Basic English Tenses Overview

In this video, we look at the most Basic English Tenses. These are the Present Simple, Past Simple, Present Continuous, Past Continuous, the Present Perfect, and some different forms of the Future Simple.

We will show you how to use these Basic English Tenses and how to use the verb to signify the proper tense.

Basic English Tenses: Present Simple

The most basic tense in English is the Present Simple. It is used to state general facts or to refer to action that happens regularly. I could say “I walk to work every day” and use the present simple because it’s generally true. When you ask “Do you take sugar in your coffee,” you use the present simple tense because you’re asking if someone normally, or frequently, takes sugar.
Forming the Present Simple is easy; you simply use the base form of the verb. Here are some more examples.

  • This is Alexis. She is my niece.
  • Henry visits the library often.
  • My club meets on Thursdays.
  • They study English together.

The only change that happens to a verb in the present simple tense is when it’s used in the third person singular. In that case, you add an “s” sound to the verb. So we say “I live” and “you live,” but he, she or it“lives.”
If the verb ends with an “s” sound already, like the verb “to fuss,” you add an “e-s”. “I fuss a lot but he fusses even more.”
The example, “Do you take sugar in your coffee,” is a question so it has an auxiliary verb, “do”.
The example, “You guys don’t play tennis,” is a negative statement so it also has an auxiliary verb.
It’s “do” again but it is contracted with the word not.
So don’t is the same as do not
For more on questions and negatives check out our video on Basic Verb Structures.

Basic English Tenses: Past Simple

The next tense is the Past Simple. You use the past simple to state facts that used to be true or to show a completed action that happened once or regularly. So if you’re talking about a previous time in your life, you can use the past simple to say “I walked to work back then.” because it was something that happened regularly. It’s also a statement of past fact. In the question “Did you take sugar in your coffee this morning,” it is appropriate to use past simple because you’re asking about one specific event in the past. It happened once.
In both cases the action is completed.
To form the Past Simple with regular verbs, you normally add“e-d”.
Here are some more examples of regular verbs formed in the past tense.

  • I lived in London.
  • She cooked dinner yesterday.
  • We danced a lot last night.
  • They studied English together.

As you may see there are some small variations to spelling but this video is an overview of the tenses so we can’t get into all the details but we will look at how to form the different tenses more thoroughly in our video called Principal Parts.
Also many of the most common verbs are irregular so they don’t follow the rules for forming the principal parts. This link will take you to our video about common irregular verbs and their principal parts.
When there is an auxiliary verb, as there often is, like when it’s a question or a negative, the form of the main verb doesn’t change but rather it’s the form of the auxiliary verb that changes.
So the examples:

  • Do you take sugar in your coffee?
  • You guys don’t play tennis.

Become:

  • Did you take sugar in your coffee?
  • You guys didn’t play tennis.

Watch our videos on Verb Structure and Auxiliary Verbs to see the rules for the different types of sentences.
So simple tenses show facts or actions as a whole.

Basic English Tenses: Present Continuous

To communicate an action which is taking place right now or around now, you use the Present Continuous tense. For instance, I would say “I am walking to work” if I am doing it right now.
Continuous tenses are formed using the “i-n-g” suffix and the auxiliary verb; “To Be,” This is true for all continuous tenses.
“To be” is very irregular and has it’s own set of rules.
You should definitely watch the video on the verb “To Be” to learn how it works.

Here are our examples.

  • Are you taking your medicine?
  • Alexis is being funny.
  • Henry is visiting the library again.
  • My club is meeting in my apartment right now.
  • They are studying English together.

Basic English Tenses: Past Continuous

The Past Continuous tense is almost exactly the same. It uses the i-n-g form of the main verb again, the only thing that changes is we use the past simple form of the verb “To Be”, which is “was” or “were”.
You use the past continuous when talking about an action which was in progress at a certain time. For example “I was walking to work.”
Since this is a continuous tense, the action is in the middle of happening at the time we’re talking about.

Here are some more examples:

  • I was walking to work.
  • Were you taking your medicine?
  • Alexis was just being funny.
  • Henry was visiting the library again.
  • My club was meeting in my apartment yesterday.
  • They were studying English together.

So that is the past continuous

Basic English Tenses: Future

So far we have only looked at examples in the past and the present tenses. When you speak of actions taking place in the future, We don’t need to learn a new form of the verb; we just add or change auxiliary verbs.
So lets look at three ways of using verbs to express future action.

  • I will walk to work.
  • I am going to walk to work.
  • I am walking to work tomorrow.

The first two together make the Future Simple tense. It is used, similarly to the past and present simples, to express an action that will take place once or regularly as well as for a fact that will be true in the future.
The easiest way to form the future simple is to use the word “will” as the auxiliary verb and to use the base form of the main verb. This is called the Will Structure.
The next way of forming the Future Simple is by using “to be” as an auxiliary verb, then “going to,” and then the base form of the main verb. This is called the Going To structure.
These two structures are very similar. Here are some examples.
Back to those examples.

  • Will you take sugar in your coffee?
  • Henry will visit that video store again.
  • We are going to live in London.
  • You guys aren’t going to play tennis.

Finally, you can express a future action using the Present Continuous with a time reference. This isn’t technically a different tense, but rather an additional use for an existing tense.
For example:

  • Alexis is meeting me later.
  • They are studying English tonight.

So lets recap the Basic English Tenses.

The Simple tenses are used for facts or common occurrences. The Present Simple generally uses just the base form of the verb. You only need an auxiliary if it is a question or a negative.

The Past Simple uses the ed form of the verb and is used for completed actions in the past.

The Present and Past Continuous tenses are used for events which are happening either right now or during a specific time in the past. The emphasis is on the event being in progress. Both are formed using the verb “to be” and the “i-n-g” form of the verb.

The Present Perfect tense is used for events which happened in the past but whose results are felt in the present. It is formed using the auxiliary verb “have/has”and the past participle form of the main verb.

The Future Simple, the will form and the going to form or the Present Continuous can be used to express a decisions, arrangements or predictions about the future.
These are the most Basic English Tenses used in the majority of writing and conversation. There are a few more which are covered in our Advanced Tenses Overview and you can click on any of these links for a more detailed explanation of that tense.
But these six tenses are the easiest to form and the most commonly used.
It’s handy that the spelling of main verbs usually changes very little and even for most irregular verbs there are at most four different forms.
Learning these three or four different forms for each verb is much easier than learning the many conjugations you’d have to learn in some other languages.
The key to English tenses lies instead in the auxiliary verbs.
Well, there you have it. These six tenses are important to remember and practice.
Using the appropriate tense for the situation will make your English sound more natural.
Thanks for watching and I hope you have found this useful.

2 Responses to “Basic English Tenses Overview”

  1. Angelica February 1, 2015 at 6:54 am #

    congratulations your videos are so easy o understand and I´ve foud them very helpful in my classes. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    • Colin February 1, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. I am very please you are finding them useful.

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