English Grammar Tense Rules

 Tense is the form taken by a verb to indicate time and continuance or completeness of action. The continuance or completeness of action is denoted by four subcategories.

  1. Simple Tense:It is used for habitual or routine actions in the Present Tense, action which is over in the Past Tense & action to happen in the Future Tense.
  2. Continuous Tense: The action is incomplete or continuous or going on.
  3. Perfect Tense: The action is complete, finished or perfect with respect to a certain point of time.
  4. Perfect Continuous Tense: The action is going on continuously over a long period of time and is yet to be finished.

The different tenses and the verb forms used in each tense

Name of TensesVerb form used in Tenses
Present simple / indefiniteVerb / verb + s/es
Present continuous / ProgressiveIs/am/are + verb + ing
Present perfectHas / have + third form of verb
Present perfect continuousHas/have + been + verb + ing
Past simple / indefiniteSecond form of verb only
Past continuous / ProgressiveWas/were + verb + ing
Past perfectHad + third form of verb
Past perfect continuousHad been + verb + ing
Future simple / indefiniteShall / will + verb
Future continuous / ProgressiveShall / will + be + verb + ing
Future perfectShall/will + Have + past participle
Future perfect continuousShall/will + have been + verb + ing

Uses of Simple Present Tense

  1. To express a habitual action.
    For example: I get up every day at five o’clock.
  2. To express general truths
    For example: Fortune favours the brave.
  3. In vivid narrative, as substitute for the simple past.
    For example: Immediately the Sultan hurries to his capital.
  4. To indicate a future event that is part of a fixed programme or time table.
    For example: The train leaves at 5:20 am.
    Note: We can also use will leave in place of leaves.
  5. It is used to introduce quotations.
    For example: Keats says, ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’.
  6. In exclamatory’ sentences beginning with here and there to express what is actually taking place in the present.
    For example: Here comes the bus!
  7. When two actions of the future are being talked about, one dependent on the other, the former action is represented by present simple and the latter by future simple.
    For example: We shall go when the child comes back home.

Uses of Present Continuous Tense

1. For an action going on at the time of speaking.
For example:

  • The boys are playing cricket in the ground.

2. For a temporary action that may not be actually happening at the time of speaking but was happening in the recent past and is still happening in recent future.

For example:

am reading Sidney Sheldon now a days.
3. To express changing or developing situations.

For example:

  • India is progressing day by day.

4. For an action that is planned or arranged to take place in the near future.

For example:

  • I am going to cinema tonight.

Note: But it is not good to use the present continuous for slightly distant future. So, don’t say

  • a) I am going to cinema next week. Rather, use the future simple. So, it is better if you say
  • b) I will go to cinema next week.

5. When the reference is to a particularly obstinate habit, the present continuous is used instead of present simple. An adverb like always, continually, constantly is also used.

For example:

  • It is no use scolding him; he always does what is forbidden. (Incorrect)

Note: that his doing what is forbidden has become a die-hard habit. The habit persists in spite of advice or warning. So, we should use the present continuous.

For example:

  • It is no use scolding him; he is always doing what is forbidden. (Correct)

Uses of Present Perfect Tense

1. To indicate the completed activities in the immediate past.

For example:

He has just gone out.

2. Action completed in the immediate past or an action of the past whose effect lingers in the present.

For example:

  • I wrote three books. (Incorrect)

The given sentence appears to be incomplete. The reader of the sentence immediately queries. ‘When did you write three books?” It would be a different case if you said

For example:

  • I wrote books.

Then the reader would infer that you wrote books in the past as a profession or hobby. But when you are being so specific as to say “three books”, we immediately feel the need of a time frameSince no time frame is mentioned, we assume it to be ‘by now’. So, we have something to the effect.

For example:

  • I have written three books by now.

This ‘by now’ is implied and need not be written.

So, For example:

  • I have written three books. (Correct)

3. The present perfect is never used with adverbs of past time. In such cases the past simple should be used.

For example:

  • India has won the match last week (Incorrect)

“Last week” is not immediate past. You may therefore be tempted to use the present perfect. But remember that the immediate past here does not go unindicated. Last week is being used as an adverb of past time.

So, For example:

  • India won the match last week. (Correct)

4. To express past actions whose time is not given and not definite – actions with their effect continuing in the present.

For example:

  • a) I have never known him to be angry.
  • b) Have you read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’?

5. To describe the past events when we think more of their effect in the present than of the action itself.

For example:

  • have cut my finger.

6. For long actions and situations which started in the near past and went on until very recently. For example:

  • have read three chapters since this morning.

Uses of Present Perfect Continuous Tense

For an action, which began at some time in the past and is still continuing. With the present perfect continuous tense an adverb or phrase that expresses time is used.

For example:

  • a) I have been reading this book since morning.
  • b) They have been building the bridge for several months.

Uses of Simple Past Tense

1. To indicate an action completed in the past. Generally, adverbs or adverb phrases of past time are used in the past simple tense.

For example:

  • a) The steamer sailed yesterday.
  • b) He went home some time back.

2. To express imaginary present situations or imaginary future events that may not happen.

For example:

  • a) If I had longer holidays, I would be very happy.
  • b) If I got rich, I would travel all over the world.

3. When this tense is used without an adverb of time, then time may be either implied or indicated by the context.

For example:

  • didn’t sleep well. (i.e., last night)

4. For past habits ‘used to’ is added to the verb.

For example:

  • She used to carry an umbrella.

Uses of Past Continuous Tense

1. To denote an action going on at some time in the past. The time of the action may or may not be indicated.

For example:

  • a) It was getting darker.
  • b) We were listening to the radio all evening.

2. When a new action happened in the middle of a longer action. In this case Past simple and Past continuous are used together. Past simple is used for the new action.

For example:

  • The Light went out while I was reading.

3. For persistent habits in the past.

For example:

  • She was always chewing gum.

Uses of Past Perfect Tense

1. When two actions happened in the past. In this case it is necessary to show which action happened earlier than the other. Here past perfect is used for the action, which happened earlier.

For example:

  • a) When I reached the station the train had started.
  • b) I had done my exercise when Hari came to see me.

2. An action that began before a certain point of time in the past & was continuing at the given point of time in the sentence. A time expression like since last yearfor the last few days is generally put after perfect continuous tense.

For example:

  • At that time he had been writing a novel for two months.

Here, At that time is the given point of time and for two months is the point of time in the past.

Uses of Simple Future Tense

For an action that has still to take place.

For example:

  • a) I shall see him tomorrow.
  • b) Tomorrow will be Sunday.

Uses of Future Continuous Tense

1. Represents an action as going on at sometime in the future.

For example:

shall be reading the paper then.

2. Represents the future events that are planned.

For example:

He will be meeting us next week.

Uses of Future Perfect Tense

To indicate the completion of an event by a certain future time.

For example:

  • shall have written my exercise by that time.

Uses of Future Perfect Continuous Tense

1. The future perfect continuous tense indicates an action represented it being in progress over a period of time that will end in the future. Generally time period is mentioned along with it.

For example:

  • By next July we shall have been living here for four years.

2. Event occurring at the same time must be given in the same tense.

For example:

  • When he fainted his brother was with him.

3. Will or Shall cannot be used twice in the same sentence even if both the actions refer to the future tense.

For example:

  • a) I shall come if he will call me. (Wrong)
  • b) I shall come if he calls me. (Right)

4. With the phrases as if and as though the past tense and plural form of the verb should be used.

For example:

  • a) He behaves as if he is a king. (Wrong)
  • b) He behaves as if he were a king. (Right)

5. With the word ‘wish’ four verbs are used namely were, had, could, would. ‘Were’ is used when the wish seems to be unrealisable.

For example:

  • I wish I were a king.

6. ‘Had’ is used when our wish is a lament over the past happening.

For example:

  • I wish I had accepted that job.

7. ‘Would’ is used when we refer to the future.

For example:

  • I wish I would get a ticket.

8. ‘Could’ is used when we wish that something that has happened already should have happened otherwise.

For example:

  • He did not go because he was busy yesterday. I wish he could go with you.

9. ‘For’ is used for a period of time.

For example:

  • He has been working for two hours.

10. ‘Since’ is used with a point of time.

For example:

  • He has been working since morning.

11. In case of conditional sentences ‘had’ and ‘would have’ are used.

For example:

  • If I had met him I would have invited him.