English Tenses with Examples
The first step in learning English tenses is to become familiar with some common sentences. By studying tenses with examples, you can begin to develop your sense of how English works.
These are the most common English tenses with examples sentences (follow each link for more examples):
- Present simple – I play soccer.
- Past simple – I played soccer.
- Present perfect – I’ve played soccer. (’ve = have)
- Present Progressive (or present continuous) – I’m playing soccer. (’m = am)
- Future simple – I’ll play soccer. (’ll = will)
Here are some that are less common:
- Conditional simple – I‘d play soccer. (’d = would)
- Past Progressive (or past continuous) – I was playing soccer.
- Past perfect – I’d played soccer. (’d = had)
- Conditional perfect – I’d have played soccer. (’d = would)
- Present perfect progressive (or present perfect continuous) – I’ve been playing soccer. (’ve = have)
Here are some that are rare, but sometimes used:
- Future Progressive (or future continuous) – I’ll be playing soccer. (’ll = will)
- Conditional Progressive (or conditional continuous) – I’d be playing soccer. (’d = would)
- Past perfect progressive (or past perfect continuous) – I’ve been playing soccer. (’ve = have)
- Future perfect – I’ll have played soccer. (’ll = will)
- Conditional perfect progressive (or conditional perfect continuous) – I’d have been playing soccer. (’d = would)
This pattern is possible, but very rarely used:
- Future perfect progressive (or future perfect continuous) – I’ll have been playing soccer. (’ll = will)
You’ll notice that these terms contain at least two of the following words. These words tell us the parts that are included.
Present: nothing added
Past: add an -ed ending or use past form
Future: add will
Conditional: add would (the past form of will)
Simple: nothing added
perfect: add have + -en/-ed ending (have includes has and had)
progressive: add be + -ing ending (be includes am, are, is, was, and were)
Why do I need to learn these tense patterns?
Learning these basic sentence patterns:
- Gets you familiar with sentences people often use, so they are easier for you to understand.
- Allows you to make some basic sentences to say simple things. You can make small changes to these patterns to say a wider range of things.
Do I need the technical terminology?
Teachers and grammar books often use this terminology. By using it they can clearly say which of the English tense structures they are talking about.
As a learner, you don’t need to know the terms, but you do need to know the sentence patterns. Many (probably most) native speakers don’t know these terms!
Some learners like to know the terms, others like to focus completely on the language and how it’s used. Either way is fine. It’s up to you.
Just be aware that the names may be misleading and are not completely accurate. For example, the present patterns can be used when talking about the future, and the future patterns can be used when talking about the present. However, the present patterns are more common for present, and the future patterns are more common for future. So, it can be confusing.
When you study tenses with examples, focus on the examples. You need the examples because you need sentences you can use.
But, the names may give you some basic guidelines. And many people use them.
These sentence patterns are in order based on frequency in the spoken section of the BNC (British National Corpus).
The first group of tense patterns are the most common, there is only one part added or changed (an -ed (past form used), have -en/-ed, be -ing, or will).
The second group are tense patterns that people use reasonably often, they include two of the parts mentioned above. For example, the conditional simple has will in the past form – would.
The third group have two or more of these parts, these sentences appear in the corpus, but not very often.
The last sentence pattern is possible, but does not appear in the corpus at all.
*The term “English tenses” is used here to refer to combinations of tense, aspect, and modality. This is different from a linguists definition of tense, but is common in English Language Teaching.