English Grammar Tenses Rules with Examples

Simple Present Tense

Simple Present Tense is used to indicate
(a) Facts

  • A magnet attracts iron filings.

(b) Repeated actions, customs and habits.

  • He visits his family every weekend.
  • We whitewash our house before Diwali.
  • He goes to bed at eleven o’clock every night.

(c) Abilities

  • She plays tennis very well.

(d) The future
(i) after ‘if in likely conditional clauses; as,

  • If he comes tomorrow, we shall remind him.

(ii) after words like, when, until, before, after, as soon as; as,

  • When the rain stops, we shall go out. We can’t begin until he arrives.
  • They will stop playing as soon as the whistle blows.

In the above four cases, the Present Continuous cannot be used in place of the Simple Present

Present Continuous Tense

Present continuous tense is used to indicate
(a) What is happening now

  • We are eating. She is singing.

(b) Temporary habit

  • I am travelling by bus to my office.
  • Students are learning fast these days.

(c) The future

  • When are you coming tomorrow?
  • My nephew is arriving this evening.

(d) Repeated happening or coincidence: The Present Continuous Tense is used to show unavoidable coincidences or events for which there is no proper explanation.

  • Reena is always losing her pen.
  • His bicycle is always breaking down.

There is one case in which the Simple Present is almost interchangeable with the Present Continuous i.e., for an event which has been definitely planned for the future.

  • He takes the examination next week.
  • He is taking the examination next week.
  • She leaves school in June.
  • She is leaving school in June.

Stative Verbs

There are many verbs which are normally not used in the continuous tense. Such words describe a state and not an action. These words are referred to as stative verbs, while action verbs refer to an action. Stative Verbs are of five kinds:
(a) Verbs of senses and perception: see, hear, smell, touch, taste, notice, feel.

  • We see with our eyes.
  • The honey tastes sweet.

(b) Verbs of emotions: These verbs express feelings. Love, hate, like, dislike, adore, wish, mind, want, desire, hope.

  • He likes idly and sambar.
  • I want to have some rest.

(c) Verbs of mental state and activity: agree, disagree, believe, disbelieve, doubt, trust, differ, find, forgot, imagine, know, mean, recollect, remember, think, suppose, understand.

  • Do you understand the poem?
  • You know the way to the market.

(d) Verbs of possession: These verbs express ownership or relationship. Own, belong, possess, have.

  • This house belongs to my uncle.
  • Mohan owes some money to me.

Note: He has good memory (possession). But ‘have’ is used in progressive sense to express the meaning of eat/take. I am having breakfast and tea (involves action).
(e) Some other Verbs such as appear, seem, look, contain, consist of, require, resemble, suffice, include, concern, signify, remain, deserve.

  • This Diary includes all important holidays.
  • The leader deserves our respect.
  • He appears to be wealthy.

But many of these stative verbs are used as dynamic verbs to express deliberate or voluntary activity.

Present Perfect Tense

Present perfect tense is used to indicate
(a) that something has happened at an indefinite time

  • He has got a job.

(b) that it began in the past and has continued up to the present

  • I have lived in Mumbai for one year.

(c) that it has just happened

  • She has just arrived.

Note: The Simple Past shows when something happened, e.g., I lost my book last Sunday (time — when). The Present Perfect is concerned with the fact that something has happened without referring to the exact time when it happened; e.g., “I have lost my book.”

Has and have link past and present, often with ‘since’ and ‘for’. ‘Since’ marks a starting point; ‘for’ marks a period of time:

  • I have lived in Kolkata since January.
  • I have lived in Kolkata for nine months.

The Present Perfect also shows a recent happening:

  • I have just met my friend on the road.

There are certain adverbs associated with the Present Perfect rather than with the Simple Past. When we use such words as lately, recently, just, already, we show that the past event is closely connected with the present and we, therefore, use the Present Perfect Tense:

  • He has recently got married.
  • The results have just been announced.

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Like the Present Perfect, this tense indicates a past event closely connected with the present. It is distinguished from the Present Perfect in that it is used in three specific ways:
(a) To indicate an activity or state, which started in the past and has continued until the present:

  • We have been revising verbs for three weeks.
  • She has been cleaning the house since eight o’clock.

(b) To emphasize that a past activity or state (connected with the present but now ended) has been continuous or repeated:

  • They have been playing all afternoon.
  • I have been taking medicine since last Friday.

(c) To indicate that a past activity connected with the present, but now ended, has important result which is now being experienced:

  • We have been driving along muddy roads, and now the car is dirty.
  • She has been studying all night and has fallen asleep in the class.

Simple Past Tense

The Simple Past is used:
(a) When a definite time is intended; as: I lost my pen yesterday.
A common mistake is to use the Past Continuous for repeated or habitual actions in the past. In such situations, we must use the Simple Past:

  • Last year we went to the cinema every Sunday.
  • She frequently borrowed books from the library.

Repeated or habitual actions in the past can also be expressed by ‘Used to’ Infinitive:

  • We used to write a composition every week.
  • He used to play football when he was at school.

Past Continuous Tense

The Past Continuous is used:
(a) to indicate an action going on when another one took place:

  • He was reading a newspaper when I entered the room.
  • I was listening to the radio when the phone rang.

The second activity could be replaced by a point in time:

  • I was listening to the radio at eight o’clock.

(b) to emphasize that two actions were taking place at the same time:

  • Mohan was reading while Ankita was writing.
  • The students in the next class were making a noise while we were reading.

(c) to emphasize that an activity was continuous over a certain period (often with an expression like all day, all the morning).

  • I was working hard all last week.
  • The gardener was cutting grass whole of yesterday afternoon.

(d) to show disapproval, using a word like ‘always’:

  • They were always asking for favors.
  • He was always disturbing me at home.

Past Perfect Tense

This tense is best understood if it is called the ‘before’ tense. When we wish to indicate that an event happened before another event in the past, we use the Past Perfect.

  • The lesson had begun when we arrived.

In this sentence, the Past Perfect is necessary to make it clear that the order of events was: 1. The beginning of the lesson. 2. Our arrival.

The Past Perfect is used with a point of time in the past to show that the event occurred before that point:

  • By two o’clock he had read most of the novel.
  • In 1968 he had been employed as a clerk for ten years.

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

This is comparatively an unimportant tense. It is used when we wish to indicate that an event happened before another event in the past and that event was continuous (or was still continuing at a certain point in the past).

  • We had been waiting for half an hour when the other team arrived.
  • He had been working for that company for ten years when he was promoted.

Simple Future Tense

(a) ‘I shall’ and ‘I will’ indicating future tense are used to denote time, intention, act of will, determination and promise:

  • I shall go tomorrow.
  • I will go tomorrow.

In the first example, ‘shall’ has a reference to future time or to a future intention expressed without determination. In the second example, ‘will’ shows the determination.
(b) The future can be expressed by: going to + Infinitive, if there is the idea of intention or certainty:

  • We are going to have dinner at eight o’clock.
  • He is going to leave for London next Sunday.

(c) A future idea is also conveyed by such verbs as: are to, intending, want, promise:

  • He intends to buy a fan.
  • I promise to return the book.
  • Do you want to buy a fan?
  • He is to do as he is told.

Future Continuous Tense

(a) This tense is used for an activity or a state which begins before and continues after a point of future time:

  • He will be flying across the Sahara at two o’clock tomorrow afternoon.

Here, the Future Simple would not be suitable tense because the flight will obviously last longer than an instant; it will begin before and continue after two o’clock.
(a) The Future Continuous can also be used to indicate that an activity or state will be going on over a period of future time:

  • I shall be working in the laboratory tomorrow morning.
  • My sister will be studying at the university next year.

(c) The Future Continuous can be used instead of the Present Continuous to show that an event has been definitely planned for the future:

  • She will be joining Delhi University in July this year.

Future Perfect Tense

This tense indicates that something will be finished by a particular time in the future.

  • By ten o’clock you will have completed your assignment.
  • I promise I shall have finished all the work in an hour.

Future Perfect Continuous

This tense indicates an action that will be in progress at or around a time in the future.

  • He will have been typing for two hours when someone rang the bell.

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