Category Archives: Verb Tenses

Future Perfect

Use the future perfect tense to express an idea that something will end before another action in the future. Therefore, there are two future actions.

Future Perfect timeline

Future Perfect timeline

An action before another action (in the future)

  1. He will have finished writing the letter (Action 1) by the time his father gets home. (Action 2)
  2. We will have completed our work (Action 1) when you come. (Action 2)
  3. I will have gone home (Action 1) when you come to my office at 5:00 PM. (Action 2)

As you can see, there are two actions – Action (1) and Action (2).  The sentence in Example #1, for instance, indicates that when his father gets home, the letter is already complete.

You have to use “will have” followed by the past participle verb form for the first action, while the second action uses the simple present verb form.


Past Perfect

The past perfect tense expresses an action in the past that ended before another action in the past. In short, it is “the past in the past” action. 😛

Past Perfect timeline

Past Perfect timeline

One action happens before another in the past

You’re now at the bus station but the bus isn’t there anymore, so you ask the porter. He informs you that the bus is gone. He says:

  • The bus has just left when you arrived. – [The porter is saying it now.]

Later, you go home and tell this to your mom:

  • Mom, the porter said that the bus had just left when I arrived.

Use “had” followed by the past participle form of the verb when you write a sentence in the past perfect tense.

Present Perfect

When the present perfect is used, it indicates a completed action in the past before now. Duration and time expressions like “for two days”, “yesterday” and  “recently” are not important and not needed. What is important is that the action is done.

Present Perfect timeline

Present Perfect timeline

Completed actions in the past

  1. They have eaten. – [ So they are not hungry now.]
  2. I’ve peeled the oranges and (have) cut them for you. – [So it’s easier for you to eat it.]
  3. Sammy has returned the book to me. – [So I now have the book.]

Notice that there is an effect of the action. In Example #1 for instance, because “they have eaten”, the effect is “they are not hungry now”. The time they ate is not important. Use “has/have” followed by the past participle – not the simple past form – of the verb. That means, it is incorrect to say:

  1. I have ate.
  2. I ate already.

You may also add the word “already” to emphasize the action. Here are modifications to the examples above:

  1. They have already eaten
  2. I’ve already peeled the oranges and (have) cut them for you. 
  3. Sammy has already returned the book to me. 

Past Perfect Continuous

The past perfect continuous tense expresses two continuous actions in the past where one happens before the other (before now). Words that show duration like for, since and when are used. Look at the examples below:

Past Perfect Continuous timeline

Past Perfect Continuous timeline

One action before another in the past

  1. You had been working in that company for a decade (Action 1) before you left. (Action 2)
  2. When my husband came home, (Action 2) I had been cleaning the house the whole day. (Action 1)

In Example #1, you can clearly see two separate actions. Action (1) – working. Action (2) – you left
In Example #2, it’s the reverse. Action (1) – cleaning. Action (2) – exhausted

That means, the first / earlier action (Action 1) must contain the “had been and – ing forms. The second / later action (Action 2) contains verb in the simple past form.

Present Perfect Continuous

The present perfect continuous shows actions that occur in the past but continues up till now. In other words, there is a duration or a period of time. The words for, since and when are used to indicate duration.  Look at the examples given below:

Present Perfect Continuous timeline

Present Perfect Continuous timeline

Past actions till now

  1. He has been staring at that girl for 5 minutes.
  2. You’re late. We have been waiting since 10:00 AM.
  3. Lately, I’ve been eating takeaways (or takeouts) as my parents are away.

Take note that in the present perfect continuous tense, you have to use the phrase “has/have been” followed a verb with “-ing“. In addition, notice that the word lately is also used as well to show duration.

Future Continuous

The future continuous tense expresses two actions that are going to happen later, and there is an interruption. The interrupted action might continue later.

Future Continnuous timeline

Future Continnuous timeline

Interrupted actions in the future

You’re now in school. Ahmad tells you that he plans to visit you later in the evening and he asks if you are free at that time.  So, you can say:

  1. I will be mowing the lawn when you come, so I don’t think that’s a good idea. OR
  2. I’ll be watching “Mission Impossible” when you come. Perhaps we could it watch together.

In Example #1, the sentence means that when you come to my house, you’ll see me mowing the lawn, and I might continue mowing the lawn after seeing you. Take note that you have to use the phrase “will be” for this tense, and the verb that follows must have the “-ing” suffix. Notice that the word “when” is used in both sentences to indicate that an action is interrupted by another action in the future.

Past Continuous

The past continuous or past progressive tense is used to express actions that happen in the past and continue in the past till now.

Past Continuous timeline

Past Continuous timeline

(a) Interrupted actions

Two actions happen in the past. The first action is interrupted by the second. The word when and while are used to show interruption. Take note that the second action requires a verb in the past tense form.

  1. The kids were playing when their teacher called them in. – [Now, the kids are in class.]
  2. It started to rain while we were walking in the park. – [Now, we are not walking anymore.]

(b) Parallel actions

Simultaneous actions that happened in the past.

  1. The baby was crying while his mother was cooking in the kitchen.
  2. The man was slouching on the couch, (was) eating his chips and (was) watching television when I came.

Take note that in Example #2, the verb “was is omitted from eating and watching. This is because both these verbs have the same function in the sentence, and they refer to the same man. Observe:

  • The man was slouching on the couch while the woman was eating her chips and (was) watching television when I came.

See the difference? 🙂

Present Continuous

The present continuous tense is also known as the present progressive tense. Continuous actions always begin some time in the past and continues in the present and maybe in the future, too.

Present Continuous timeline

Present Continuous timeline

(a) Now, present, current on-going actions

  1. They are washing the car (now).
  2. I am driving (now), so I can’t talk over the phone.

(b) Longer continuous actions but not doing them at this moment

  1. I’m studying to be a doctor. 
  2. I’m reading another Harry Potter series. 
  3. He is learning to play the guitar.

In all the three examples above, the speaker could be talking to you in the park (for instance).  He is not studying, reading or learning at that time. Here, all three actions are part of a longer, continuous process.

(c) Future actions

Future actions can also be expressed in the present continuous:

  1. My sister is attending her graduation soon.
  2. Mom and dad are leaving for Malaysia in a month’s time.
  3. They are watching football with their friends tonight.

Simple Future

Future actions are expressed by using the future tense. There are two verbs commonly associated with this tense:

  • will
  • be going to

Is there a difference between the two? Yes, but the difference is not clearly defined.

Simple Future timeline

Simple Future timeline

(a) “will” is used to express promises or guarantees

  1. Don’t worry, I will be on time.
  2. You will receive a salary of $1,600 once you start work.

(b) “going to” is used to express plans

  1. They are going to have a picnic this weekend. – It’s just a plan; it might not happen.
  2. Our neighbour is going to paint her house next year.

(c) “will” and “going to” are used to make predictions

  1. I think it is going to rain in a while. or I think it will rain in a while.
  2. It is going to be a baby boy. or It will be a baby boy.

Simple Past

As the name implies, the simple past tense is used to express actions that happened in the past.

Simple Past timeline

Simple Past timeline

Past actions

  1. I was at the mall at 5:00PM. – [It’s 6:00PM now, and you’re somewhere else.]
  2. The children were so excited that they jumped when they saw the new bus.
  3. They were at the park when you called.

Words in red are verbs. However, unlike the simple present tense, the verb forms vary.

  • was, were: auxiliary or helping verbs; also known as verb “to be”
  • jumped, saw, called: action verbs

Most action verbs in the past tense form contain the “-ed” suffix. Verbs with “-ed” are called Regular Verbs. (e.g: jumped, called)

There are also many other verbs in the past tense form that do not have the “-ed” suffix. Instead their spellings change. These verbs are called Irregular Verbs. (e.g.: saw)