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 (108 votes)
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Submitted by .Mariia on Mon, 29/01/2024 - 17:26

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Hello,
Coould you please help me to understand why we use present simple in this sentence
After Howard finishes his studies he intends to work in his father's company.
And can we make this sentence like this:
Howard intends to work in his father's company after he will finish his studies

Hi .Mariia,

It's because of "after". The present simple is used to indicate a future action/situation in subordinate clauses with "after", "when", "before", "until", "as soon as", "if", "provided that" and some other conjunctions of time. For example:

  • When I arrive, I'll call you. (not "when I will arrive")
  • I'll stay with you until you leave. (not "until you will leave")
  • If it rains later, I'll cancel the trip. (not "if it will rain")

The meaning of your final sentence is perfectly understandable but grammatically, it should be "... after he finishes his studies". I hope that helps to understand it!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by MarBe on Tue, 07/11/2023 - 19:01

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Hello, everybody.
I would like to know if it is correct to add the word "tense" after names such as "Present Simple", "Present Continuous", "Past Simple, Past Continuous" etc. Is it correct to say the "Present Continuous Tense", for example? Also, is it correct to say that there are six simple and six continuous tenses in English? Is the word "tense" correctly used here?
All the best,
MarBe

Hi MarBe,

It's an interesting question, and one that isn't as easy to answer as it may seem!

A tense can be defined technically as a type of verb conjugation that expresses time. When linguists analyse language, this is what they mean when they say "tense". For this reason, at the top of this page it says that English has only two tenses, present and past (e.g. work - worked). Future actions are expressed using modal verbs (e.g. "will") or other structures (e.g. "going to"), so these aren't considered tenses because they don't involve verb conjugation. The same goes for structures such as continuous and perfect structures (these are called aspects, and they are made by adding auxiliary verbs rather than conjugating).

However, that is a technical definition. In more everyday discussions of language, as well as in English learning materials, people often use "tense" with a looser and wider meaning, including all of the structures mentioned above. Although it's technically incorrect to call "I will go ..." the future tense, for example, it's common for materials, teachers and students to do so.  

So I guess the answer to your question depends on how technical you need to be. Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Lander on Mon, 30/10/2023 - 15:41

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Dear team,
I wonder if you tell me the difference between the present continuous and 'll when they are used to refer to the future.
For example:
You're having a fever! Put on your coat and I'm taking you to see a doctor( or I'll take you to see a doctor).
Also, I wonder if 'would take' works here.
All the best
Jones

Hi Jones,

Thanks for your question! "Will" is the right word here, because "will" is used when you make a decision at the moment of speaking. In this example, it seems like the speaker has only just noticed the other person's fever, so the speaker is making this decision spontaneously.

The present continuous normally shows a future action that has been organised and confirmed, and often it has been organised or confirmed with other people. For example, you could say I'm taking Jane to see a doctor if you have already made the doctor's appointment in advance, before the moment that you say this.

You may find our page on Future forms interesting. It has some more explanation and examples. If you have other questions, we welcome you to post your questions on that page.

I hope that helps!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by jitu_jaga on Mon, 07/08/2023 - 07:21

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Hello Teachers,

"Before I sever your head from your body, I ask you again, who are you?"
I tell you straight!- not to quarrel with me.
Why the writer has written ask you again not am asking you again. Why he uses simple present though it was an ongoing action and also for tell in the second sentence. Could you explain it?

Regards
Jitu_jaga

Hello jitu_jaga,

This sounds like an older style of English, such as a Monty Python skit taking place in the middle ages. In older styles, a present simple form is acceptable.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by LitteBlueGreat on Mon, 19/12/2022 - 14:13

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Hi sir, Is it possible to use Present tense to talk a thing/one' nature/ attribute even though it/ one has physically disappeared? like someone stands in front of their friend's grave and says " you are my best friend ever" not " you were my best friend ever"

or statements that similar to "Albert Einstein/ Leo is a genius of all time", "Mahamta Gandhi is a figure who everyone respects".

My point is to bring a opinion/ fact that, at least to me, is true to this present

I would say this explanation "when we are summarising something we have read, heard or seen:" is the answer of my problem

Thanks, I looking forward to your respon sir

Hello LittleBlueGreat,

It is possible to use the present simple to speak about general truths, which can include making statements about people who have passed away. In such cases, we're often making statements about their legacies or contributions more than we are about them as people with ordinary lives that they are living at the moment.

If I were standing before a friend's grave and speaking to them, I'd probably say 'You were my best friend ever'; although me speaking to them now means they are still alive for me in one sense, the fact that I'm remembering our time together also makes it clear they are gone. The fact that I'm saying it to them suggests I'm missing them, which means they aren't present. 

But I'm not saying it's impossible to say 'You are my best friend ever' in a situation like this. It's a very personal kind of thing, after all, and so I can't say for sure what someone else might be thinking.

I hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

This page explains that there are two tenses in English. present and past.
I want to read more about it. please help me.

is there not a future tense in English?

what about:
will v1
will be v4
will have v3
will have been v4

Hi Prakash,

It's a good question. First, I should define what a tense is: it is a form of a verb that expresses time. For example, take and took are the present tense and past tense of the verb take.

Technically speaking, will take is not a form of the verb take, because it is not made by changing the form of take itself. Instead, it is made by adding another verb (will) which supplies the future time meaning. That's why we can't call will take a tense.

However, in common and non-technical speaking, people do commonly say that will + infinitive verb is the "future tense" (even though from a technical point of view, that term is incorrect).

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Fri, 03/06/2022 - 17:07

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Dear team hello,
More and more people (are getting divorced)/(getting divorced) every year.
Which one is the true answer?
Thank you

Hi Hosseinpour,

It should be the first answer, as the present continuous needs the auxiliary verb "be" (here, in the form "are"). Another possible answer not listed here is "get divorced" (present simple).

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello sir,
More and more people (are getting divorced)/(getting divorced) every year.
(Every year), can we use "present continuous" to talk about "a fact" such as this?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

Yes, you can use continuous aspect like this. The continuous form emphasises that it is an ongoing process rather than a fixed fact.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by georgiatavares on Fri, 27/05/2022 - 21:23

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Hello, Everyone.

Could somebody help me understand why in task "Present Tense 3" the correct answer isn't Present Tense, but Present Perfect?

Thank you in advance.

Hi georgiatavares,

Good question! It's because at the end, the frog means "I've read it", in the present perfect. (That's why the frog shakes his head and rejects all the books that the chicken brought. He's already read them all.) 

The word "read" can be either (1) the present simple form and the imperative, or (2) the past participle. (1) and (2) have the same spelling, but different pronunciation. (2) is pronounced /red/ (the same as the colour). (That's the joke - "read it" sounds similar to the sounds that frogs make, at least to English ears.)

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sajatadib on Sat, 12/02/2022 - 14:15

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Hi there. "Do be careful" or "Be careful" which one is correct? Thanks in advance.

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 19:13

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Dear team, Orwell (perceived) at that moment that when the white man (turns) tyrant it is his own freedom that he (destroys). The first verb (perceived) is in the past tense, the others (turns), (destroys) are in the present tense. How is this possible? Aren't we supposed to use (past tense) for all three verbs or (present tense) for all three verbs according to parallel structure rules? Thank you
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Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 08:20

In reply to by Hosseinpour

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Hello Hosseinpour,

The use of tenses here is fine. The first verb ("perceived") is past simple because it describes a completed past event. The other verbs are in the present simple because they describe things that are general statements not fixed to specific points in time.

 

There is no rule which says that we are limited to a single time reference or verb form in a sentence. It's quite possible to use a past form and a verb form with future reference, for example:

Gene Roddenberry believed that one day humanity will travel beyond our solar system and spread throughout the galaxy.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Respected team, So far they have not excavated enough tombs (to have arrived) at any clear understanding of the rituals and lives of these ancient people. What tense is (to have arrived)? Why do we use it? Where can I read more about it? Can I replace it with (to arrive)? Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

This is an infinitive form. I'm sure you're familiar with the base form of the infinitive (to do), but there are many other forms:

to do

to be done (passive infinitive)

to be doing (continuous infinitive)

to have done (perfect infinitive)

etc.

 

These forms carry the meaning you would expect: continuous forms denote something in progress, perfect forms have a retrospective sense etc. The exact meaning will depend on the context.

 

As far as your example goes, you could use to arrive and I don't think the meaning changes as the context makes it clear that you are talking about a time up to now. In fact, as the context is clear I think to arrive would be a better choice, stylistically speaking.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 02:39

In reply to by Hosseinpour

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Dear team,
There are some people who (can view) objects from 6 meters away with the same sharpness that a normal-sighted person (would have to move) in to 4.5 meters to achieve.
Why this structure(would have to move) is used? I can not understand the relationship between (can view) and (would have to move).
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

The two verbs are not related in time or structure. The first describes the characteristics of certain people; the second describes a hypothetical point of comparison - you can insert an implied if-clause if you wish (...would have to move in to 4.5 metres if they wanted to achieve the same clarity).

You could change the first verb to talk about people in the past ('There were some people who could...') or to predict the existence of people in the future ('One day there will be some people who will be able to...') without changing the second verb form at all.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hosseinpour on Mon, 18/10/2021 - 21:05

In reply to by Hosseinpour

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Dear team,
A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southhampton 1.(suggests/has suggested) four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight 2.(belong to / have belonged to) new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.
In this test,first part, recently shouts present perfect, but my feelings tell me go with the Present tense. The same issue with part two, also if I use (have belonged to) how will the sentence sound meaning-vice to the listener.
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

I too would probably use the present simple form for 1, but there's nothing wrong with using the present perfect form in a news report, for example.

For 2, only the present simple form works. The topic is the bones (which obviously still exist) and what species they are from, not the dinosaur (which is obviously long dead, even if it is a newly discovered species), so a present simple form is best; a present perfect form would sound very odd indeed.

Hope this helps. It's great that you are trying to make sense of texts that you find in your reading -- this is a great way to learn.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear team,
Researchers believe that gold nanoparticles may breathe new life into once-promising drug candidates, in particular, a compound designed to stop the spread of HIV that (was shelved/would be shelved) because of effects.
Here (was shelved) is the right answer. Why (would be shelved) can not be the right answer?
Thank you

Hello Hosseinpour,

Generally, we don't comment on exercises from elsewhere as we have no control over their quality or accuracy. If you have a question about a task from a book or website then the authors of the task are the people to ask.

In this example, the time reference is past. You are talking about a drug which +was designed+ to do something but which had problems and so was not used (it was +once promising+). The only option with a past time sense is 'was shelved'. The other option ('would be shelved') describes a possible later action.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Samin on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 08:13

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Hello Will it be correct as present perfect I have reached at school one hour ago. I have a nice car
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 25/02/2021 - 13:47

In reply to by Samin

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Hi Samin,

The first sentence is the present perfect. But, the present perfect isn't usually used if you say the time (one hour ago). The past simple is usually used: I reached school one hour ago. Also, the verb reach doesn't take a preposition, so delete 'at'.

The second sentence is correct. But it's the present simple, not the present perfect (i.e. the verb have is the main verb, not an auxiliary verb).

Have a look at our Present perfect page for more explanation. I hope it helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sun, 21/02/2021 - 14:09

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Hi guys, I want to learn 2 things. While I was reading the news, I saw the pattern which is "it helps doing something" Then, I don't understand how can I use this pattern, but I tried to use. For example; He is tall. It helps being selected the school team. 1)Did I use correctly? If not could you please give me an example? 2)Must I use just pronoun "it" with this pattern? Such as Can I say "Tallness helps being selected..."
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 22/02/2021 - 08:07

In reply to by Nevı

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Hi Nevı,

Your example would mean that being selected for the school team helps to make the person tall, so it is not correct. What you mean is the other way round, and there are several ways to say it:

Being tall helps with being selected for the school team.

I was selected for the school team. It helps being tall!

 

In answer to your second question, if you use 'help with' then you don't need 'it'. There is a word 'tallness' but we wouldn't use it in this context. 'Being tall' (as above) or 'Height' is what we would use.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hmm, so teacher I understand When we use the pattern"it helps doing something", we need to use least two sentences.And they must be linked. "It" in the second sentence refers to first action and explains the consequence of first action. For instance -Technology is improving and it helps finding new solutions for problems.- Am I right Teacher? If not; could you please explain why Thank you

Hello again Nevı,

No, I'm afraid that's not correct. It helps + verb-ing here means 'this is of benefit (in achieving the goal)'.

 

You are trying to say that technology helps us to find new solutions, so you can say the following:

Technology is improving and it helps us to find new solutions for problems.

Technology improving helps us to find new solutions for problems.

 

If you want to use the construction it helps + verb-ing then you need to remember that is it improvements in technology which help us find new solutions, not the other way round:

We are finding new solutions for problems. It helps having better technology!

[having better technology makes it easier to find new solutions]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Fiona on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 03:02

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Hi, I read this following passage in a column: Hardly a lover of sweets, I do have intermittent longings for one cake that was both an object of research for a cookbook and a favorite indulgence until it disappeared from the New York scene, about twenty years ago. doesn’t her longing happen before the disappearance, because of the word “until”? So why not use “I had had intermittent longing”?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 15/11/2020 - 08:40

In reply to by Fiona

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Hello Fiona,

The writer still has longings in the present.

'Until' is related to a different state: the cake was an object of research (...) and a favourite indulgence until... In other words, it is no longer an object of research or a favourite indulgence, but the longings have not gone away.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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