Sentence Structure Chart

Positive, Negative, and Questions in All 13 English Tenses

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Here are a few tips on learning tenses in English:

Change Auxiliary Verbs

Remember that each tense changes in the auxiliary verb, rather than the main verb. The main verb is either in its simple form (do - did, play - played, make - made), the present participle (going, playing, watching, eating) or the past participle (had, done, thought, etc.) 

I am watching TV right now.
You are watching TV right now.
He is watching TV right now.
etc.

Be Careful with Present Simple and Past Simple Positive

The only tenses that do NOT take an auxiliary verb are the present simple and past simple.

She teaches Russian on Tuesdays.
They played soccer yesterday.

Use Time Expressions

In order to choose the correct tense, make sure to check the time expressions used before you conjugate. You need to know when something happens before you can decide which tense to use.

We're learning English right now. (right now -> present continuous)
He has lived in New York for three years. (for three years -> present perfect)

Keep Verbs Together

Keep the auxiliary and main verb together in positive and negative sentences. The only word that should ever come between the auxiliary and main verb is in a question (the subject) and adverbs of frequency.

She has worked her for a long time.
Peter didn't understand the question.
BUT
What were they doing at seven o'clock?
He hasn't often travelled abroad. 

Differences Between Action and Stative Verbs

Only action verbs are used in continuous and perfect continuous tenses. Stative verbs,  verbs that state how something is or appears, are not used in the continuous and perfect continuous tenses.

They are playing tennis at the moment. (playing = action)
They want to play tennis at the moment. NOT They are wanting to play tennis at the moment. (want = state)

Learn Tense Types

There are four types of tenses: Simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous. It's helpful to learn groups of tenses together based on the principal function of each type. Here's an overview:

  • Simple tenses focus on complete events.
  • Continuous tenses focus on action at a specific moment in time and cannot be used with stative verbs.
  • Perfect tenses focus on what has been completed from one time to another.
  • Perfect continuous tenses focus on how long something has been happening from one time to another. 

Sentence Structures

The following chart provides the structure for each tense in English. Notice how each element (subject, auxiliary verb, main verb, objects) changes, but that the structure remains the same. Try to follow these structures no matter which tense you use.

Positive Sentences

TenseSubjectAuxiliary VerbMain VerbObjects
Present SimpleI workin the city.
Present ContinuousYouarestudyingmath at the moment.
Past SimpleWe flewto Germany last month.
Past ContinuousTheywerewatchingTV at three o'clock yesterday afternoon.
Future with WillMarywillhelpthe students.
Future with Going toYouare going tomoveto New York.
Future ContinuousAnnawill beworkingat three o'clock tomorrow.
Present PerfectWehavelivedin Seattle for a long time.
Present Perfect ContinuousHehas beenplayinggolf for two hours.
Past PerfectWehadeatendinner before he arrived.
Past Perfect ContinuousShehad beenstudyingfor three hours when he arrived.
Future PerfectIwill havefinishedthe job by tomorrow.
Future Perfect ContinuousWewill have beenworkingfor eleven hours by ten o'clock.

Negative Sentences

TenseSubjectAuxiliary Verb + NotMain VerbObjects
Present SimpleIdon'tworkin the city.
Present ContinuousTheyaren'tworkingon the project at the moment.
Past SimpleMarydidn'tgoon vacation last year.
Past ContinuousJackwasn'tworkingwhen I arrived.
Future with WillWewon'tvisithim next week.
Future with Going toYouaren't going toplaygolf this weekend.
Future ContinuousTheywon't beworkingon Saturday afternoon.
Present PerfectSusanhasn'tvisitedPuerto Rico yet.
Present Perfect ContinuousHehasn't beeneatingdinner for very long.
Past PerfectTheyhadn'tspokento Peter for a long time.
Past Perfect ContinuousJoehadn't beenstudyingfor a long time when she came home.
Future PerfectAngelawon't havefinishedthe project by tomorrow.
Future Perfect ContinuousThe teacherwon't have beenteachingfor long at ten in the morning.

Questions

Tense(Question Word)Auxiliary VerbSubjectMain Verb(Objects)?
Present SimpleWheredoyoulive?
Present ContinuousWhatareyoudoingwith that?
Past SimpleWhendidhemoveto Chicago?
Past ContinuousWhatweretheydoingwhen he arrived?
Future with WillHowwillshetravelto Seattle?
Future with Going toWhereareyougoing to stayon vacation?
Future ContinuousWhat timewillhebe givinghis presentation?
Present PerfectHow oftenhaveyoubeento France?
Present Perfect ContinuousHow longhasshebeen playingtennis?
Past PerfectHow muchhadshecompletedbefore it was due?
Past Perfect ContinuousHow longhadtheybeen sleepingwhen he woke them up?
Future PerfectHow many bookswilltheyhave readby the end of the month.
Future Perfect ContinuousHow longwillTomhave been playinggolf by the end of the day?

Check Your Understanding - True or False

 Decide whether the following statements about tenses in English are true or false. 

  1. Each English tense has an auxiliary verb.
  2. Positive, negative, and questions always include an auxiliary verb.
  3. Continuous tenses focus on completed events.
  4. It's possible to place an adverb of frequency such as 'usually' between the auxiliary and main verb.
  5. Perfect tenses focus on an action or a state that begins at one point in time and continues to the next.
  6. Perfect continuous tenses focus on how long an action or continues from one point to the next.

Answers

  1. True - All tenses in English have an auxiliary verb. However, auxiliary verbs are dropped in the positive form of the present simple and past simple.
  2. False - Drop auxiliary verbs in present simple and past simple positive sentences.
  3. False - Continuous tenses focus on actions happening at a specific moment in time.
  4. True - It's possible to place adverbs of frequency between the auxiliary and main verb.
  5. True - Perfect tenses focus on events and states over periods of time.
  6. False - Stative verbs are not used in continuous forms.