What Are the English Verb Tenses?

If you're wondering just what are English verb tenses, we've got the lowdown on the various classifications. Verbs come in three main tenses - past, present, and future - each with further classifications, totalling 12 classifications in all. That may seem like a lot, but understanding the different tenses is important, whether you're learning English for the first time or are an advanced student.

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What Are the Different Verb Tenses?

The downloadable PDF chart below lists all 12 verb tenses along with three examples of each classification. Before we dive in, let's conduct a quick review of the different aspects of the verbs:

  1. Simple Present - These verbs refer to single actions or events in the present.
    Example: He dances like a pro.
  2. Present Progressive - Progressive tenses are also known as continuous tenses. This tense indicates continuing action going on now.
    Example: We are driving to Santa Fe.
  3. Simple Present Perfect - These verbs join the present and the past, relying heavily on the verb "to have."
    Example: She has loved him all her life.
  4. Present Perfect Progressive - These verbs indicate something that started in the past, and is still happening or is ongoing.
    Example: He has been walking to work for years.
  5. Simple Past - These verbs refer to actions or events in the past. For more on that, check out this Past Tense Verb Chart!
    Example: I accepted the job offer.
  6. Past Progressive - This tense indicates something that was happening in the past in a continuous manner. You can spot it through its use of "to be" verbs (e.g., am, is, are, was, were).
    Example: I was writing all day yesterday.
  7. Past Perfect Progressive - This tense indicates a continuous action that was completed at some point in the past.
    Example: She had been writing all morning.
  8. Simple Past Perfect - This tense is used to show that one action happened before another action in the past.
    Example: She had emailed him long before yesterday's event.
  9. Simple Future - These verbs refer to actions or events in the future, relying heavily on the helping verb "will."
    Example: She will travel to Mexico tomorrow.
  10. Future Progressive - This tense expresses an ongoing action that will take place sometime in the future. It uses "will be" in its construction.
    Example: He will be packing by then.
  11. Future Perfect - This tense is used to indicate a future event that has a definitive end date. It uses a "will + have + -ed verb" construction.
    Example: David will have slept by then.
  12. Future Perfect Progressive - This tense is used to express an ongoing action or event that will be completed at a specific time in the future. It uses "will have been" in its construction.
    Example: By this time next year, we will have been married for eight months.

    english verb tenses chart

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Conditional Sentences

Conditional sentences are sometimes referred to as verb tenses. However, they're not true tense forms. Rather, they utilize different verb tenses to create "if… then" type sentences. There are four types of conditionals:

  1. Type 0 Conditionals: These sentences use the simple present tense. That is, one thing always causes another thing to happen.
    Example: If you play that song, he cries.
  2. Type 1 Conditionals: In these sentences, the condition is written in the simple present tense. The outcome is written in the simple future tense. So, this conditional dictates that it's not only possible, but also very likely that one condition will lead to another.
    Example: I will answer if he calls me.
  3. Type 2 Conditionals: These sentences use the simple past tense. They state that it is very unlikely that a condition will be fulfilled.
    Example: I would answer if he called.
  4. Type 3 Conditionals: These conditionals use the past perfect tense. They deal with impossible conditions (because they're in the past and didn't happen the way the condition stated).
    Example: I would have answered if he had called.

Perfect Your Knowledge

There's no doubt that the intricate English verb tenses are complex. But, they all serve a very distinct purpose and allow us to express our thoughts clearly, particularly as they relate to the passage of time.

As you perfect your knowledge, consider another area of study: strong verbs and weak verbs. The labels seem to carry a certain connotation, but what they're really describing are the ways in which the past tense is formed. For more on this interesting topic, take a look at Strong Verbs and Weak Verbs: What's the Difference?

What Are the English Verb Tenses?