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Concourse 2

The Index of English Tenses

tenses and times

Here's the overview

(NB: Many sources and coursebooks use 'continuous' instead of 'progressive'.  On this site, the difference between the two terms is maintained.  This chart is quite basic.  Reality, as is often the case, is more complicated.)

Click on an area of the chart to go to guides to each area.

all tenses

The chart and the following table is available as a PDF document.

Look through the chart and try to make your own examples of each of the tense forms and then click for a quick matching test to see if you can remember the names.

What follows is not exhaustive but it covers the main uses of these tenses in English.

Tense Main uses Examples
Present simple Repeated or habitual actions I play tennis every Thursday
Generalisations Flamingos eat fish
Schedules The train arrives at 8
Present conditions (with some verbs only) representing continuous states I am here
He needs money
Present progressive Current actions He is writing a letter
Current (background) actions which may not be occurring now He is writing a book
He is studying French
Currently arranged future I'm seeing the doctor tomorrow
Past simple Finished past action or condition I ate at six
I lived in Brazil
I was happy
Repeated or habitual past action I always ate at six
Past progressive Interrupted past action I was eating when he rang
Progressive action at a particular time I was eating at 7
Discontinued habit I was walking to work in those days
Parallel past actions or events It was raining and the wind was blowing
I was eating while she was watching television
Present perfect Present effect of a past event, at an unspecified time I have spoken to him (so now he knows)
I have learnt French (so now I can speak it)
He has broken the pump (so now we can't use it)
To describe experiences relevant to the present I have been to America (so I can speak about it)
Present perfect progressive To emphasise duration of a long event or action and its current effect I've been waiting for hours (and am really cold)
Events which have continued until now and are still current (this is actually continuous, not progressive) She's been looking unwell for some time (and still is)
The present outcomes of progressive events He's been working too hard (so is now exhausted)
Past perfect Completed actions before others in the past I had already spoken to her before he asked
Completed long events before actions in the past It had rained for a week before the weather broke
Past perfect progressive (Un)completed long actions before events in the past I had been playing chess for two hours before he arrived
To show a causal relationship between events in the past He had been working too hard and was exhausted
Future simple or will future A present promise or offer
The verb will represents willingness, not necessarily futurity
I'll write soon, I'll do the washing up
There's no butter!  I'll go and get some.
Predictions based on experience or hunches This will be difficult
Certain absolute futures I will be 45 on Monday
Future progressive Potentially interrupted action He'll be working when you come
Progressive future event at a specific time I'll be working at 7
Future perfect Completed action before another He'll have finished the book by the time I want it
To show causal connections He'll have repaired the car and then we can use it
Events occurring before future actions (certain verbs only) I'll have been at the hotel for a day or two before I can call you
Future perfect progressive Future progressive actions or events before other actions I will have been working for over two hours before you get here
To show causal connections He'll have been travelling for ten hours and will be tired
going to To express current intention I'm not going to put up with it
To express prediction based on current evidence or experience Look at those clouds.  It's going to rain any minute
used to Past habits (generally only for actions) I used to drink lots of coffee
I used to take my holidays in Spain

Of course there's a test.  Try to do it without referring to the chart and table.

Related guides (you can also click on the table of tenses above to go to guides to the tense you want)
tense vs. aspect a guide to the essentials of the two concepts
a lesson for elementary learners on using past simple and past progressive
voice with a focus on the active and passive tense forms
copular verbs for a guide to how be and other verbs work to link the subject and complement
the present perfect for a guide to how have works to form the language's most troublesome and misunderstood tense
stative and dynamic uses of verbs to see what tenses are possible with certain types of verbs

In the in-service section of this site, you will find more complicated and much more detailed guides to particular ways of expressing time relationships in English.