English - Tense

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In grammar, tense is a category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.

Tense is the grammaticalisation of time reference, often using three basic categories of:

  • “before now”, i.e. the past;
  • “now”, i.e. the present;
  • and “after now”, i.e. the future.

Verbs designate tense, the time when an action or state of being/condition takes place. All verbs have the characteristic of tense or the time when an action or state of being occurs.

Tense is one of the functions of a verb. Everything that happens (actions or conditions or states), happens:

  • in present time,
  • in past time,
  • or in future time.

A verb indicates the time of an action, a condition, or a state by changing its form. So, when you write and want to show when something occurs, the place to start is with the verb form you use.


English has twelve active verb forms.

Simple Tense
Present Simple Past Simple Future Simple
Use An action or event that occurs regularly or repeatedly. An action that ended at a specific point in the past. An action that will occur after now.
Formation Base form of the verb / base form + s Add –ed Will + base form of the verb
Example laugh/laughs laughed will laugh
Progressive Tense
Use An action that is happening now. An action was happening (past progressive) when another action happened (simple past). An action that will be happening over time, in the future, when something else happens.
Formation Form of be + present participle Was or were + present participle Will + be + present participle
Example am / is / are laughing was / were laughing will be laughing
Perfect Tense
Use An action that happened at an unspecified time in the past. An action that ended before another action or time in the past. An action that will end before another action or time in the future.
Formation have or has + past participle Had + past participle Will + have + past participle
Example has / have laughed had laughed will have laughed
Perfect Progressive Tense
Use An action occurring over time that started in the past and continues into the present. An action that happened over time, in the past, before another time or                 action in the past. An action occurring over time, in the future, before another action or time in the future.
Formation have + been + present participle Had + been + present participle Will + have + been + present participle
Example has / have been laughing had been laughing will have been laughing

Helping verbs are used to write the:

  • perfect,
  • progressive,
  • and perfect progressive verb tenses.

Documentation / Reference

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