What are the different verb tenses?
Much like the specters Scrooge faced in A Christmas Carol, writers face 3 different verb tenses when constructing sentences:
Past, Present, Future
Just like the Ghost of Christmas Past, a past tense verb refers to something that has already happened.
The most commonly used verb tense is present, which talks about what’s going on right at this very moment.
And the final, future tense tells us what might or will happen in the future.
- I ran to the grocery store yesterday.
- I ate all of the blackberries.
- I sat quietly in church.
- I run to the grocery store as soon as I leave work.
- I eat all of the Twinkies before my family finds them.
- I sit calmly at the police station.
- I will or shall run to the grocery store when I’m done here.
- I will eat better next year.
- I shall sit in rapt attention when he lectures.
How it works
Most verbs change tense by adding an “s” for present (she laughs), and “ed” for past (she laughed), and a “will” or “shall” plus your verb for future (she will laugh).
And some verbs change completely depending on the tense used. For example:
Past: She went to see the ballet last night.
Present: She goes to see the ballet.
Future: She *will be going *to the ballet later this week.
Here’s where things get dicey
There are three additional ways to talk about past, present, and future tense verbs: Continuous, Perfect, and Perfect Continuous. Sometimes referred to as aspects rather than tenses, these tell us about an action that happens once or repeatedly and if it’s completed or still continuing.
Also called progressive tenses, these verbs tell us about an action that continues for a period of time. They use the help of an auxiliary verb “to be” and the present participle (verb + ing).
Past: It was raining when she went to get the mail.
Present: It is raining in Portland right now.
Future: It will be raining when we go to the pub tonight.
Perfect tenses tell us about an action that has been completed in the present or past or will be completed by a particular point in the future. You form them by adding the auxiliary verb “to have” and the past participle (verb + ed).
Past: It had rained for days by the time she found her umbrella.
Present: It *has rained *off and on for three days straight.
Future: It will have rained for a week solid by Friday.
And then there’s the Perfect Continuous verbs that tell us how long something has continued up to now. These verbs combine the features of both the perfect and the continuous tenses.
Past: It had been raining for days.
Present: It has been raining all week.
Future: It will have been raining for 5 days by Friday.
A cheat sheet to make it easier
Following is a nifty cheat sheet from Perfect English Grammar that shows you how to form each aspect of past, present, and future tenses. Plus it shows you how to form the negative and how to form it into a question. Great stuff to keep at your fingertips when writing your next novel or blog post.
Love grammar? Check out our Grammar Rules blog or some of our most popular grammar posts:
- What are Word Classes?
- Infographic: What are Homophones, Homographs, and Homonyms?
- When Do I Need to Hyphenate?
- What are the Different Types of Verbs?
- What are simple, compound, and complex sentences?
- What is a Clause?