Guide To Mastering Tenses In English Grammar

According to the Oxford Dictionary, tense is defined as ‘any of the verb forms used to indicate the time of an action or state expressed by the verb.’ For example, it should be expressed in the past tense when referring to something that occurred in the past tense. Similarly, if something is scheduled to happen, it should be conveyed using the future tense.

Why Are Tenses Important?

The use of the correct tenses brings clarity to communication. Imagine intending to convey that something happened in the past but using the wrong tense, which gives the listener the impression that it’s an event slated for the future. The entire communication could become confusing.

Before delving into the types of tenses in English grammar and their general rules, it’s important to remember that you need not be too intimidated by them. Many proficient English speakers use tenses correctly without necessarily knowing their specific subcategories. Therefore, in addition to understanding the rules, reading extensively is crucial to developing an instinct for the correct language usage.

At Pragyanam, one of the best CBSE schools in Gurgaon, we focus on teaching language usage correctly without turning it into a mechanical exercise that diminishes the joy of learning.

Now, let’s explore the 12 types of tenses in English grammar with examples and formulas:

Types of Tenses in English Grammar/ Tense Definition and Examples

There are three broad types of tenses. These include:

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

As their names suggest, they indicate the time of occurrence of an event in the past, present, or future.

Each of these tenses in English Grammar, in turn, can further be categorized into four types:

  • Simple Tense
  • Continuous Tense
  • Perfect Tense
  • Perfect Continuous Tense

Past Tense

As its name suggests, the past tense is used to describe a past activity or action. It is a form of the verb that defines the events that have already occurred. An example of this form is:- Rita attended her classes.

Simple Past Tense Rules

Indefinite Past tense describes the activity that has happened in the past. For example, Suhaani ate her food.

The rule to be followed in this case is as follows:

Subject + V2 + Object

Example: Suhaani ate her food. (Here, “Suhaani” is the subject, the verb ‘ate’ is in the past form of ‘eat,’ and ‘food’ is the object.)

Past Continuous Tense Rules

This refers to an activity that was going on in the past. For example- He was driving a car.

The rule to be followed here is:

Subject + was + V1 + ing + Object

Example: He was driving a car. (Here, the subject is ‘He,’ the verb+ing is ‘driving,’ and the object is ‘car.’)

Past Perfect Tense Rules

Past Perfect tense explains the activity that happened in the past and was told in the past. For example- The boy had driven a car.

The rule to be followed here is:

Subject + had + V3 + Object

Example:

He had driven a car. (Here, the subject is ‘he,’ ‘had’ is the past form of ‘have,’ ‘driven’ is the past participle form of the primary verb ‘drive,’ and the object is ‘car.’)

Past Perfect Continuous Tense Rules

The past perfect continuous tense clarifies that the activity occurred in the past and was ongoing. For example, ‘The boy had been driving the car since morning.

The rule, therefore, is:

Subject + had been + V1 + ing + Object

Examples:

The boy had been driving the car since morning (Here the subject is “The boy,” which is followed by “had been”, followed by the verb+ing, in this case, “driving,” followed by the object, “car”)

Present

The present tense is the most used tense since it describes current activity.

Simple Present Tense Rules

Present simple tense can be explained as what happens now. For example- He drives a car.

The rule to be followed in this case includes:

Subject (Third Person Singular Number) + V1 + s/es + Object
Subject (First and Second Person singular+ Any Plural)+ V1 + Object

Example:

He drives a car. (Here, ‘he’ is the subject, ‘drives’ is the verb, and the object is ‘car.’ The verb ‘drives’ has ‘s’ added to it as the subject is a Third Person Singular).

Present Continuous Tense Rules

Present continuous tense specifies the activity that is going on in the present. For example- He is driving a car

The rule in this case is:

Subject + is/am/are + V1 + ing + object

Example:

I am eating fruits. (Here, the subject is “I,” which is followed by am, followed by the verb+ing, in this case eating, followed by the object, fruits)

Present Perfect Tense Rules

Present perfect tense shows the activity has already happened in the moment. For example- He has driven a car

The rule here is:

Subject + has + V3 + Object (Singular)
Subject + have + V3 + Object (Plural)

Example:

He has just finished his homework. (Here, the subject is ‘he,” followed by has, followed by the verb “finished”, followed by the object.)

Present Perfect Continuous Tense Rules

Present perfect continuous tense denotes that the activity has been going on for some time. For example- He has been driving a car.

The rule here is:

Subject + has been + V1 + ing + Object (Singular)
Subject + have been + V1 + ing + Object (Plural)

Example:

I have been working regularly since Monday. (Here, the subject is “I,” followed by have been, followed by the verb+ing, in this case, “working,” followed by the object)

Future

The future tense conveys an event that will happen or is expected to happen.

Simple Future Tense Rules

Simple future tense is the type of tense that explains that the activity is going to happen in the future. For example- The boy will drive a car.

The rule in this case is:

Subject + will/shall + V1 + Object

Example:

I will go to the office tomorrow. (Here, the subject is “I,” followed by will, followed by the verb “go”, followed by the object.)

Future Continuous Tense Rules

Future continuous tense explains the activity that will happen in the future but in continuity. For example- The boy will be driving a car.

The rule here is:

Subject + will be/shall be + ing + V1 + Object

Example:

He will be eating his food. (Here, the subject is “he,” followed by “will be,” followed by the verb, in this case, “eating,” followed by the object.)

Future Perfect Tense Rules

Future perfect tense explains that the activity will be completed in the future. For example- The boy will have driven the car.

The rule here is:

Subject + will have/shall have + V3 + Object

Example:

I will have started working by that time. (Here, the subject is “I,” followed by “will have,” followed by the verb “working”)

Future Perfect Continuous Tense Rules

This describes actions that will continue up until a point in the future. The rule here is:
Subject + will have been + V1 + ing + Object

Example:

I will have been working at my company for three years in December. (Here, the subject is “I,” followed by will have been, followed by verb+ing, in this case, working.)

Here are some handy tips to understand these verbs:

1. Go step by step

Do not let the sheer number of types and subtypes confuse you. Go step by step, starting with the past tense, and then master them individually.

2. Use them in sentences

Try using each of these types in your daily conversations. Soon, you will have learned their nuances. In the beginning, don’t worry about making mistakes. Remember, failure is just a stepping stone to success.

3. Read

As mentioned earlier, reading is one of the best ways to observe these tenses in action. You will come to appreciate the various forms used by different authors.

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