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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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

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

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

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

Hello Will it be correct as present perfect I have reached at school one hour ago. I have a nice car

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

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..."

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

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”?

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

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 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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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

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