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 ...
    • 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 ….

      Romeo and Juliet is a violent play. After Romeo and Juliet have married in secret, Romeo is walking in Verona when Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt tries to provoke Romeo into a fight. Romeo refuses to fight and leaves, but his friend, Mercutio, is so angry that he fights Tybalt and is killed ….




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

Dear sir
please, can you tell me why did we say in the test ( you look sad, anything the matter?)
why did we say anything the matter and what's the matter or anything that matters?

thank you for helping us