How to Use Tenses in English Grammar

QUESTION: How many verb tenses are there in English?

Take some time to think about it and then look below...

We think of Time in terms of three different ‘Places’ – Past, Present, and Future. We also change the form of the verbs we use, based on which of these places in time we are talking about. In simple terms, you started reading this in the Past; you are reading this right now, in the Present; and you will be finished reading it in the Future. Unfortunately, English tenses are not that easy.

For example, the Present is right now, but you can stretch out the Present when you use different verb forms, which is why it can also mean any time today, this week, this month, or even longer. 

Everything before right now is the Past, but sometimes the Past tenses are used to speak about things relevant to right now, and even things that are continuing in the Present. For example, even though you started reading this a few minutes ago, you are still reading it now.

Everything after now is the Future, but it doesn’t have to be tomorrow or next year. You can use the Future tense to talk about things you are just about to do! You might have heard someone say, ‘I’ll help you tidy up,’ when they intend to help you immediately.  Equally, they could promise to help you tidy up.... but at some point in the distant future.

So if you are facing a mess, and someone promises to help you tidy up, the first question you should ask is ..."Yes, but when?"


I’m sure you can see why English learners can get confused. You could spend hours and hours learning hundreds of examples, or you could learn some little tricks to help you realise what’s going on with tenses. Just like our friends in the messy kitchen, we at EnglishLogica want to help you tidy things up…in your brain.

Imagine yourself telling someone else about the time you spent reading this. Most of the conversations we have are stories about things that happen to us or others, and we use tenses all the time. Knowing how to use tenses, however, is not just about when things happen. It’s also about when the story is being told, and sometimes what’s happening all around us. This is why Past, Present and Future are broken down into so many different verb forms.

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