Free IELTS Materials and General Engliah

Tense in grammar

Tense in grammar 


English has Present, Past, and Future tenses of verbs. However, each tense contains up to four forms. It is very important to know which of the forms to use and what this usage means in speech or in writing. We will discuss structure and usage of the most common verbal forms. An English verb usually has two characteristics:
1) time – it belongs to the Present, Past, or the Future tense;
2) aspect – it is Indefinite, Perfect, or Continuous.

Thus, for example, in the sentence ‘I received a letter from my friend’ the verb ‘to receive’ is in the Past Indefinite, while in the sentence ‘I have just received a letter from my friend’ the verb ‘to receive’ is used in the Present Perfect, which is formed with the help of the auxiliary verb ‘to have’. In this tense the form of the verb ‘to receive’ is ‘have received’ . The most common tenses of English verbs are: Present Indefinite, Present Continuous, Present Perfect, Past Indefinite, Past Continuous, Past Perfect, Future Indefinite, and the ‘Going To’ Future.


Present tenses

Present Indefinite

The Present Indefinite Tense is used to describe general or regular actions that do not have any definite time boundaries.


He wears glasses. What do you study at school? Sometimes we meet and go to the movies.

The form of a verb in Present Indefinite is the same as the main (dictionary) form (without the particle ‘to’) in all persons and numbers except the third person singular. In the third person singular (he, she, it) the main form of a verb receives the ending -s(-es). Conjugation of the English verb ‘to tell’ in the Present Indefinite: I tell; we tell; you tell; he (she, it) tells; they tell.

The most widely used English verbs ‘to be, to have, to do’ are conjugated in the Present Tense in a special way. These forms should be memorized, since these verbs, besides their direct meaning, are used as auxiliary verbs to form other verbal constructions .


I have a car. Pat does it every day. Max likes telling stories. Bill is our president.

The Present Indefinite Tense can also be used to refer to scheduled events in the near future.


Your plane leaves at 3 p.m. In two weeks we move out.

The Present Indefinite Tense, not a future tense, must be used in English conditional (if, unless, in case), temporal (when, after, before, until, as soon as, while), and concessive (even if, even though, whatever, whenever) clauses.


Unless he comes on time, there won’t be any party. You’ll have dinner after you wash your hands. Whatever they do tomorrow, we are going to leave.

Present Continuous

The Present Continuous Tense is used to describe actions that are taking place at the present moment. The Present Continuous is formed by the verb ‘to be’ in the Present Indefinite and the Present Active Participle of the verb itself.


To write: He is writing a letter now.
To wait: I am waiting for a bus.
To read: We are reading the script together.
To play: Children are playing baseball in the park.

The Present Continuous Tense can also be used to refer to planned events in the near future.


We are going out this Saturday. Tonight I am staying home.

Present Perfect

The Present Perfect Tense is used to show that the result of an action that has already taken place in the past has direct significance for the present moment. The Present Perfect form is a combination of the verb ‘to have’ in the Present Indefinite and the Past Passive Participle of the verb itself.


To buy: I have bought myself new shoes.
To use up: They have used up all his toothpaste.
To get: We have just got a letter from our friend.

Past tenses

Past Indefinite

The Past Indefinite Tense is used to describe actions or events that took place in the past. The Past Indefinite is used in narration about past actions in general, without specifying their possible connection to the present. English verbs are divided into two groups depending on their form in the Past Indefinite. The majority of English verbs are the so-called regular verbs. They form their Past Indefinite Tense by addition of the suffix -ed(-d) to the main verb form for all persons: to use> I, you, he/she/it, we, they used; to like> he liked; to work> it worked; to want> she wanted. Many useful English verbs form the Past Indefinite not in the standard way. These are the so-called irregular verbs. In the Past Indefinite they change their stem in different ways; their forms can be found in the section Irregular Verbs of the electronic dictionary.


Regular verbs’ use:
To work: He worked a lot last week.
To close: They closed their store at 7 p.m.
To want: I wanted to see you yesterday. Irregular verbs’ use:
To speak: She spoke softly.
To go: We went to the theater last Friday.
To do: Andrew always did all his home assignments on time.

Past Continious

The Past Continious Tense is formed by a personal form of the verb ‘to be’ in the Past Indefinite and by the Present Active Participle of the verb itself. It is used to describe a past action that was taking place at a certain time in the past, usually indicated by another past action.


To read: She was reading when he came.
To talk: We were talking when the phone rang.
To walk: They were walking when they met Henry.
To listen: I was listening to the music when someone knocked on my door.

Past Perfect

The Past Perfect Tense is used in English to describe actions or events that have already happened before another past action. The Past Perfect is formed by the auxiliary verb ‘to have’ in the Past Indefinite (‘had’ for all persons and numbers) and the Past Passive Participle of the verb itself. For the regular verbs (see above) the form of the Past Passive Participle is the same as the Past Indefinite. The Past Passive Participle of irregular verbs has a special form that can be found in the section Irregular Verbs of the electronic dictionary.


To finish: Bill had finished the work when we came.
To call: I realized that I had called the wrong number.
To eat: They had eaten their dinner before we joined them.
To do: Margaret had done her laundry by 6 p.m. yesterday.

Future tenses

Future Indefinite

The Future Indefinite Tense, or the Simple Future, is used to describe actions that will happen or will be taking place regularly in the future. The Future Indefinite is formed by the auxiliary verb ‘will’ and the verb itself.


To go: I will go to my friend tomorrow.
To return: He will return at 3 p.m.
To see: We will see this play on Sunday.
To be: They will be there in two hours.
To do: Thomas will do this work tomorrow after his lunch break.

‘Going to’ Future Tense

The ‘Going to’ Future Tense is used in English when the speaker is trying to express his or her intention to do something in the nearest future. The form of this tense is a combination of the verb ‘to be’ in a proper personal form (I am, you are, he was, etc.), the words ‘going to’ and the verb itself.


I am going to write a letter. They were going to take a bus. We are going to finish this work. He is going to leave for California.



Passive Voice

The Passive Voice in English is used to form passive structures, when there is a need to put the message focus on the action described by a predicate.


The apple is eaten. In a sentence where the Passive Voice is used, the grammatical subject represents the actual object of the action (someone eats an apple), not the action’s performer. In a passive construction the actual action’s object becomes the formal subject of the sentence; the action’s actual performer can be mentioned as an indirect object with the preposition ‘by’.


Jack eats an apple (Active Voice) – The apple is eaten by Jack.

The Passive Voice is formed by a personal form of the verb ‘to be’ and the Past Passive Participle of the verb itself: to eat> to be eaten; to write> to be written; to see> to be seen.


It can be done by Monday. This letter is written by Nancy. Please wait to be seated.

The Passive Voice can be used in any tense  or as infinitive. For example, in the case of the apple and Jack, one can say: The apple was eaten by Jack. The apple has been eaten by Jack. The apple will be eaten by Jack. The apple was bound to be eaten by Jack.

Conditional sentences

Conditional sentences are complex sentences that consist of two parts: a main clause describing an action and a subordinate clause stating a condition that must be met in order for the main action to take place. English conditional sentences require different verb forms depending on the time and reality of the main action and its condition: both can refer either to the present/future (and be real or unreal) or to the past (unreal).

1) A real present/future condition assumes a real main action: If I see him, I will run away. As you see, the Present Indefinite is used in the subordinate (future tenses are not allowed in a conditional clause!) and the Future Indefinite in the main clause.

2) An unreal present/future condition is expressed using the Past Indefinite Tense (the verb ‘to be’ has the form ‘were’ in all persons): If I saw him…(If I were you…). The predicate of the main sentence has the form ‘would/could + verb’.


If I saw him now, I would run away. If I knew it before it started, I could do much better.

3) An unreal past condition is expressed using the Past Perfect Tense: If I had seen him… The predicate of the main sentence has the form ‘would/could + have + Past Passive Participle of the verb’.


If I had seen him then, I would have run away. If I had known it on that day, I could have done much better.


In some cases the use of tenses in the main and subordinate clause is independent of each other. For example, if a condition extends from past to present but the action is no longer possible, mixed rules can be applied: Past Indefinite in the subordinate and ‘would/could + have + Past Passive Participle’ in the main clause.


If I knew it (generally), I could have done better (in the past).

One last remark concerns the fact that both the condition and the main action can be expressed by means other than a clause, or even just implied. The rules for the use of tenses in the remaining part of a sentence still apply.


At his appearance I would run away. Under other circumstances I could have done better. If only you had said that before!


Auxiliary and modal verbs

The auxiliary verbs ‘to be’ (Present I ‘am’, you/we/they ‘are’, he/she/it ‘is’; Past I/he/she/it ‘was’, you/we/they ‘were’), ‘to have’ (Present he/she/it ‘has’; Past ‘had’), and ‘will’ (unchangeable) are used to form complex verbal tenses : I have just finished it. Where are you going? He will show you around.

The auxiliary verb ‘to do’ (Present he/she/it ‘does’; Past ‘did’) helps form questions  and negative sentences : What did you expect? I don’t really remember.

Modal verbs form complex predicates with an infinitive: ‘to have to’, need to (necessity), to be to, must (obligation), can, could (possibility), may, might (permission), shall, should (recommendation), would (supposition).


I have to do the assignment by tomorrow. His opinion is to be taken seriously. You may come in. He might as well be at home. Can/could you pass the salt? The work must be done on time. She needs to check her schedule. Shall I turn on the light? They shouldn’t do it. I would take this position if I were you.

Of all verbs only ‘need’ and ‘to have to’ require use of the auxiliary ‘to do’ to form questions and negative sentences : Do you have/need to go there? I doseen’t have/need to.

Other verbs form questions and negations by themselves: Have you ever been to London? What was he reading when you came? Shouldn’t I do it? It hasn’t been done yet. We won’t do anything.


Participles and Gerund

Participle is a verbal form that has characteristics of both verb and adjective. Participle are widely used to form verbal tenses. When used alone, participles serve in the sentence as modifiers or parts of subject and object predicates.


The lost dog was found by the neighbors. The meeting held inside the office seems endless. Peter sat at the desk working. I listened to her explaining why she was late.

Participles can be active or passive, present or past. Not all possible forms of participle can be used as an independent part of a sentence. The most frequently used types are the Present Active Participle and the Past Passive Participle.

Present Active Participle

The Present Active Participle is formed by addition of the suffix ‘-ing’ to the main form of a verb.


to sit> sitting (in one-syllable words the consonant after a short vowel is doubled); to read> reading; to write> writing (a verb’s mute -e is dropped in the participle); to be> being; to have> having; to walk> walking; to fly> flying; to die> dying (-ie transforms into -y).

The Present Active Participles are used to form modifiers and modifying clauses describing events taking place at the same time as the action of the sentence predicate.


The dying man looks awful. The kids appear happy frolicking on the grass. The stopping car was making a lot of noise. I saw my friend writing something in his diary.

Past Passive Participle

The form of the Past Passive Participle of regular verbs coincides with the Past Indefinite form of these verbs. Irregular verbs have individual forms of the Past Passive Participle.


to save> saved (regular verb); to lose> lost (irregular verb); to print> printed (regular); to go> gone (irregular).

The Past Passive Participle is the most widely used participle of the English language. With few exceptions, only participles formed from transitive verbs are used alone. The Past Passive Participles can describe events (or results of prior events) concurrent with the action of the sentence predicate.


We can hear their words whispered in the dark. The man came out of the house accompanied by two dogs. Michael keeps all saved money in the bank. He seemed a little confused by what she said.


Gerund is a special verbal form, which expresses the name of an action. Gerund, like the Present Active Participle, is formed by addition of the suffix -ing to the main form of a verb, but differs from the latter in its syntactic functions, which are the same as a noun’s.


To read> reading: His favorite pastime is reading. To talk> talking: He likes talking to her. To walk> walking: Please start walking.


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