Verb Tenses

English has twelve basic verb tenses: simple present, simple past, simple future, present progressive, past progressive, future progressive, present perfect, past perfect, future perfect, present perfect progressive, past perfect progressive, and future perfect progressive. Verb tenses in English can be challenging because only the simple present and simple past forms are marked by the verb alone. All other forms require auxiliary words to help them convey the correct time frame.


We’ll be splitting the twelve verb tenses into two lessons of six tenses each. This part will cover simple and progressive verb tenses. The second part will provide an overview of perfect and perfect progressive tenses.


Simple Tenses


Simple Present

Simple present verbs express actions that occur habitually or consistently. They indicate an event or situation that existed in the past, exists in the present, and will probably exist in the future.


Emily writes on the weekends.

Amy and John work almost every day.


Simple Past

A simple past tense verb expresses an action that began at one particular point in the past and also ended in the past. It says nothing about what is happening right now or what could happen in the future.


Emily wrote ten pages last Sunday.

Amy and John worked yesterday.


Simple Future

A simple future verb expresses an action that will happen at one particular point in the future. This is an action someone is planning on taking or an event someone expects to happen.


Emily will write this weekend.

Amy and John will work tomorrow.



Progressive Tenses


The progressive tenses are formed by combining “to be” verbs with present participles. They indicate that an action begins before, is in progress during, and continues after another action occurs.


Present Progressive

A present progressive verb is constructed of am/is/are + present participle. This verb tense expresses an action that began in the past, is currently in progress, and will probably continue into the future. Whereas a simple present tense verb can only tell us that some type of action happens routinely, a present progressive verb tells us that a specific action is currently taking place.


Emily is writing right now.

The present progressive “is writing” informs us that Emily is performing the action of writing even as I am writing this!


Amy and John are working today.

“Are working” lets us know that Amy and John are presently performing some sort of task at their workplace


Past Progressive

Similar to a present progressive verb, you create a past progressive tense verb by combing was/were + present participle. A past progressive action began in the past, was in progress when another past event occurred, and continued after the second past event.


Emily was writing when Mary visited her.

“Writing” was what Emily was in the process of doing when Mary decided to pay her a visit.


Amy and John were working when the storm hit.

Amy and John were at work when a storm passed over their workplace.


Future Progressive

Future Progressive verbs can take two different forms: will be + present participle and am/is/are + going to be + present participle. Both variations of future progressive imply that a future action will already be in progress when another event or situation occurs. The progressive action will probably continue after the second event.


Emily will be writing when I visit her.

I expect Emily to be in the process of writing when I see her next. I also expect Emily to continue to write once I have arrived.


Amy and John are going to be working when the game starts.

This example implies that Amy and John may miss part or all of the game as a result of having to work.

Read Part 2 of our verb tenses lesson