The Verb System: An Overview of Verb Tenses

[Following excerpted from Azar's Understanding and Using English Grammar]

To illustrate the use of the various verb tenses in English, the following chart will be used:

    past ____________________________________________  future

I. The Simple Present (base or base + -s/ -es)

 1. Water consists of
 2. Most animals kill
    only for food.
 3. The world is round.

 The simple present
 says something was
 true in the past, is
 true in the present,
 and will be true in
 the future.  It is
 used for general
 statement of fact.

 1. I study for two
    hours every night.
 2. My classes begin at
 3. He always eats a
    sandwich for lunch.

 The simple present is
 used for habitual or
 everyday activity.

 1. I have only a dollar
    right now.
 2. I don't recognize
    that man.
 3. He needs a pen right

 The simple present is
 used with verbs which
 aren't usually used in
 the progressive (-ing)
 forms to indicate a
 situation that exists
 right now, at the
 moment of speaking.

*** some common examples: hear, taste, smell, see, know, believe, think, understand, recognize, remember, mean, possess, own, have, belong, want, prefer, need, appreciate, love, like, hate, dislike, seem, look, appear.

II. The Present Progressive (am/is/are + base + -ing)
 1. John is sleeping
    right now.

 2. I need an umbrella
    because it is

 3. John and Mary are
 The present progressive
 expresses an activity
 that is in progress at
 the moment of
 speaking.  It began in
 the recent past, is
 continuing, and will
 probably end at some
 future time.
 1. I am taking five
    courses this

 2. John is trying to
    improve himself.

 3. She is writing
    another book.

 4. It is becoming
    harder to find
    inexpensive apartment
    in New York City.
 Often the activity is
 of a general nature:
 in progress this week,
 this month, this year,
 or even a longer
 period. Sentence 3
 means that she is
 engaged in writing a
 book during this
 period, but it does
 not mean that at the
 moment of speaking she
 is at her desk with
 pen in hand.

III. The Simple Past (base + -ed or irregular form)

 1. I walked to school

 2. He lived in Paris
    for ten years.

 3. I bought a new car
    three days ago.
 The simple past
 indicates that an
 activity or situation
 began and ended at a
 particular time in the
 1. I stood under a tree
    when it began to

 2. When she heard an
    odd noise, she got

 3. When I dropped my
    cup, my coffee
 If a sentence contains
 when and uses the
 simple past in both
 clauses, the action in
 the when clause
 happened first.

IV. The Past Progressive (was/were + base + -ing)
 1. I was walking down 
    the street when it
    began to rain.

 2. While I was walking
    down the street, it
    began to rain.

 3. I was standing under
    a tree when it began
    to rain.

 4. At eight o'clock
    last night, I was

 5. Last year at this
    time, I was going to
 The past progressive
 expresses an activity
 that was in progress
 when something else
 occured in the past.
 In #1, first I was
 walking then it began
 to rain.
 In #1, 2, & 3, one
 action began earlier
 and was in progress
 when the other action

 In #4, my studying
 began before 8:00, was
 in progress at that
 time, and probably

 In #4 & 5 a continuous
 action has occurred
 over an extended time
 in the past.
 1. Last January, while
    you were trudging
    through snow, I was
    lying on the beach.

 2. While I was
    studying, my roomate
    was having a party.
 When two actions
 simultaneously, the
 past progressive is
 used in both parts of
 the sentence.
 1. It rained this

 2. It was raining this
 Sometimes, the simple
 past and the past
 progressive have
 almost the same

V. The Present Perfect (have/has + -ed/-en)
 1. They have moved into
    a new apartment.

 2. Have you ever
    visited Mexico?

 3. I have already seen
    that movie.

 4. I have never seen
 The present perfect
 expresses the idea
 that something
 happened (or never
 happened) before now,
 at an unspecified time
 in the past.
 The exact time is not
 important.  What is
 important is that the
 time is viewed from
 the present.
 1. We have had four
    tests so far this

 2. I have written my
    wife a letter every
    day for the past two

 3. I have met many
    people since I
    arrived in June.

 4. I have flown on an
    airplane many times.
 The present perfect
 also expresses the
 repetition of an
 activity before now.
 The exact time of each
 repetition is not
 1. I have been here
    since 7:00.

 2. We have been here
    for two weeks.

 3. I have had this pair
    of shoes for three

 4. I have known him for
    many years.
 When used with for or
 since the present
 perfect expresses a
 situation that began
 in the past and
 continues to the
 since +
     a particular time
 for +
    a duration of time

VI. The Present Perfect Progressive (have/has + been + base + -ing)
 Right now I am sitting
 at my desk.

 1. I have been sitting
    here since 9:00.

 2. I have been sitting
    here for 7 hours.

 3. You have been
    studying for five

 4. He has been watching
    television since
    9:00 this morning.

 5. It has been raining
    all day.
 The present perfect
 progressive is used to
 indicate the duration
 of an activity begun
 in the past and
 continuing to the
 present.  In this
 meaning, it is used
 with time words such
 as for, since, all
 day, all morning, all
 1. I have been thinking
    of changing my

 2. All the students
    have been studying

 3. John has been doing
    a lot of work on his
 When the tense is used
 without any specific
 mention of time, it
 expresses a general
 activity in progress
 1. I have lived here
    since 1975.
    I have been living
    here since 1975.

 2. He has worked at the
    same store for 10
    He has been working
    at the same store
    for 10 years.
 With certain verbs
 (most notably live,
 work, teach) there is
 little or no
 difference in meaning
 between the present
 perfect and the
 present perfect
 progressive when since
 or for is used.

VII. The Past Perfect (had + -ed/-en)
 1. My parents had
    already eaten when I
    got home.
 2. Until yesterday, I
    had never heard about
 3. The thief simply
    walked in. Someone had
    forgotten to lock the
 4. He had arrived
    before we got there.
 5. He arrived before we
    got there.
 6. After the guests had
    gone, I went to bed.
 7. After the guests
    went, I went to bed.
 The past perfect
 expresses an activity
 that was completed
 before another
 activity or time in
 the past.
 If before or after is
 used in the sentence,
 the past perfect is
 not necessary because
 the time relationship
 is already clear. In
 these cases, the
 simple past may be

VIII. The Past Perfect Progressive (had + been + base + -ing)
 1. The police had been
    looking for the
    criminal for 2 years
    before they caught
 2. The patient had been
    waiting in the
    emergency room for
    almost an hour
    before a doctor
    treated her.
 3. Her skin was
    sunburned because
    she had been lying
    in the sun.
 The past perfect
 progressive emphasizes
 the continuing nature
 of an activity that
 was in progress before
 another activity or
 time in the past.
 1. When Judy got home,
    her hair was still
    wet because she had
    been swimming.
 2. Her eyes were red
    because she had been
 This tense also may
 express an activity in
 progress recently
 before another time or
 activity in the past.

IX. The Simple Future (will + base form, or be going to + base)
 1. He will finish work

 2. He is going to
    finish his work

 3. I will wash the 

 4. I am going to wash
    the dishes.
 The simple future is
 used to express plans
 or predictions likely
 to occur.
 1. Bob will come soon.
    When Bob comes, we
    will see him.

 2. Linda will leave
    Before she leaves,
    she is going to
    finish some work.

 3. I will get home at
    After I get home, I
    will eat dinner.

 4. The taxi will arrive
    in 5 minutes.
    As soon as it
    arrives, we will go.

 5. They are going to
    come soon.
    I will wait here
    until they come.
 The future is often
 expressed in a
 conditional statement
 expressing a time
 frame in which some
 action(s) will occur. 
 In such statements the
 time clause, beginning
 with words such as
 when, before, after,
 as soon as, and until
 uses the simple
 present and the main
 clause uses the simple
 1. I will go to bed
    after I finish my

 2. I will go to bed
    after I have
    finished my work.
 Occasionally, the
 present perfect is
 used in a time clause.
 #1 and #2 have the
 same meaning.
 In #2, the present
 perfect tense stresses
 the completion of the
 act in the time clause
 before the other act will
 occur in the future.

X. The Present Progressive and the Simple Present to Express Future Time.
 1. My wife has an appointment with
    the doctor.  She is seeing her
    next Tuesday.
 2. Sam has already made his plans.
    He is leaving at noon tomorrow.
 3. What are you going to do this
    After lunch, I am meeting a
    friend.  We are going shopping.
 The present progressive
 may be used to express
 future time when the idea
 of the sentence concerns a
 planned event or definite
 intention.  The future
 meaning is indicated by
 either future time words
 in the sentence or by the
 1. The museum opens at 10:00
 2. Classes begin next week.
 3. John's plane arrives at 6:05
    next Monday.
 The simple present can
 indicate future if the
 sentence contains future
 time words such as
 tomorrow, next week, and
 in three years.

XI. The Future Progressive (will + be + base + -ing, or be going to be + base + -ing)
 1.I will begin to
    study at seven.
    You will come at
    I will be studying
    when you come.
 2. Right now I am
    sitting in class.
    At this same time
    tomorrow, I will be
    sitting here again.
 The future progressive
 expresses an activity
 that is expected to
 progress at a time in
 the future when
 something else will
 1. Don't call me at
    nine.  I am going to
    be studying at the
 1. She will be coming
 2. She will come soon. 
 Sometimes there is
 little or no
 difference between the
 future progressive and
 the simple future,
 especially when the
 events will occur at
 an indefinite time in
 the future.

XII. The Future Perfect (will + have + -ed/-en)
 1. I will graduate in
    June.  I will see
    you in July.
    By the time I see
    you, I will have

 2. I will have finished
    my homework by the
    time I go out
 The future perfect
 expresses an activity
 that will be completed
 before another time or
 event in the future.

 Note: as above, the
 future tense is
 indicated only in the
 main clause of the

XIII. The Future Perfect Progressive (will + have + been + base + -ing)
 1. I will go to bed at
    10 P.M.  He will get
    home at midnight.
    At midnight I will
    be sleeping. I will
    have been sleeping
    for two hours when
    he gets home.
 The future perfect
 progressive emphasizes
 the duration of an
 activity that will be
 in progress before
 another time or event
 in the future.
 1. When Professor Jones
    retires next month,
    he will have taught
    for 45 years.

 2. When Professor Jones
    retires next month,
    he will have been
    teaching for 45
 Sometimes the future
 perfect and the future
 perfect progressive
 have the same meaning.

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