English Verb Tense Explained: Past, Present, Future

One thing many struggle with while learning English language is verb tense. It’s my most requested lessons and something I notice during evaluations before recommending lessons. Present tense is probably the first verb tense you’ll come across. It’s also the most used and misused tense.

Verb Tense Explained

Let’s start with the basics. What is a verb? Unlike a noun that names a person, place, or thing, a verb is an action word. It describes what the person place or thing does. For example, the word smile is an action word, which is a verb. Verb tense describes when the action took place  or will take place. The action can take place in the present, past or future. You can break down verb tense even more by learning the structure of each tense. The structures are simple, progressive (or continuous), perfect, or perfect progressive/perfect continuous.

English Verb Tense Explained: Past, Present, and Future (with free worksheets)

You use Simple to to describe a situation that doesn’t change. It is how you talk about a habit, pattern, or something that always happens. For present simple tense, use the verb in its natural form. For past tense, most verbs have the -ed extension (unless it is an irregular verb). For future tense, use the words will or shall in front of the verb.

Perfect tense describes an action that is final. Use it to describe an action you completed in the present or past, or to describe something you plan to complete in the future. With perfect tense, you’ll see have, had, or will have in front of the verb.

Progressive tense, or what some call continuous, describes an action that is ongoing. Am, will, and will be is common to use with progressive verb tense along with the -ing extension.

Perfect progressive, also known as perfect continuous, explains an action that is still going on or planning to happen and will be completed at some point.

The two structures you will use most are simple and progressive/continuous.

Now, lets take our example word to show when and how to use each tense.

Present

Simple: I smile when I look in the mirror.
Progressive: The woman is smiling at me.
Perfect: I have smiled all day today.
Perfect Progressive: He has been smiling since we met.

Past

Simple: I smiled this morning when I thought of you.
Progressive: She was smiling until her boss came.
Perfect: We had smiled at the thought of eating a cupcake.
Perfect Progressive: My mouth was sore because I had smiled so much.

Future

Simple: They will smile when I give them the news.
Progressive: She will be smiling when she sees her gift.
Perfect: This time next year, we will have smiled from the memories of our trip.

Perfect Progressive: By the time I get home, you will have been smiling all day.

Take a look at the chart below that uses the word work as the verb. Study the chart to practice your verb tense.

Verb Tense Practice Chart: Present, Past, Future

To write and speak English in the correct tense, you also have to study the difference between regular and irregular verbs. For regular verbs, it’s as simple as adding the -ed extension for past tense and placing the word “will” in front of the verb for future tense. Irregular verbs require a little more work. You may have to completely change the spelling of the word.

For example, the irregular verb “bring” would be brought in past tense, and the world build would be built. Don’t worry! I’ll be reviewing regular and irregular verb usage in my next lesson. I’ll also share a list of commonly used verbs with their tenses to help you practice.

How to practice present, past, and future verb tense

Memorizing the correct way to use each verb tense is one thing, but knowing how to properly use it in your writing and speech is most important. When thinking of how to use present, past and future verb tenses, think of it this way: Present is what is happening right now (am, are, is, have, have been), past is what has already happened (was, were, had, had been), and future is what will happen or what is about to happen (will, shall, will be, will have, will have been).

Practice your verb tense by using the example sentences and practice questions below! Fill in the blanks, and then read the sentences aloud. Let me know if you have any questions by posting them in the comments below or asking them in the group!

The practice sentences below include either past, present, or future tense verbs. Fill in the blank with the correct tense of the verb in the parentheses.

4 thoughts on “English Verb Tense Explained: Past, Present, Future

  1. Frankie Reply

    Not ashamed to say, as a Native English speaker, I have learnt a whole lot from this blog! Keep up the good work!

  2. Trupti Bhatt Reply

    This post is not just useful for school kids but also useful for grown ups who are learning English Language. Nicely explained about verb tense.

    • Danielle Post authorReply

      Awesome! My goal is to provide useful content that helps everyone improve their English skills.

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