A Brief Introduction to Verb Tenses and Aspects

(submitted by V. Suresh )

Tense refers to a verb form which tells the time of a state or action in a sentence.

Daniel has a car.
Daniel will have a car.
Daniel had a car.
They played the game well.
We are reading The Hindu.
Sudha was happy last Tuesday.
We are in Chennai.
My son will look surprised on seeing this magic mirror.
He will run here tomorrow.

We need to know the structure and use of the different verb tenses so that we can employ the appropriate form with regard to time and situation.

1. Simple Present or Present Indefinite

Structure: subject + V1 (dictionary) form of the verb. [When the subject is third person singular (he, she, it), the verb adds to itself -s, -es or -ies]

Exception: the verb ‘be’ – I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, they are

Uses of the simple present tense:

A. Present actions (which last for a very short period)
· Sam lifts the pen.
· His uncle gets into the car.

B. Regular/General/ Habitual actions
· Suresh gets up at 6.
· We visit Tirumala every May.
· My friend John reads the Sports Star.

C. Time Tables / Official plans
· The Chief Minister dedicates this water purifying plant to the state on the 12th of next month.
· Seshadhri Express arrives at Kaakinada station at 5 PM on Wednesdays.
· The school reopens on 3 June 2010.

D. Conditional clauses
· If you work (not will work) hard, you will pass.

E. Sayings and Proverbs
· The pen is mightier than the sword.

F. To make past events livelier, we use simple present
· Now, Alexander marches for another battle.

G. Newspaper headlines

H. Exclamatory sentences with 'here' and 'there'
· Here she comes!
· There! He wins!

2. Present Continuous

Structure: subject + ‘be’ verb (am, is, are) + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb (‘be’ is an auxiliary verb)

Uses of the present continuous:

A. Actions taking place at the present moment
· Ravi and his friends are playing chess.
· Sugunya’s father is buying vegetables.

B. Actions taking place now, but not at this moment
· Ram is feeding his children. He is doing a project for Ambuja Cements.

C. Personal Plans
· My aunt is visiting the dentist next Tuesday.

D. Actions, usually unpleasant ones, happening despite your protest or disapproval
· Varun is always taking my stationery without my knowledge.

3. Present Perfect

Structure: subject + 'have' verb (have, has) + past participle (-ed form) of the main verb (‘have’ is an auxiliary verb)

Uses of the present perfect:

A. Actions which have just finished (immediate past)
· Vimal has just entered the house.
· We have just had tea.

B. Time of the past action is unknown or indefinite
· We have met him once. (We don’t remember when it was.)
· Sujatha’s uncle has told me about this place many times.

C. When something refers in some manner to the present moment
· My father has bought me five hundred books so far. (And he may buy me more in the future.)

D. Action finished, but its effect is felt in the present
· Tharun has failed in Maths. He is attending remedial classes.

4. Present Perfect Continuous

Structure: subject + ‘have’ verb (have, has) + been + present participle (-ing form) of main verb (‘have’ and ‘be’ are auxiliary verbs)

Uses of the present perfect continuous:

A. Actions which started in the past and are continuing
· Vimal has been whitewashing the fence since four this afternoon.

B. Action has finished, but its effect is felt in the present (the same situation is expressed using present perfect, also)
· We look tired perhaps because we have been working in the sun all day.

5. Simple past or past indefinite

Structure: subject + V2 (past) form of the verb

Exception: the verb 'be' (was, were) – I/he/she/it was; you /we/they were

Uses of the simple past tense:

A. A state in the past or a completed action
· Sudha’s uncle was a teacher.
· Suresh turned this place into a busy shopping centre a few years ago.

B. Past habit
· When we were in Bangalore we read The Times of India.

6. Past Continuous

Structure: subject + 'be' verb (was, were) (-ing form) of main verb

Uses of the past continuous:

A. Time when an action was in progress in the past
· Vaaruni was playing chess with her brother at 7:00 last evening.

B. Past continuous and simple past – when a brief action happens during a longer past action
· Yesterday, when Seema was cleaning the sofa, she found a coin under one of the cushions.

7. Past Perfect

Structure: subject + 'have' verb (had) + past participle (-ed form) of the main verb

Use of the past perfect:

A: The first of two successive actions in the past
· Latha’s father had spoken to her about life in a city before he took her to the train station.
· When we reached the theatre the film had started.

8. Past Perfect Continuous

Structure: subject + 'have' verb (had) + been + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb

Use of the present perfect continuous:

An action started before a certain time in the past and which continued
· When I visited Ramya yesterday she had been listening to music for half an hour.
· Last Tuesday Suman and his uncle had been writing letters for just over an hour when they received the telegram from Delhi.

9. Simple Future

Structure: subject + will (shall for I and We) + V1 (dictionary form) of the verb

Use of the simple future:

An action or state in the future over which we do not have any control
· Mrs Armstrong will meet us tomorrow. (She has just called us)
· They will become doctors next year.
· David will be seventeen next Sunday.

10. Future Continuous

Structure: subject + will /shall + be + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb

Use of the future continuous:

The time in the future when something will be in progress
· Ranjith will be reading his newspaper at six this evening.

11. Future Perfect

Structure: subject + will /shall + have + past participle (-ed form) of the main verb

Use of the future perfect:

To show completion of a task in the future
· Veeraraghavan will have taken these chairs to his grandmother’s by 3 PM tomorrow.

11. Future Perfect Continuous

Structure: subject + will /shall + have + been + present participle (-ing form) of the main verb

Use of the future perfect continuous.

An action starting at a certain point in the future and continuing to another point
· Immanuel will have been working for this company for four years by July 2012.