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Concourse 2

The Index of English Tenses

tenses and times

A map of the tense system in English

(NB: Many sources and coursebooks use 'continuous' instead of 'progressive'.  On this site, the difference between the two terms is maintained but the term progressive is used here for simplicity's sake.  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 form.

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.
The fourth column contains examples of the tenses used in the passive.  An essential guide to the passive and a more complex and detailed one are available from the list of links at the end.
The fifth column contains examples of typical time words associated with the tenses.  It is not the time words which determine the tense use, it is the concept of the tense which determines appropriate time expressions.

Tense Main uses Examples Passive forms Time adverbials
Present simple Repeated or habitual events I play tennis every Thursday The work is done here every day
scarcely ever
Generalisations Flamingos eat fish Bears are seen in these hills
Schedules The train arrives at 8 The class is timetabled to start at 9
Present conditions (with some verbs only) representing continuous states I am here
He needs money
She enjoys opera
More resources are needed
Present progressive Current events He is writing a letter A meeting is being held today
these days
this week
next Thursday
Current (background) events which may not be occurring now He is writing a book
He is studying French
The house is being decorated
Currently arranged future I'm seeing the doctor tomorrow Tomorrow's meeting is being held in Room 6
Past simple Finished past action or condition I ate at six
I lived in Brazil
I was happy
Lunch was eaten at 6 yesterday
last week
for years
at two
last month
that summer
at three
in those days
up to then
Repeated or habitual past action I always ate at six All our holidays were taken there
Past progressive Interrupted past action I was eating when he rang I was being told about it when she interrupted
Progressive action at a particular time I was eating at 7 The car was being serviced then
Discontinued or temporary past habit I was walking to work in those days Calls were being handled by real people then
Parallel past events or events It was raining and the wind was blowing hard
I was eating while she was watching television
Trees were being uprooted and the roads were being flooded
Present perfect A past embedded in the present which changes it 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)
The pump has been broken recently
this morning
To describe past experiences which change the present I have been to America (so I can speak about it) It has been explained to me
Present perfect progressive To emphasise the duration of a long event embedded in the present which changes it I've been waiting for hours (and am really cold) The road has been being repaired for years
since 1990
all my life
this month
Events embedded in the present which change it and are still current (this is actually continuous, not progressive) She's been looking unwell for some time (and still is) She has been being treated for it for weeks
A series of repeated past events embedded in the present which change it He's been stealing money from his employer Money has been being stolen from his employer
Past perfect Completed events before others embedded in the past which explain it I had already spoken to her before he asked The tables had been laid before the guests arrived already
when ...
Completed long events before others embedded in the past which explain it It had rained for a week and the garden was muddy The garden had been soaked by the rain
Past perfect progressive (Un)completed long events before events in the past.  A previous event is embedded in a past event I had been playing chess for two hours before he arrived The game had been being played
To show a past result of a previous event.  The previous event is embedded in the past event He had been working too hard and was exhausted The work had been being badly done so ...
To show a repeated event embedded in a past event People had been forgetting to come so he sent a reminder Meetings had been being forgotten so ...
Future simple or will future A present promise or offer
The verb will represents willingness, not futurity
I'll write soon, I'll do the washing up
There's no butter!  I'll go and get some.
That'll be done, I promise soon
at 2 o'clock
in two days
on Friday
in 2030
after a while
Predictions based on experience or hunches This will be difficult The work won't please her
Certain absolute futures I will be 45 on Monday The clocks will be put forward
Future progressive Potentially interrupted action He'll be working when you come The game will be being brought to an end when you arrive
Progressive future event happening as a matter of course at a specific time I'll be working at 7 Your statements will be being taken
Future perfect Completed event occurring before another and embedded within it which affects the second He'll have finished the book by the time I want it The book will have been written before the show by then
by Thursday
by the time ...
before ...
To show causal connections between future events He'll have repaired the car and then we can use it The car will have been repaired
States occurring before future events (certain verbs only) which change the second event I'll have been at the hotel for a day or two before I can call you The manager will have been asked the question many times
Future perfect progressive Future progressive events embedded in later events which alter them I will have been working for over two hours before you get here The house will have been being decorated
To show causal connections between long events and states He'll have been travelling for ten hours and will be tired The car will have been being driven too fast and ...
To show a repeated previous event embedded in a future event I'll have been trying to call him for two hours by then
going to To express current intention I'm not going to put up with it That is going to be done by me tomorrow
before 6
To express prediction based on current evidence or experience Look at those clouds.  It's going to rain any minute The party is going to be spoilt by the rain
used to Past habits (generally only for events) I used to drink lots of coffee
I used to take my holidays in Spain
This used to be done here then
in those days
at that time

The passive structures in brown are disputed.  Some aver that perfect progressive forms do not allow the passive but these forms are available if rarely used.
The passive form of a scheduled event using the simple present is rare.

Of course there's another 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)
tenses index this is an index of the guides to various tense forms and aspects on this site
time lines for tenses this is a set of time lines which will help you and your learners understand the concepts which the tense forms encode
Understanding English Tenses this is a guide for learners which covers most of the forms exemplified here (new tab)
tense vs. aspect a guide to the essentials of the two concepts
voice: active and passive an essential guide only
the passive a more detailed and more complex guide
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 verb uses

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