All 16 English Verb Tenses Explained (With Chart + Examples)

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All 16 English Verb Tenses Explained (With Chart + Examples)

Grammar can be a difficult part of mastering the English language, especially when it comes to learning verb tenses.

Read below for our chart of each English verb tense with examples.

Start by thinking of English verb tenses in 4 categories - past, present, future, and conditional.

Within those four categories, there are 4 subcategories - simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive.

Let’s look at each one individually.

How many English verb tenses are there?

It has traditionally been accepted that there are 12 tenses in English, though this is not an official consensus.

Various sources differ, claiming 3, 16 (e.g. British Council) or even 24 tenses in total.

It really just depends on categorisation preferences.

In this list, we’ve decided to list 16 of the most common English tenses.

English verb tenses

1. Present Simple

What it’s used for:

Statements of fact, things that happen repeatedly, things that are always true.

Formula:

[Subject] + [Verb] + “-s”

Examples:

Listen to audio

She goes to church.

Listen to audio

He makes lunch.

2. Present Continuous

What it’s used for:

Continued actions that are happening in the present moment.

Formula:

[Subject] + “am/is/are” + [Verb] + “-ing”

Examples:

Listen to audio

We are watching TV.

Listen to audio

She is brushing her hair.

3. Present Perfect

What it’s used for:

Actions still taking place or were completed in the recent past that have an influence on the present. The present perfect can also be used to describe a repeated action that happens periodically over a length of time.

Formula:

[Subject] + “have/has” + [Past Participle]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I have called the babysitter.

Listen to audio

He has asked for help.

4. Present Perfect Continuous

What it’s used for:

Continuing actions in the past that still have an effect on the present. The action may still be happening or has stopped recently.

Formula:

[Subject] + “has/have been” + [Verb] + “-ing”

Examples:

Listen to audio

I have been cooking all day.

Listen to audio

He has been waiting for a call.

5. Past Simple

What it’s used for:

Actions that were completed at a particular time in the past.

Formula:

[Subject] + [Past Verb]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I played basketball yesterday.

Listen to audio

They cleaned the house last weekend.

6. Past Continuous

What it’s used for:

Actions that were in progress in the past. The action went on for a period of time in the past, but is now finished.

Formula:

[Subject] + “was/were” + [Verb] + “-ing”

Examples:

Listen to audio

We were waiting this morning.

Listen to audio

She was walking the dog.

7. Past Perfect

What it’s used for:

Actions that took place before another action in the past.

Formula:

[Subject] + “had” + [Past Participle]

Examples:

Listen to audio

He had cleaned before we arrived.

Listen to audio

They had eaten before we left.

8. Past Perfect Continuous

What it’s used for:

Actions that were in progress before another action in the past.

Formula:

[Subject] + “had been” + [Verb] + “-ing”

Examples:

Listen to audio

I had been working hard before I got promoted.

Listen to audio

They had been looking for two hours before they found it.

9. Future Simple

What it’s used for:

Actions that will take place in the future.

Formula:

[Subject] + “will” + [Verb Base]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I will go tonight.

Listen to audio

They will buy a gift.

The future simple can also be used with “going to” instead of “will.”

Formula:

[Subject] + “am/is/are” + “going to” + [Verb Base]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I am going to eat lunch.

Listen to audio

She is going to read a new book.

10. Future Continuous

What it’s used for:

Actions that will be in progress at some point in the future.

Formula:

[Subject] + “will be” + [Present Participle] + [Object]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I will be moving in the summer.

Listen to audio

I will be working tonight.

The future continuous can also be used with “going to” instead of “will.”

Formula:

[Subject] + “am/is/are” + “going to be” + [Present Participle]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I am going to be reading all afternoon.

Listen to audio

We are going to be shopping tomorrow morning.

11. Future Perfect

What it’s used for:

Actions that will overlap with or finish before another action in the future.

Formula:

[Subject] + “will have” + [Past Participle] + [Object] + [Time Phrase]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I will have taken my exams by Friday.

Listen to audio

They will have opened the store by noon.

12. Future Perfect Continuous

What it’s used for:

Actions that will continue up to a particular point in the future.

Formula:

[Subject] + “will have been” + [Present Participle]

Examples:

Listen to audio

At noon, I will have been waiting for two hours.

Listen to audio

This summer, they will have been performing together for three years.

13. Conditional Simple

What it’s used for:

Hypothetical situations or situations that are contingent on something else.

Formula:

[Subject] + “would” + [Verb]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I would give it to him if I had it.

Listen to audio

She would live here if she got the job.

14. Conditional Continuous

What it’s used for:

Hypothetical situations or situations occurring over a period of time that are contingent on something else.

Formula:

[Subject] + “would be” + [Verb] + “-ing”

Examples:

Listen to audio

I would be playing if I wasn’t hurt.

Listen to audio

He would be sleeping if he wasn’t so excited.

15. Conditional Perfect

What it’s used for:

Hypothetical situations contingent on something else that would have occurred in the past.

Formula:

[Subject] + “would have” + [Past Participle]

Examples:

Listen to audio

I would have bought it if I had known the price.

Listen to audio

He would have passed the test if he had studied harder.

16. Conditional Perfect Continuous

What it’s used for:

Hypothetical continuous situations contingent on something else that would have happened in the past.

Formula:

[Subject] + “would have been” + [Verb] + “-ing”

Examples:

Listen to audio

I would have been eating dinner if I left work on time.

Listen to audio

They would have been flying to Spain if their flight hadn’t been delayed.

Conclusion

Understanding all English verb tenses can be overwhelming.

With a lot of practice (and a solid grammar reference), you can learn to identify and appropriately use these tenses.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
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