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Past, Present, & Future Tenses

Verbs tell us the time that an action in a sentence happened. The time that a verb shows is called tense. The most common tenses in the English Language are past tense, present tense and future tense.

Examples of Past, Present, & Future Tense Verbs

Past Tense - it already happened

Yesterday, I played outside.

More Here on Past Tense Words

Present Tense - it is happening right now

I play outside.

More Here on Present Tense Words

Future Tense - it has yet to happen

Tomorrow I will play outside.

More Here on Future Tense Words

  • We usually make the past tense by adding "d" or "ed" to the verb root word. Example; Hannah talked to her friend.
  • Some verbs have irregular past tenses. Example; Hannah told him about her holiday. We do not add "d" or "ed" to the irregular past tense verb, but change the spelling. Tell becomes told not telled.
  • We also make the past tense by using the verb "to be" and add "ing" word.
  • Examples of Verb Tense To Be

    Root word Present tense Past tense Future tense
    To be is/ am/ are was/ were will/shall

    More Verb Tense Examples

    Past Tense; She was talking to her friends. Was is the verb "to be". Talking is the verb root word.
    Present Tense; I walk to school. We make the present tense by using the verb root word or the verb "to be", am and an "ing" word, walking.
    Present Tense; I am walking to school.
    Future Tense; I will go tomorrow. We make the future tense by using the verb "to be" and the verb root word. Will is the verb "to be". Go is the verb root word.

    Verb Tense - Regular Verbs

    Examples of Regular Verb Tenses
    Root word Past tense Present tense Future tense
    Walk I walked I walk I will walk
    Walk plus to be I was walking I am walking I will walk
    Help I helped I help I will help
    Learn I learned. I learn I will learn
    Learn plus to be I was learning I am learning I will learn

    Verb Tense - Irregular Verbs

    Irregular verbs do not follow the spelling pattern of regular Verbs and some irregular verbs do not change their spelling at all.

    Examples of Irregular Verbs Not Following the Spelling Pattern

    Root word Past tense Present tense Future tense
    Write I wrote. I write I shall write
    Write plus to be They were writing They are writing They will write
    Grow It grew It grows It will grow
    Teach She taught She teaches She will teach
    Teach plus to be We were teaching We are teaching We shall teach
    Think He thought He thinks He will think

    Examples of Irregular Verbs That Do Not Change Their Spelling

    Root word Past tense Present tense Future tense
    cost It cost It cost It shall cost
    hit They were hitting They are hitting They will hit
    read It read It reads It will read
    let She let She lets She will let
    put We were putting We are putting We shall put
    shut He shut He shuts He will shut

    How many verb tenses are there in English?

    Above we’ve described 3 verb tenses, but the answer to this question is either 2, 3, 12, or 16 depending on who you ask. This is obviously not a helpful answer so let’s have a brief and simplified explanation.

    There are only 2

    To be linguistically precise, the only tenses in the English language are the present and the past with the future “tense” being formed using a helping verb. However, most people, for the purpose of teaching English consider there to be 3 tenses – past, present, and future.

    There are 12

    Most books and guidance refer to 12 different verb tenses. To get to the answer 12, we need to consider the aspect of a verb.

    What’s the aspect of a verb?

    The aspect of the verb depends on whether an action as described by the verb is ongoing (progressive), completed (perfect), was ongoing but ended (perfect progressive), or neither ongoing nor completed – just a fact (simple).

    So, if we consider the 3 tenses – past, present, and future - and then introduce 4 aspects for each, we can, for simplicity, say there are 12 tenses. This is shown below with examples:

    Past Present Future    
    I danced I dance I will dance Simple Aspect
    I had danced I have danced I will have danced Perfect
    I was dancing I am dancing I will be dancing Progressive
    I had been dancing I have been dancing I will have been dancing Progressive

    What about the “there are 16” answer?

    We know verbs have tenses and aspects, but they also have moods - more here external resource icon. We won’t go into detail here other than considering the conditional mood. Verb tenses are sometimes shown with a conditional example for each aspect, usually including “would”. For example: I would dance; I would have danced; I would be dancing; I would have been dancing. If we add these to the more commonly accepted answer of 12, we get to 16.

    Writing Tip: The verb is the word that indicates the time that the event is occurring. It may be happening in the present tense, past tense or future tense.


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