then using present tense (is) makes sense. If you no longer have the report or it is no longer current, then past tense (was) would be better.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks. Let’s say the report is current but of course I cannot be sure whether everything are still in order at present, In that case shall I say “It is an inspection report of your property and everything “was” in order (as according to the report)” Such time frame issues are what I always got mixed up, thanks

Hello RT,

Yes, that would be correct. You could add '...was fine at the time of the report' if you wished to make it explicit.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by zz11 on Mon, 30/09/2019 - 11:18

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Hi, Could you please explain why is the frogs last sentence in the present perfect?....The chicken shows the books to the frog and the frog, looking at the books one by one, shakes his head and says, 'Read it! Read it! Read it!'
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Tue, 01/10/2019 - 06:52

In reply to by zz11

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Hello zz11

I'd say that 'read it!' is actually the past simple here -- the present perfect would be 'have read it!'. Part of the joke here is that 'read it' sounds very similar to 'ribbit', which is the word native English speakers often use to simulate a frog's croak (the sound a frog makes). Does that make sense?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by dipakrgandhi on Mon, 05/08/2019 - 13:57

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Hello sir, Today I had been to a college programme and I saw a board their which read ' orientation programme for welcoming first year students" I would like to know if we can use 'welcoming' as a verb like this. I have seen dictionary entry for welcoming in canbridge dictionary and it says it is adjective. Will you help me clear the doubt ?
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Mon, 05/08/2019 - 15:23

In reply to by dipakrgandhi

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Hello dipakrgandhi

I understand this sign to be an abbreviated form of 'Orientation programme for (the purpose of) welcoming first year students'. In this case, 'welcoming' is an -ing form used as a noun (also known as a gerund).

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Samshr on Mon, 05/08/2019 - 07:56

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Hi I have a question. I'm not sure if it's correct. How does she feel when she gets home? Is it correct? Because we have does in the second part of the question. I would appreciate if you could answer me. Thanks
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Mon, 05/08/2019 - 15:28

In reply to by Samshr

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Hello Samshr

That question is grammatically correct. The main clause ('How does she feel?') has subject-verb inversion and the subordinate clause 'when she gets home' has the normal word order.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by MohitUkey on Sun, 04/08/2019 - 14:08

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Sir, In the sentence, "She works in London." what does the word "works" denote ? I am confused. Does it denote, "present state" or "present habit" or "temporary present" or "temporary habit" ?

Hello MohitUkey

What that really means depends on the context (which is ungiven here), but if you had to choose one, I'd say present habit.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Imran 26 on Mon, 15/07/2019 - 19:19

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He has worked there for three months now. He has been working there for three months now. hi Sir, I am confused about both of the above sentences. please clear it to me what the difference in these sentences for situation.

Submitted by karthik_ande on Wed, 19/06/2019 - 14:33

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Which is correct and why “We should go soon. Our last bus will leave at midnight” and “We should go soon. Our last bus leaves at midnight”

Hello karthik_ande

The second one is the better one for most situations, for example, when we know the bus is scheduled to leave at that time. You can read more about the different forms we use to talk about the future on our Talking about the future page.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Lal on Mon, 20/05/2019 - 06:48

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Hello Sir I would like to know the difference between these two sentences. Please let me know. He has worked there for three months now. He has been working there for three months now. Thank you. Regards Lal