Past, Present, and Future Are Simple Tenses

Road sign showing simple tenses.

Cameron Norman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Simple tenses in English are used to make basic statements about habits, events that happened, or what will happen in the future. 

Present Simple

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

This tense is often used with the following time expressions including adverbs of frequency:

  • Always, usually, sometimes, etc.
  • Every day
  • On Sundays, Tuesdays, etc.

Positive

Subject + present tense + object(s) + time expression

  • Frank usually takes a bus to work.
  • I cook dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • They play golf on weekends.

Negative

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

  • They don't often go to Chicago.
  • He doesn't drive to work.
  • You don't usually get up so early.

Question

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

  • How often do you play golf?
  • When does she leave for work?
  • Do they understand English?

The present simple is also used about facts that are always true.

  • The sun rises in the east.
  • Dinner costs $20.
  • Speaking languages improves your chances to get a job.

The present simple can also be used to speak about scheduled events, even if those events are in the future:

  • The train leaves at 6 o'clock.
  • It doesn't begin until 8 p.m.
  • The plane lands at 4:30.

The present simple is also used in future time clauses to say when something will take place:

  • We will have lunch when they arrive next week.
  • What will you do after he makes his decision?
  • They won't know the answer before she comes next Tuesday.

Past Simple

The past simple is used to express something that happened at 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
  • We

Positive

Subject + past tense + object(s) + time expression

  • I went to the doctor's yesterday.
  • She bought a new car last week.
  • They played tennis when they were in high school.

Negative

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

  • They didn't join us for dinner last week.
  • He didn't attend the meeting.
  • I didn't finish the report two weeks ago.

Question

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

  • When did you buy that pullover?
  • How often did you drive to Los Angeles?
  • Did they study for the test yesterday?

Future Simple

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. The future simple is also used to react to situations that happen at the moment.

This tense is often used with the following time expressions:

  • Soon
  • Next month/year/week

Positive

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

  • The government will increase taxes soon.
  • She will give a presentation next week.
  • They will pay for the course in three weeks. 

Negative

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

  • She won't help us much with the project.
  • I won't help him with that problem.
  • We won't buy that car.

Question

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

  • Why will they reduce taxes?
  • When will this film end?
  • Where will he stay next week?