A definitive guide to the 8 most used English tenses

Learn and review the eight most frequently used English language tenses. Understand when to use each tense with examples. Reinforce with practice exercises.

Sherzod Gafar
December 21, 2022
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7 MIN
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A definitive guide to the 8 most used English tenses

There are 12 tenses in the English language, but we use 8 of them 90% more than others. Mastering these tenses is all you need to speak and understand English comfortably in daily life and business. In this detailed guide, you can review theses tenses, study the examples, and do practice exercises.

The top 8 English language tenses include:

  1. The Present Continuous Tense
  2. The Simple Present Tense
  3. The Simple Past Tense
  4. The Simple Future Tense
  5. The Present Perfect Tense
  6. The Past Continuous Tense
  7. The Future Continuous Tense
  8. The Present Perfect Continuous Tense

#1. The Present Continuous Tense

We use the present continuous tense to describe actions or events happening right now, at the moment of speaking or writing. We also use it to talk about actions or events planned for the near future.

To form the present continuous tense, you use the present tense of the auxiliary verb "to be" (am, is, are) + the present participle of the main verb. The present participle is formed by adding "-ing" to the base form of the verb.

For example:

  • I am eating lunch right now. (action happening at the moment of speaking)
  • She is studying for her exams. (action happening at the moment of speaking)
  • We are going to the movies tonight. (planned action for the near future)
  • They are playing soccer in the park. (action happening at the moment of speaking)

It's important to note that the present continuous tense is not used to describe general truths or permanent states. For these types of actions or events, we use the simple present tense.

For example:

  • Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. (general truth, not a specific action happening at the moment of speaking)
  • She lives in New York. (permanent state, not a specific action happening at the moment of speaking)

Most Common Mistakes in Using The Present Continuous Tense

Mistake 1: Using it for Permanent States

  • Incorrect: She is being tall.
  • Correct: She is tall.

Mistake 2: Forgetting the Auxiliary Verb To Be

  • Incorrect: She eating lunch.
  • Correct: She is eating lunch.

#2. The Simple Present Tense

we use the simple present tense to describe actions or events happening regularly, habitually, or currently true. It can also be used to describe a general truth or a permanent state.

To form the simple present tense, you use the base form of the verb. The base form is the infinitive form of the verb without "to" (e.g., "eat," "run," "speak," "be").

For example:

  • I eat breakfast every morning. (regular action)
  • She speaks Spanish fluently. (permanent state)
  • The sun rises in the east. (general truth)
  • They go to school every day. (habitual action)

It's important to note that the simple present tense is not used to describe actions or events happening at the moment of speaking or writing. We use the present continuous tense for these types of actions or events.

For example:

  • I am eating lunch right now. (action happening at the moment of speaking, not a regular or habitual action)
  • She is studying for her exams. (action happening at the moment of speaking, not a permanent state)

Common Mistakes in Using The Simple Present Tense

Mistake 1: Using it for Ongoing Actions

  • Incorrect: She reads a book now.
  • Correct: She is reading a book now.

Mistake 2: Incorrect Verb Forms with He/She/It

  • Incorrect: He eat lunch.
  • Correct: He eats lunch.

#3. The Simple Past Tense

We use the simple past tense to describe actions that happened or were completed in the past. It is often used to describe events that happened at a specific time in the past, or to describe habits or routines that occurred regularly in the past.

To form the simple past tense, we typically add "-ed" to regular verbs or use the second form of irregular verbs. For example:

Regular verbs:

  • walk + ed = walked
  • talk + ed = talked

Irregular verbs:

  • go + second form = went
  • have + second form = had

Here are some examples of the simple past tense in action:

  • I walked to the store. (specific time in the past)
  • She talked on the phone for an hour. (specific time in the past)
  • We went to the beach yesterday. (specific time in the past)
  • He had a sandwich for lunch. (specific time in the past)
  • I used to play basketball every Saturday. (habit or routine in the past)

The simple past tense is used to describe actions that were completed in the past and are not continuing into the present. If you want to describe an action that started in the past and is continuing into the present, you would use the present perfect tense. For example:

  • I have been walking to that store every day. (action started in the past and is continuing into the present. i.e. you keep going to that store every day)

Common Mistakes in Using The Simple Past Tense

Mistake 1: Using Incorrect Verb Form with Negation

  • Incorrect: I didn't went there.
  • Correct: I didn't go there.

Mistake 2: Using Past Continuous Instead

  • Incorrect: I was went there.
  • Correct: I went there.

#4. The Simple Future Tense

The simple future tense is a verb tense used to describe an action that will take place in the future. It is often used to express plans or intentions.

To form the simple future tense in English, we use the auxiliary verb "will" followed by the base form of the main verb.

‍For example:

  • I will go to the store."(I plan to go to the store.)
  • She will finish the project on time. (She intends to finish the project on time.)
  • We will see the movie tomorrow. (We have planned to see the movie tomorrow.)

In some cases, the simple future tense can also be formed using the auxiliary verb "be going to" followed by the base form of the main verb. This is used to express a stronger intention or plan.

‍For example:

  • "I am going to visit my grandparents next weekend." (I have a strong plan to visit my grandparents next weekend.)
  • "She is going to start a new job next month." (She has a definite plan to start a new job next month.)

Common Mistakes in Using The Simple Future Tense

Mistake 1: Using "Will" for Planned Actions

  • Incorrect: I will going to the store.
  • Correct: I am going to the store.

Mistake 2: Using Double Modals

  • Incorrect: I will can do it.
  • Correct: I will be able to do it.

#5. The Present Perfect Tense

The present perfect tense is a verb tense used to describe actions or events that began in the past and continue up to the present moment. It is used to describe the duration of an action or event and is often used to describe past events with some present connection or relevance.

To form the present perfect tense in English, we use the auxiliary verb "have" or "has" followed by the past participle of the main verb. The past participle is usually formed by adding -ed to regular verbs, but there are many irregular verbs that have different past participles.

Examples:

  • I have finished my homework. (I started my homework in the past and have now completed it.)
  • She has worked at the company for five years. (She started working at the company in the past and continues to work there now.)
  • We have lived in this city for ten years. (We started living in this city in the past and continue to live here now.)

The present perfect tense is often used with time expressions such as "for," "since," and "already."

Examples:

  • I have been waiting for the bus for 20 minutes. (I started waiting for the bus in the past and continue to wait now.)
  • She has been studying French since she was a child. (She started studying French in the past and continues to study it now.)
  • We have already eaten dinner. (We started eating dinner in the past and have now finished it.)

It's important to note that the present perfect tense is not used to describe specific past events. For that, we use the simple past tense.

Examples:

  • "I finished my homework at 5pm." (This is a specific past event and is not ongoing.)
  • "She worked at the company from 2015 to 2020." (This is a specific past event and is not ongoing.)
  • "We lived in this city from 2012 to 2017." (This is a specific past event and is not ongoing.)

Common Mistakes in Using The Present Perfect Tense

Mistake 1: Using Simple Past for Ongoing Actions

  • Incorrect: I lived here since 2010.
  • Correct: I have lived here since 2010.

Mistake 2: Incorrect Participle Form

  • Incorrect: I have went there.
  • Correct: I have gone there.

#6. The Past Continuous Tense

The past continuous tense is used to describe actions or events that were ongoing at a specific moment in the past. It often sets the scene, providing a backdrop for other actions that happened simultaneously or interrupted the ongoing action.

To form the past continuous tense, you use the past tense of the auxiliary verb "to be" (was, were) + the present participle of the main verb (formed by adding "-ing" to the base form of the verb).

For example:

  • I was reading a book when she called. (ongoing action interrupted)
  • They were playing video games all afternoon. (ongoing action at a specific time)

It's crucial to note that the past continuous tense is not used for actions that were completed; for that, we use the simple past tense.

Common Mistakes in Using The Past Continuous Tense

Mistake 1: Incorrect Auxiliary Verb To Be

  • Incorrect: I were reading.
  • Correct: I was reading.

Mistake 2: Using it for Completed Actions

  • Incorrect: I was read the book.
  • Correct: I read the book.

#7. The Present Perfect Continuous Tense

The present perfect continuous tense is used to describe actions or events that started in the past and have continued up to the present or were happening recently. It emphasizes the duration or ongoing nature of the action.

To form this tense, you use the present perfect tense of the auxiliary verb "to have" (have, has) + been + the present participle of the main verb.

For example:‍

  • I have been reading for two hours. (action started in the past and continues to the present)
  • She has been working at the company since 2018. (ongoing action from the past to the present)

This tense is often used with time expressions like "for," "since," and "lately."

Common Mistakes in Using The Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Mistake 1: Incorrect Time Expressions

  • Incorrect: I have been reading since two hours.
  • Correct: I have been reading for two hours.

Mistake 2: Using Simple Present Instead

  • Incorrect: I am reading since morning.
  • Correct: I have been reading since morning.

#8. The Future Continuous Tense

The future continuous tense is used to describe actions or events that will be ongoing at a specific moment in the future. It often indicates planned events or actions that will happen over a period.

To form the future continuous tense, you use the auxiliary verbs "will be" + the present participle of the main verb.

For example:

  • I will be attending the conference next week. (planned future action)
  • They will be playing soccer at 5 PM tomorrow. (action ongoing at a specific future time)

Like the other continuous tenses, the future continuous is not used for actions that are completed; it focuses on ongoing or unfinished actions in the future.

Common Mistakes in Using The Future Continuous Tense

Mistake 1: Incorrect or Missing Auxiliary Verb To Be

  • Incorrect: I will reading.
  • Correct: I will be reading.

Mistake 2: Using it for Definite Future Actions

  • Incorrect: I will be read the book tomorrow.
  • Correct: I will read the book tomorrow.

Conclusion

I hope this deep dive into the most-used English tenses helped you improve your grasp of most common English tenses! Whether you're chatting with friends, acing that job interview, or just trying to sound like a pro, getting these tenses down is your ticket to effective English communication. And hey, If you liked this article, you might also like our list of 21 best tools, resources and sites to improve your English grammar.

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