Quick Review: The Verb Tenses


In a previous post, I went over the various forms of verbs. They include the base, the infinitive, the past, the present perfect, and the past perfect. Out of these verb forms, we create the various verb tenses.

Today, let’s review the twelve verb tenses:

The Simple Tenses

The simple verb tenses are the easiest to recognize. Verbs can be used to express an action taking place in the present, in the past, or in the future. Simple past and present are created from the base form of the verb. The simple future tense is created with the base verb and the auxiliary verb will.

Simple Present: walk, gargle, evaporate

Simple Past: walked, gargled, evaporated

Simple Future: will walk, will gargle, will evaporate

The Perfect Tenses

The perfect tenses are formed with the auxiliary verb to have and the past participle of the main verb. Whether we are speaking of past, present, or future perfect depends on the tense of the auxiliary verb. Has or have indicates present perfect, had indicates past perfect, and will have indicates future perfect. The uses of the perfect tenses are subtle and intuitive for most English speakers. They often, but not always, show a relationship of the action to another action or time.

Present Perfect: has/have walked, has/have gargle, has/have evaporated

Past Perfect: had walked, had gargled, had evaporated

Future Perfect: will have walked, will have gargled, will have evaporated

The Progressive (or Continuous) Tenses:

We form the progressive tenses (sometimes called continuous tenses) by combining the auxiliary verb to be with the present participle of the main verb. Past, present, or future is determined by the tense of the auxiliary verb. The progressive tense is used to show that the action is continuing or in progress.

Present Progressive: am/is/are walking, am/is/are gargling, am/is/are evaporating

Past Progressive: was/were walking, was/were gargling, was/were evaporating

Future Progressive: will be walking, will be gargling, will be evaporating

The Perfect Progressive Tenses:

It’s possible for verbs to be both perfect and progressive. These tenses are created with a form of to have, plus the auxiliary verb been, plus the present participle of the main verb.

Present Perfect Progressive: has/have been walking,  has/have been gargling, has/have been evaporating

Past Perfect Progressive: had been walking, had been gargling, had been evaporating

Future Perfect Progressive: will have been walking, will have been gargling, will have been evaporating


There are only twelve tense options for English verbs. They consist of four groups — simple, perfect, progressive, and perfect progressive. And there are past, present, and future forms in each group.Of course, there are other complicating factors in creating English verbs, including what are known as modal verbs — auxiliary verbs that add nuance to the verb by showing likelihood, permission, ability, or obligation. The modal verbs include can, could, should, may, might, must, and would. In addition to modality, the auxiliary verb do can be used to show emphasis.

But all this is extra credit. The twelve tenses are not that hard to understand with a little practice.

About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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