English tenses can seem very confusing! And unless you truly understand them, you really can get quite confused. I mean, there are twelve of them! Sounds pretty complex, to begin with, doesn’t it?
Well, it doesn’t have to be. Let’s make it simple.
First of all, what does a TENSE mean?
A TENSE is a form of a verb that shows when the action happens.
It comes from the Latin word “Tempus”, which means “time”.
We will start with the basic three tenses:
The Simple Tenses
The simple tenses simply indicate the action and the time of the action. That’s it. No further data is given to us.
“Lisa dances like crazy at parties” indicates the action of dancing happens in the present.
“Lisa danced like crazy last night” indicates the action of dancing happened in the past.
“Lisa will dance like crazy tomorrow” indicates the action of dancing will happen in the future.
So far pretty simple, isn’t? Let’s take it further.
The Progressive Tenses
This is the next group of tenses. They play a somewhat different rule. We use them when we want to show an action which is IN PROGRESS. So a progressive tense actually gives data about the action, the time of the action and the fact it is in progress.
“Joe is running around the house right now” indicates the action of running is in progress in the present.
“Last night at seven o’clock, Joe was running around the house” indicates the action of running was in progress in the past.
“Tomorrow at five o’clock, Joe will be running around the house” indicates the action of running will be in progress in the future.
Ok, we made it through these tenses too, the end is not far. The next group of tenses…
The Perfect Tenses
So… The PERFECT tenses… What’s so perfect about them, anyway?
The truth is – not much. Actually, PERFECT in this case does not mean that something is “100%”. The meaning of PREFECT here is: complete, finished.
We use the perfect tenses when we want to show an action which is finished before a certain time. In Present Perfect, the action is already finished in the present. In the Past Perfect, the action is already finished in the past. In the Future Perfect, the action is already finished in the future.
What exactly does it mean?
The sentence “Bob has written his homework” means that Bob wrote his homework at some point in the past. Now, in the present, when I tell you the sentence, the homework is already done. He has finished writing it.
The sentence “Kate has lost her bag” means that Kate lost her bag at some point in the past. Now, in the present, when I tell you the sentence, the bag is already lost. She has “finished losing it”.
The sentence “George has walked for two hours” means that George started to walk in the past, walked for two hours, and has already finished. When I tell you the sentence, the action of walking is already complete.
Those were examples for the present. What about the past and future?
Look at these examples:
“Jane had graduated from school before she moved to New York.”
This sentence shows that one action was complete before the other. When Jane moved to New York, the action of graduating was already complete.
“John had already eaten when they arrived at the restaurant.”
This sentence shows that the action of eating was complete before they arrived at the restaurant.
(Now that’s a tricky business. Our friend John finished eating before he got to the restaurant. I bet he’s not hungry anymore…)
“In 2013 Laura will have received her degree.”
This sentence indicates that in 2013 Laura will already have her degree. The action of receiving the degree will be complete by then.
“In 2020 Emily will have lived here for fifty years.”
This sentence indicates that in 2020 Emily will complete fifty years of living in that place. She definitely might continue living there, but she will complete a time period of fifty years. Quite an accomplishment indeed.
So we are almost there. Only 3 more tenses to go!
The last group is the group of Perfect Progressive tenses.
“Perfect AND Progressive?!” you might ask. And the answer is “Yes!”
Surprisingly enough, the English speaker might want to indicate to you that the action he is talking about was in progress and now it is complete.