The Quick and Easy Guide to Learning English Grammar Tenses
Saying “I eat spicy food” is not the same as “I am eating spicy food.”
But what exactly is the difference?
These two sentences use different English tenses.
Tenses tell you when something happens. Getting the tense wrong in a sentence can change the entire meaning of a sentence or could lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
Learning English tenses can seem difficult at times, but I’m going to talk you through how to use them with a few simple rules!
Past, Present, Future!
English Language has three basic tenses: the past, the present, and the future.
Past Tense: Used for anything that happened before this exact moment in time, before right NOW.
I ate spicy food yesterday.
Present Tense: Used for anything that is happening right NOW and also for general statements.
I eat spicy food.
Future tense: Used for anything that will happen sometime after this moment, or later than right NOW.
I will eat spicy food tomorrow.
Sounds easy right? Of course it’s not that easy.. You wouldn’t be reading this guide if it was! 🙂
Simple and Continuous
These tenses have some variations that change the meaning and make them more specific.
All three tenses have two main types of variations: simple and continuous.
Continous Tense: Used for actions that repeatedly happen over some period of time.
Simple Tense: Used for everything else.
Since the past and present tenses are very closely connected, we will look at them together first, starting with the easier of the two: simple tense.
The simple present tense is used for three main things.
1. To describe things that are permanent
2. To describe how often something happens
3. To talk about scheduled events
To use the tense, add an -s to the end of the verb when “he” “she” is doing the action.
He eats spicy food.
Use the unchanged (or base) verb when anyone else is doing it.
I eat spicy food.
The simple past is used in a very similar way to the simple present.
Many verbs you will add -ed to a word, but some irregular forms change the word when used in simple past. Unfortunately, the only way to learn these, is by studying and remembering them!
Use the simple past if you want to describe an action that already has happened.
This description of a trip uses the simple past tense: “Last year I visited Chicago. I lived downtown for a month. I rode the train, took many pictures, and walked around Central Park.”
You can also use this tense for many of the same reasons as the simple present. It can be used to describe a hobby or habit you had in the past, or something you used to believe was true (but not anymore!).
Often we actually use the words “used to” with this tense. For example, I used to play the piano. This sentence means that I played when i was younger, but not anymore.
To speak about the future you need to add with words “will” or “is going to” before an unchanged (or base) verb.
Usually either “will” or “is going to” will work here!
I will call you later.
I am going to call you later.
The only difference here is that “going to” is used more often for things that have been planned. The first sentence is just saying that sometime in the future it will likely happen without giving it much though, while the second is saying that a call has been previously planned. The difference is not very big and either will usually work.
Both can be used for predictions too, or things you think will happen.
I think I will get married next year
I think I am going to get married next year.
The word continuous means something that is happening right now or is ongoing.
The continuous tense is formed using the -ing ending of a verb (eating, swimming) in both the present and the past.
You can use the present continuous to talk about something ongoing or that is happening now or will soon.
Right now, you are reading our blog. Maybe you’re drinking some coffee or eating a snack. Later today you might be meeting up with friends, and tonight you will be sleeping.
By adding the words “always,” “constantly,” and other frequency words, you can express the frequency of the actions.
My husband is always complaining!
My dog is constantly barking.
This tense is used to describe a continuous action that has been interrupted. For example, if you tried to call me when I was sleeping, I might respond with:
Sorry I didn’t answer the phone, I was sleeping last night when you called.
You can also use this tense to say what you were doing at some specific time in the past. For example:
Yesterday, I was already eating dinner at 6 pm.
I was reading my book the entire night.
For Past Continuous you will use a past “be” following by a verb + ing.
I was running away from the monster when I fell down.
The last way to talk about the future has the same uses as the past continuous.
You will use this tense to talk about things that may be interrupted in the future, or to say what will be happening at a specific time in the future.
Just add the +ing form of a verb after the words “will be” or “am going to be”
Make sure you arrive by 7, because we will be eating dinner then.
Come to school on time, we are going to be starting the test right away.
To Sum Up All the English Tenses
Here is a quick summary of all things discussed
Something unchanging, general scheduled, or happening NOW.
Something that is happening now or in the near future. Is/Are + verb-ing
Something that happened before now. Verb-ed, or irregular past verb
Something that got interrupted by an event or a time. Was/were + verb-ing
Something that will happen later than now. Will+verb/ Is going to +verb
Something that will be interrupted by an event or a time. Will be +verb-ing, Is going to be- verbing
Wow! Great Job!! I know these are totally confusing, but great job keeping with it. The more you speak and write, the more practice you get, and the more these will start to feel natural. Once you have these down, you will wow your English Teachers and friends in your Language courses.