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
MultipleChoice_MTYyMzQ=
Present tense 2
GapFillTyping_MTYyMzU=

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
MultipleChoice_MTYyMzY=
Present tense 4
GapFillTyping_MTYyMzk=
Take your language skills and your career to the next level
Get unlimited access to our self-study courses for only £5.99/month.

Submitted by Fatemeh Roostaei on Sat, 24/12/2016 - 22:05

Permalink
Hi there In this lesson was told, there are two tenses (past and present). Then, future tense is puts in which category?

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 25/12/2016 - 07:19

In reply to by Fatemeh Roostaei

Permalink

Hi Fatemeh Roostaei,

I have just answered a very similar question from another user. You can find that answer here - please take a look as I think that will answer your question.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mahua_chakravarty on Sat, 24/12/2016 - 17:51

Permalink
Hello, This lesson on tense tells that there are only two tenses the present tense and the past tense. However,what I studied in school(which was long ago,say in the 90s) is that there is also a future tense.(simple future,future perfect,future continuous and future perfect continuous). So should I conclude that this is a change in grammar? And is this change(if any) is there in the grammar textbooks too? Thanks and regards, Mahua

Submitted by Peter M. on Sun, 25/12/2016 - 07:13

In reply to by mahua_chakravarty

Permalink

Hello mahua_chakravarty,

A tense is a change in the form of the verb itself and English has only two such changes: past (looked) and present (look). To talk about the future English uses a range of different means but none of them can be correctly classed as a future tense.

'Will' is sometimes described as future tense but this is not accurate. 'Will' is an example of a modal verb and like other modal verbs (should, could, can, might etc) it can have a future meaning, but this does not make it a future tense.You can read more about how English talks about the future on this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amol on Wed, 14/12/2016 - 10:49

Permalink
Hello Sir, In present perfect-continuous tense, why do we use "been" after "have" I have BEEN going Thanks

Hello amol,

I'm not sure what you mean by 'why' here. The form is what it is: [have been + verb-ing]

There is no reason as such for this, any more than there is a reason why we use any other word in the structure; it is simply what the form is.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by evgenyokoshkarov on Sat, 10/12/2016 - 22:06

Permalink
i have difficulties with . have had, had had etc . i do not understand what difference between have had and had had .

Hello evgenyokoshkarov,

It sounds like you are describing present perfect (have + past participle) and past perfect (had + past participle) forms - you can read about those forms using those links. It makes no difference if the past participle is 'had' (the past participle of the verb 'to have') or another verb.

If you have a specific example that you would like to ask about then we'll be happy to comment on it, of course.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by DavidKasper on Sat, 19/11/2016 - 23:34

Permalink
I've noticed you don't comment on other websites or books not on this site. Please can someone tell me something about this site that I've noticed as I've trawled through the pages. This page states there are only two tenses: Present and past. Then it states there are "Four tense forms". But, the table shows a column with the title "TENSE", and lists Present simple, present continuous, present perfect and present perfect continuous", and a column next to it with the title the FORM, showing examples of the TENSES listed on their left. You then say further down, "we can use these FORMS to talk about the present", and further down say "we can use the PRESENT TENSES to talk about the past" (yes, already sounds messy) with a "..." showing us there's more to come on the next page. That "next page" tab is titled "Present Simple". Present simple what, I ask? Tense? Form? What? Click the tab, and the title is Simple Present. The page begins with "The present tense is the base form of the verb". What? Base FORM? On the previous page you said there were 4 forms, and "base form" is NOT mentioned anywhere. Then, to confuse matters further, NOT ONCE on the entire "present simple" page (which is what the page is supposed to be about given the page title) is there mention of "present simple". Not once. But you say again "we use the present tense to talk about....". The exercises at the bottom are then titled "Verbs - Present Simple" (not tense, or form, just "present simple"). The next page "Present Continuous" starts by saying "the present continuous TENSE is FORMED from the present TENSE of the verb be and the...(-ing) form of a verb". And "we use the present continuous TENSE to talk about...". Great. This TENSE is formed by a TENSE and the -ing FORM of a verb. Nice! However, click on the "Continuous ASPECT" page and it starts by saying "Both tenses have a continuous FORM. These continuous TENSES are FORMED with the verb be and the –ing form of the verb: We use the CONTINUOUS ASPECT [for....]". Wait, isn't that the exact same description of the Present Continuous TENSE formation just mentioned? Click on the "Verb Phrases" and we're told "A verb phrase with "be" and –ing EXPRESSES CONTINUOUS ASPECT. Wow! And people wonder why there's so much confusion for a lot of people learning about TENSE, FORM and ASPECT. This site doesn't DEFINE each of these terms, but throws them around as if its common knowledge, and, to me at, shows that they can be used INTERCHANGEABLY, or sometimes, you can not even mention "tense", "form" or "aspect", and merely state "we use present "simple/continuous/etc" for "X". So, you expect students to know the difference between 4 types of "description", all of which have the same words in, ie, "Present" with extras added for "distinction". For example, "we use the Present continuous for somethings, and we use the Present continuous tense for somethings as well, oh, and don't forget the present continuous form that we use for somethings and there's also the present continuous aspect that we're "expressing". Read our website and you'll discover how to learn English". Please, I'm not trying to be difficult. I MYSELF am attempting to distinguish between all this terminology and "apparent" cross-over of usage of such terms/phrases. Maybe I've completely missed the boat, but like I showed, there is a LOT of "reading between the lines" needed when browsing this site.

Hello DavidKaspar,

Thank you for your comment. We appreciate feedback on our site and are always looking to improve its accessibility for our users.

I think your frustration is understandable and I agree that there is a problem in how the English language is described, particularly with regard to terms such as tense, form and aspect.

 

In answering your questions it would be helpful to first deal with the definitions. However, when we try to do this we immediately run into problems, and this is quite instructive with regard to the issues which you raise. For example, the wikipedia entry for tense is here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense

As you can see, there are many caveats and qualifications to the use of the term, and reference to different interpretations in different schools of linguistics, as well as in the broader language teaching profession.

 

We can also turn to academic sites for linguistic definitions:

http://www-01.sil.org/linguistics/glossaryoflinguisticterms/WhatIsAGrammaticalCategory.htm

As you can see, once again there is quite a lot of overlap and qualifications in the definitions.

 

Finally, let me quote from a linguistics dictionary. This is the entry for tense in A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics by David Crystal (Blackwell Publishing, 2008):

tense (adj./n.) (1) (tns, TNS) A category used in the grammatical description of verbs (along with aspect and mood), referring primarily to the way the grammar marks the time at which the action denoted by the verb took place. Traditionally, a distinction is made between past, present and future tenses, often with further divisions (perfect, pluperfect, etc.). In linguistics, the relationship between tense and time has been the subject of much study, and it is now plain that there is no easily stateable relationship between the two.

It continues with a description of tense forms:

Tense forms (i.e. variations in the morphological form of the verb) can be used to signal meanings other than temporal ones. In English, for example, the past-tense form (e.g. I knew) may signal a tentative meaning, and not past time, in some contexts (e.g. I wish I knew – that is, ‘know now’). Nor is there a simple one-to-one relationship between tense forms and time: the present tense in English may help to refer to future or past time, depending on context (e.g. I’m going home tomorrow, Last week I’m walking down this street . . . (see historic present)). Furthermore, if tenses are defined as forms of the verb, it becomes a matter of debate whether a language like English has a future tense at all: constructions such as I will/shall go, according to many, are best analysed as involving modal auxiliary verbs, displaying a different grammatical function (e.g. the expression of intention or obligation, which may often involve futurity). English illustrates several such problems, as do other languages, where tense forms, if they exist, regularly display analytic difficulties, because of overlaps between tense and other verbal functions, such as aspect or mood. Alternative terminology (e.g. ‘past’ v. ‘non-past’, ‘future’ v. ‘non-future’, ‘now’ v. ‘remote’) will often be needed. In later government-binding theory, the term tense phrase (TP) is used for what was earlier called an inflection phrase (IP), referring to a verb and its inflectional elements.

I quote these to demonstrate the difficulties inherent in the use of these terms in linguistics. They are the subject of much discussion and have different meanings in different contexts. Different linguists have different ways of viewing language and their use of the term is often reflective of their different perspectives and beliefs.

 

Here on LearnEnglish we have a further issue to consider. This is not a linguistics site, but a site which is aimed at learners of English. Therefore it is our obligation to present the information which we have in a way which is both accurate and accessible to our users. There is little point in providing users with maximally accurate information in terms of linguistic theory if it is unintelligible or unhelpful to them in their learning. One of the criteria which we must take into account is the way in which these terms are used in the English language teaching community of teachers and learners. Here, 'tense' (to take one example) is used both in its more pure linguistic way (which is where the reference to two tenses is based) and in a more general way to refer to the range of verb forms which are available (past simple, past continuous, present perfect etc). Our pages are aimed at providing practical and accessible help for those learning the language and it is this which guides us. If this means that we use terminology in a less pure way in terms of linguistics in order for the information to be accessible to our users, or use the term with narrower and broader meaning on different pages, then we consider that a reasonable decision.

 

Once again, I understand your frustration. It is a difficult area and not one which we have created, but rather one in which we, like all teachers and learners of English, must operate. We will make a note of your comment and consider if we can improve the clarity of our pages, of course, when we next edit this section.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by santosh_reddy on Fri, 21/10/2016 - 04:27

Permalink
hello sir, am santosh. actually i think am poor in tenses and parts of speech can you suggest any book or any other method to learn myself. And i want to spell the english words like the british people and i want to build up vocabulary. So sir i need suggestions from you can you help me out please thanking you

Hello Santosh,

I'm afraid we don't recommend books, but I'd recommend you read through our Getting started and Frequently asked questions pages, where you'll find advice on expanding your vocabulary. I'd also particularly recommend reading a lot – our Magazine might be a good place to start, though you could also read news, for example, at the BBC or the Guardian.

You might also want to look into a course at a British Council Teaching Centre if there is one near you. Your teacher there could help you with grammar and recommend an appropriate book.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nkmg on Tue, 11/10/2016 - 12:24

Permalink
Hello everyone : Why am always hear in movies they say What you doing here ? instead of What are you doing here?

Hello nkmg,

In English, like in most any language, when people speak quickly, some sounds are de-emphasised so much that they are very difficult to hear, and sometimes not even pronounced.

It's great that you noticed this. Even though native speakers speak like this in films, I'd recommend that you not leave out words, as people might think you're making a mistake rather than speaking like a native!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Tomas on Fri, 07/10/2016 - 12:52

Permalink
Hello I'd like to ask for the correct form of this sentence: 1. Are you watching that new police drama series on Monday nights ? 2. Do you watch that new police drama series on Monday nights ? thank you

Hello Tomas,

As a series is temporary and not permament, and since you are asking about the current time period, the first sentence is correct.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, so why do we use present simple and not present progressive when we talk about our age which is almost always in progress ? Thank you .

Submitted by Peter M. on Wed, 12/10/2016 - 05:55

In reply to by Tad90

Permalink

Hello Tad90,

First of all, we generally use 'be' when we are saying our age ('I am fifty-eight', for example) and this verb is rarely used in continuous forms. Second, age is a state rather than an action so just as we say 'I love...' rather than 'I am loving...' and 'I have...' rather than 'I am having...', so we do not use the continuous aspect when talking about age.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by strugglingman on Wed, 05/10/2016 - 23:04

Permalink
why my page don't have the grammar execrises

Hello strugglingman,

I'm afraid there is no way for me to know this! It is most likely a compatibility or security issue, so you might try using a different device and/or browser to see if that helps. If you are using a mobile device then try a laptop or desktop, for example.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Inaka on Thu, 08/09/2016 - 04:59

Permalink
Hello. I don't understand this sentence " But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away." why the author useed " if it be only.... and not "if it is only...."

Hello inaka,

This is rather old English and is not the way we speak today. It actually is a quote from Jane Austen.

The reason 'be' is used here is because the subjunctive form used to be normal in if-clauses. We can still see this in the constuction 'if he were...', where 'were' is the past subjunctive form. However, 'be' is no longer used in this way in modern English and we would now say 'if it is only...'

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Louis on Sun, 04/09/2016 - 14:59

Permalink
Sir,he is a wizard, which type of present tense is this.

Hello Louis,

This is an example of the present simple, with verb be.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Louis on Sun, 04/09/2016 - 14:57

Permalink
Sir,it my pleasure to joint u people here so as to improve my English

Submitted by Nathanial on Fri, 02/09/2016 - 07:37

Permalink
Can you please tell me all the tenses forms like simple past s + v1

Hello Nathanial,

All the different verb tenses are explained in this Verbs section of our English Grammar. 

Best regards,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Muhammad Abdul Mukit on Tue, 30/08/2016 - 17:34

Permalink
Dear The Learn English Team, i joined here few days ago.i'm not good in english. first of all English is not my mother tongue .I've many problems one of the major problem is that i don't know the uses of tenses in sentence properly and what should i do for this??specially i cant understand the the difference between present perfect tense and past perfect tense and i want to be fluent in English.how can i start????please help me out. Thank you.

Hello Muhammad Abdul Mukit,

Welcome to LearnEnglish! FIrst of all, I suggest you visit our Help pages and work through the links there, including a visit to our Frequently Asked Questions page, where you'll find tips and advice on learning effectively.

As far as tenses go, you are in one of our grammar sections so you are in the right place. You'll find pages on the present perfect and the past perfect here but remember that it takes time to assimilate the information, so be patient with yourself!

You might also want to take a look at our other grammar section, Quick Grammar. It has some pages on perfect forms which I think will be helpful to you.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohannad79 on Sun, 28/08/2016 - 13:22

Permalink
Dear Peter M, this exercise below : So I say to him, 'What's your game, son?' Why it is Past tense? why not present tense? best regards, Mohannad

Hello Mohannad79.

Although it is hard to be sure without a clear context, this appears to be an example of this use of present forms:

to talk about the past when we are telling a story in spoken English or when we are summarising a book, film, play etc.

The speaker is telling a story or an anecdote in an informal style, and so uses 'I say to him' (present) instead of 'I said to him' (past). Both would be acceptable, but the present form is common in such anecdotes.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Isra on Mon, 22/08/2016 - 12:00

Permalink
hi i have a question that when i saw a sentence how can i recognise the tense i am just really confused recognising the sentence.Can you tell me a simple way to easily write a sentence. plz help Thank you

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 23/08/2016 - 07:10

In reply to by Isra

Permalink

Hello Isra,

Recognising and naming a tense is much less important than knowing what a given form means - the terminology is not necessary to use the language. To recognise the various verb forms in English you need to identify the component parts - the main verb and the auxiliary verbs, if there are any.

There is no magic pill to help with this, I am afraid! You can look at the Verbs section in our Grammar reference and work through the various verb forms, however.

As far as how to write a sentence goes, you have written several in your comment! How to write a setence depends on the sentence you wish to write - there is no general rule.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Upiter on Wed, 17/08/2016 - 14:47

Permalink
Hello, I have a question: when you need to write is and when do and why?

Hello Upiter,

I'm afraid I don't understand your question. Perhaps you could provide an example sentence and we'll try to explain.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ice on Mon, 25/07/2016 - 14:50

Permalink
I have growing on chicken pox when i was three years old. This sentence is right?

Hello Ice,

No, I'm afraid that is not correct. Perhaps you want to say 'I had chicken pox when I was three years old', but it's hard to be sure.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SK on Sun, 17/07/2016 - 18:57

Permalink
Hello, I would like to thank you all for this wonderful website and responding to all the questions promptly by explaining the rationale - I really appreciate. Could you please let me know which of the following sentence is grammatically correct or both of them are correct? 1. Could you please let me know if the property is available for renting? 2. Could you please let me know if the property is available to rent? Kind Regards, Sujit

Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 18/07/2016 - 08:50

In reply to by SK

Permalink

Hello Sujit,

1 sounds a bit unnatural to me; I'd definitely use 2 over 1, or perhaps 'for rent'. By the way, please consult the dictionary for this kind of thing – you can often find the answers there. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Andrew international on Tue, 12/07/2016 - 18:38

Permalink
Dear Sir Please tell me whether these sentences are correct or not. 1. She has lived there for ten years. 2. She has been living there for ten years. If both are correct, the meanings are the same or different. 1. It has rained for two hours. 2. It has been raining for two hours. Do they mean the same or different ? If not the same what is the difference? Rigards Andrew international

Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 13/07/2016 - 07:29

In reply to by Andrew international

Permalink

Hello Andrew international,

I already responded to a similar question of yours on another page – please refer to my suggestions there.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SK on Fri, 08/07/2016 - 16:09

Permalink
Hello, Could you please let me know whether it is correct to use present and past form of the verb in one sentence? For instance, the following sentence: I was wondering whether it is possible to get a letter that states that the company will sponsor my visa.

Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 09/07/2016 - 07:42

In reply to by SK

Permalink

Hello Sujit Korade,

Provided there is no logical reason against it (e.g. as a result must be after a cause) then there is no problem with using different tenses in one sentence. Your sentence is fine, for example: was wondering (before writing)... is possible (at the moment)... states (a general truth about the letter)... will sponsor (in the future).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kris Chan on Thu, 23/06/2016 - 05:09

Permalink
Hello, I have a quick questions about the use of present and past tense. Which one of the following is correct? 1) Enjoy the offer if "book" by July 2) ENjoy the offer if "booked" by July My gut feeling tells me I should use the first one. However, my British manager says the second one is the right one. Please help!

Hello Kris Chan,

The context is important in terms of whether the second sentence is approprite or not but I would agree with your manager that the first sentence is not correct. The second sentence is an example of ellipsis - omitting certain words in the sentence. The full sentence would be:

Enjoy the offer if you have (are) booked by July.

Where ellipsis is appropriate is more a question of convention than grammar and it is not normal to use ellipsis in the way that it is in the first sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Metin on Fri, 03/06/2016 - 19:32

Permalink
And also I want to get reported when my comments are answered.

Hello Metin,

I believe that there is a box you can tick near the Save button when you write a comment to be notified via email of when there is a response to your comment. If you don't see that, please let us know and we'll look into it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team