Visual Explanations of Each English Tense

01
of 19

Present Simple

Structure and Usage.

The present simple is used to express daily routines and habits. Adverbs of frequency such as 'usually', 'sometimes', 'rarely', etc. are often used with the present simple.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

always, usually, sometimes, etc.
... every day
... on Sundays, Tuesdays, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + Present Tense + object(s) + time Expression

Frank usually takes a bus to work.

Negative

Subject + do / does + not (don't / doesn't) + verb + object(s) + time Expression

They don't often go to Chicago.

Question

(Question Word) + do / does + subject + verb + object(s) + time Expression

How often do you play golf?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the present simple.

02
of 19

Present Continuous for Action at the Moment

Structure and Usage.

One use of the present continuous tense is for action that is occurring at the moment of speaking. Remember that only action verbs can take the continuous form.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... at the moment
... now
... today
... this morning / afternoon / evening

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

She's watching TV now.

Negative

Subject + be + not (isn't, aren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

They aren't having fun this morning.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

What are you doing?

03
of 19

Present Continuous for Current Projects

Structure and Usage.

Use the present continuous to describe projects and actions that are happening around the present moment in time. Remember that these projects have begun in the recent past and will end in the near future. This usage is popular for talking about current projects at work or hobbies.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... at the moment
... now
... this week / month

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

We're working on the Smith account this month.

Negative

Subject + be + not (isn't, aren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

He isn't studying French this semester.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Which account are you working on this week?

04
of 19

Present Continuous for Scheduled Events

Structure and Usage.

One use of the present continuous tense is for scheduled future events. This usage is especially useful when talking about appointments and meetings for work.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... tomorrow
... on Friday, Monday, etc.
... today
... this morning / afternoon / evening
... next week / month
... in December, March, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

I'm meeting our CEO at three o'clock this afternoon.

Negative

Subject + be + not (isn't, aren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Shelley isn't attending the meeting tomorrow.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

When are you discussing the situation with Tom?

If you are a teacher, use this guide on how to teach the present continuous.

05
of 19

Past Simple

Structure and Usage.

The past simple is used to express something that happened a past point in time. Remember to always use a past time expression, or a clear contextual clue when using the past simple. If you do not indicate when something happened, use the present perfect for unspecified past.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... ago
... in + year / month
...yesterday
...last week / month / year... when ....

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + Past Tense + object(s) + time Expression

I went to the doctor's yesterday.

Negative

Subject + did + not (didn't) + verb + object(s) + time Expression

They didn't join us for dinner last week.

Question

(Question Word) + did + subject + verb + object(s) + time Expression

When did you buy that pullover?

06
of 19

Past Continuous for Exact Times in the Past

Structure and Usage.

The past continuous tense is used to describe what was happening at a specific moment in the past. Do not use this form when referring to longer periods of time in the past such as 'last March', 'two years ago', etc. 

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... at 5.20, three o'clock, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + was / were + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

We were meeting with Jane at two o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Negative

Subject + was / were + not (wasn't, weren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

They weren't playing tennis at five o'clock on Saturday.

Question

(Question Word) + was / were + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

What were you doing at two-thirty yesterday afternoon?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the past continuous tense.

07
of 19

Past Continuous for Interrupted Action

Structure and Usage.

Use the past continuous to express what was happening when something important happened. This form is almost always used with the time clause '... when xyz happened'. It is also possible to use this form with '... while something was happening' to express two past actions that were occurring simultaneously.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... when xyz happened
... while xyz was happening.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + was / were + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Sharon was watching TV when she received the telephone call.

Negative

Subject + was / were + not (wasn't, weren't) + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

We weren't doing anything important when you arrived.

Question

(Question Word) + was / were + subject + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

What were you doing when Tom gave you the bad news?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the past simple tense.

08
of 19

Future with Going to for Future Plans

The future with 'going to' is used to express future plans or scheduled events. It is often used instead of the present continuous for future scheduled events. Either form can be used for this purpose.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... next week / month
... tomorrow
... on Monday, Tuesday, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + be + going to + verb + object(s) + time Expression

Tom is going to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Negative

Subject + be not (isn't, aren't) + going to + verb + object(s) + time Expression

They aren't going to attend the conference next month.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + going to + verb + object(s) + time Expression

When are you going to meet Jack?

09
of 19

Future with Will for Promises and Predictions

Structure and Usage.

The future with 'will' is used to make future predictions and promises. Often the precise moment the action will occur is unknown or not defined.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... soon
... next month / year / week

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + will + verb + object(s) + time Expression

The government will increase taxes soon.

Negative

Subject + will not (won't) + verb + object(s) + time Expression

She won't help us much with the project.

Question

(Question Word) + will + subject + verb + object(s) + time Expression

Why will they reduce taxes?

10
of 19

Future with Going to for Future Intent

Structure and Usage.

The future with 'going to' is used for future intent or plans. You can express a future intent without expressing the exact time that something will occur. 

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... next week / month
... tomorrow
... on Monday, Tuesday, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + be + going to + verb + object(s) + time Expression

Anna is going to study medicine at university.

Negative

Subject + be not (isn't, aren't) + going to + verb + object(s) + time Expression

They aren't going to develop any new projects for the next few years.

Question

(Question Word) + be + subject + going to + verb + object(s) + time Expression

Why are you going to change your job?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach future forms.

11
of 19

Present Perfect for Past to Present States and Actions

Structure and Usage.

Use the present perfect to express a state or repeated action that began in the past and continues into the present. 

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... for + amount of time
... since + specific point in time

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + have / has + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

I have lived in Portland for four years.

Negative

Subject + have / has not (haven't, hasn't) + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

Max hasn't played tennis since 1999.

Question

(Question Word) + have / has + subject + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

Where have you worked since 2002?

12
of 19

Present Perfect to Express Recent Events

Structure and Usage.

The present perfect is often used to express recent events that affect the present moment. These sentences often use the time expressions 'just', 'yet', 'already', or 'recently.' If you give a specific time in the past, the past simple is required.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

just
yet
already
recently

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + have / has + just / recently + past participle + object(s)

Henry has just gone to the bank.

Negative

Subject + have / has not (haven't, hasn't) + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

Peter hasn't finished his homework yet.

Question

(Question Word) + have / has + subject + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

Have you spoken to Andy yet?

13
of 19

Present Perfect for Unspecified Past Events

Structure and Usage.

The present perfect is often used to express events that occurred in the past at an unspecified moment or cumulative life experiences up to the present. Remember that if you use a specific past time expression, choose the past simple.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

twice, three times, four times, etc.
ever
never

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + have / has + past participle + object(s)

Peter has visited Europe three times in his life.

Negative

Subject + have / has not (haven't, hasn't) + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

I haven't played golf many times.

Question

(Question Word) + have / has + subject + (ever) + past participle + object(s)

Have you ever been to France?

Take this present perfect quiz to check your understanding.

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the present perfect tense.

14
of 19

Present Perfect Continuous

Structure and Usage.

The present perfect continuous is used to express how long a current activity has been going on. Remember that continuous forms can only be used with action verbs.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

...since + specific point in time
... for + amount of time

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + has / have + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

He's been cleaning house for two hours.

Negative

Subject + has / have not (hasn't / haven't) + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Janice hasn't been studying for long.

Question

(Question Word) + has / have + subject + been + verb + ing + object(s) + (time Expression)

How long have you been working in the garden?

Take this present perfect continuous quiz to check your understanding.

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the present perfect continuous tense.

15
of 19

Future Perfect

Structure and Usage.

Use the future perfect tense to express what will have happened by a certain time in the future.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... by Monday, Tuesday, etc.
... by the time ...
... by five o'clock, two-thirty, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + will + have + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

They will have finished the report by tomorrow afternoon.

Negative

Subject + will not (won't) + have + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

Mary won't have answered all the questions by the end of this hour.

Question

(Question Word) + will + subject + have + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

What will you have done by the end of this month?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the future perfect tense.

16
of 19

Future Perfect Continuous

Structure and Usage.

The future perfect continuous is used to express the duration of an action up to a future point in time. This tense is not commonly used in English.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... by / ... by the time ...

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + will + have + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

We will have been studying for two hours by the time he arrives.

Negative

Subject + will not (won't) + have + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

He won't have been working long by two o'clock.

Question

(Question Word) + will + subject + have + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

How long will you have been working on that project by the time he arrives?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the future perfect continuous tense.

17
of 19

Past Perfect Continuous

Structure and Usage.

The past perfect continuous is used to describe how long an activity had been going on before something else happened.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... for X hours, days, months, etc
... since Monday, Tuesday, etc.

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + had + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

She had been waiting for two hours when he finally arrived.

Negative

Subject + had not (hadn't) + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

They hadn't been working long when the boss asked them to change their focus.

Question

(Question Word) + had + subject + been + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

How long had Tom been working on that project when they decided to give it to Pete?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the past perfect continuous tense.

18
of 19

Past Perfect

Structure and Usage.

The past perfect is used to express something that happened before another point in time. It is often used to provide context or an explanation.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

... before
already
once, twice, three times, etc.
... by the time

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + had + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

She had already eaten by the time the children came home.

Negative

Subject + had not (hadn't) + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

They hadn't finished their homework before the teacher asked them to hand it in.

Question

(Question Word) + had + subject + past participle + object(s) + time Expression

Where had you gone before the class began?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the past perfect tense.

19
of 19

Future Continuous

Usage and Construction.

The future continuous is used to talk about an activity that will be in progress at a specific point in time in the future.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

...this time tomorrow / next week, month, year
...tomorrow / Monday, Tuesday, etc. / at X o'clock
... in two, three, four, etc. / weeks, months, years time

Basic Construction

Positive

Subject + will + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Peter will be doing his homework this time tomorrow.

Negative

Subject + will not (won't) + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

Sharon won't be working in New York in three weeks time.

Question

(Question Word) + will + subject + be + verb + ing + object(s) + time Expression

What will you be doing this time next year?

If you are a teacher, see this guide on how to teach the future continuous tense.

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Your Citation
Beare, Kenneth. "Visual Explanations of Each English Tense." ThoughtCo, Oct. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/english-grammar-tenses-chart-4123178. Beare, Kenneth. (2017, October 24). Visual Explanations of Each English Tense. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/english-grammar-tenses-chart-4123178 Beare, Kenneth. "Visual Explanations of Each English Tense." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/english-grammar-tenses-chart-4123178 (accessed December 12, 2017).