English Tense

Tense is the basic concept of English Grammar. Learning tenses is the first step for learning the English Language.

What is a tense?

Tense is the way of using the correct form of a verb in a sentence to express an action with regard to the correct time of its occurrence.

We speak and hear many sentences in our routine. Each of those sentences expresses an action along with the time of its occurrence such as that it occurred in past, occurs in the present or will occur in future. In other words, each of those sentences belongs to a specific tense.

There are three types of tenses in the English language. 

1. Present Tense
(It expresses an action that occurs in the present)
2. Past Tense
(It expresses an action that occured in the past)
3. Future Tense
(It expresses an action that will occurs in the future)

For expressing the correct time (present, past, or future) of an action, a specific form of the verb (including main verb and helping verb) are used. This means different structures of a sentence are used for expressing an action with regard to different times of its occurrence. Tenses tell the rules for using correct verbs and making the correct structure of sentences to express an action with regard to the time of its occurrence. 

Verbs have two types:
  Main Verb
  Helping Verb or Auxiliary verb

 Main Verb: These are the basic verbs that give the meaning of an action such as eat, buy, write, sleep, speak, etc.

 Helping verb or Auxiliary verb: These verbs may not give the basic meaning of an action on their own but are used along with the main verb in a sentence to show the time of the occurrence of the action (expressed by the main verb) such that when the action occurred, occurs or will occur. Examples: is, are, was, were, had, will, etc.

Moreover, each main verb has three forms: base form, past Indefinite form and past participle. For instance, write, wrote and written are three forms of the same verb. These three forms are also simply known as 1st form, 2nd form and 3rd form. Adding ‘-ing’ the base form of a verb turns it into a form (e.g. writing, buying) called a present participle.

As mentioned earlier, to express an action with regards to different times of its occurrence, different forms of main verbs and helping verbs are used. This leads to formation of different structure of a sentence according to the time of the action. Tenses provide the rules for using correct verbs and making correct structure of sentence according to the time of an action.

Therefore, a tense tells us about the following:

  1. Which form of the main verb should be used?
  2. Which helping verb should be used?
  3. Structure of the sentence.

It should be noted that some tenses may only use the main verb but not the helping verb.

The time of action is generally divided into three types: past, present and future. Based on this, tenses are majorly divided into three major types: past tense, present tense and future tense.


They worked in a factory.      (Past Tense)
They work in a factory.          (Present Tense)
They will work in a factory.   (Future Tense)

Within each of these major types of time, the time of action can further be specified by determining the nature of the occurrence of an action. For instance, we can determine whether the action occurred in the near past or far past, and whether the action simply occurred (for which the time description is more or less unknown) or it continued for some time in past. Based on this, each of the three major types of tenses is further divided into four sub-types. This makes a total of 12 types of tenses, as follows.