An overview of tenses

In English we have many ways to express aspects of time. These are demonstrated by the use of tenses.
The word tense = time reference relative to the time of speaking. It is extremely important when speaking or writing in English to express time relationships.

We have 2 main ways to express time.

1. Verb structure.

2. Time designation.

Example: I went home at 6pm. The verb(went) indicates the timeline(past, in this case), and the time indicates the 'actual time' the action happened.

We have verb structures which are used to express mainly: the past, present, and future. These are indicated by the word 'simple' to indicate the basic forms. All other tenses are more exact ways of expressing time related events.

We have continuous tenses which indicate actions happening over a long time, or at the time of speaking.


I am waiting for the bus(action happening now).

I am studying French(action happening over a long period of time, but not happening all the time/ is ongoing).

We have perfect tense which talk about how long something happens for, and how many times something happens.


I have been a teacher for 10 years. (from 10 years ago until now).

I have been to America.(action in the past, but time unknown).

I have been to America 3 times. (number of times).

We also have the passive tense which changes the focus of attention from the subject to the object of a sentence.

Bill Gates formed Microsoft. (He did the action. The focus is on him).

Microsoft was formed by Bill Gates. (The focus is now on Microsoft, not Bill Gates).

Another important point is that there are several tenses which can be interchanged in other languages, but not in English.

For example, he sleeps - he is sleeping, can be interchanged in many languages, but in English, the 2 sentences have very different meanings.

When constructing sentences, we can move between the past, present, or future in a single sentence.This is because sentences which contain 'verbs' ,contain 'clauses'

A clause = a subject and a verb. I go to school - is a clause because it has a subject 'I' and the verb 'go'.

So when we are talking we can use the past, present, and future in one sentence.


Imagine - Today is Tuesday. It is 10 am.

"This morning I went to the gym (before now/past), I am having
breakfast now (now/present), and this afternoon I will go
shopping" (after now/future).

As you can see there is only 1 sentence with 3 clauses in it. Each clause talks about a different time. Also notice that we use time indicators to combine with verbs.(this morning = went) now = having (this afternoon = will go).

For the purposes of this course we are going to limit the focus to basic verbs and their uses.

There will be more advanced courses coming in the future. We will begin our lessons on tenses in the next lesson with the Present Simple Tense.

Thank you.