Can you imagine speaking English without verbs? It’s almost impossible to communicate in English without verbs, and to communicate clearly, you need a variety of verb tenses.
Over the next several days, we’re going to review the 12 verb tenses in English. English has four each of present, past, and future tense verb forms. We’ll show you how to form each tense, and then we’ll explain when to use it. We’ll also show you which time expressions you can use with each tense, and we’ll review passive verbs, too.
Let’s get started with the present tense verb forms.
We form simple present by using the base form for most subjects. For third person singular (such as she, he, or it), use the base form with an -s ending.
We can use simple present to describe a habitual action. This is something that we usually do. It doesn’t matter if we’re doing it at this moment or not. For example:
I always brush my teeth before bed.
She usually eats cereal for breakfast.
We often go to a movie on Friday night.
We can also use simple present to describe a state that is happening right now.
They enjoy video games.
He thinks it’s a good idea.
I see a police car outside.
Enjoy, think, and see are state verbs. State verbs are different from action verbs. You cannot see a state verb happening.
Here are some common time words and phrases that we can use with simple present verbs. Use these expressions when you talk about habitual actions with simple present.
Create present progressive verbs with the present form of “be” plus the present participle (base plus -ing).
I am dancing.
You are dancing.
She/He/It is dancing.
We are dancing.
They are dancing.
Use present progressive for an action that is happening right now.
I am driving to the store.
He is talking on the phone right now.
We are studying passive verbs this term.
You cannot use present progressive with a state verb (a verb that you cannot see happening). You can only use it with action verbs.
These sentences are incorrect because they contain state verbs in present progressive:
X They are enjoying video games.
X He is thinking it’s a good idea.
X I am seeing a police car outside.
You can use these words and phrases to give time information with present progressive verbs.
To make the present perfect tense, use have (or has for third person singular subjects) plus the past participle form of the verb. For regular verbs, the past participle is the base plus -ed. For irregular verbs, it varies.
I have given money to them.
You have given money to them.
He/She/It has given money to them.
We have given money to them.
They have given money to us.
Present perfect can describe an action that started in the past and is still happening now.
I have lived here for two years.
She has studied English since August.
We have been friends for many years.
Also, present perfect can describe an action that happened in the past if you don’t know if don’t say exactly when. This is common for talking about things we have experienced in the past.
I have lived in Japan, but now I live in Nashville.
He has received many awards.
They have never visited Paris.
Here are common time expressions we can use with present perfect.
Present perfect progressive
To make the present perfect progressive tense, use have (or has for third person singular subjects) plus the present participle (base plus -ing).
He has been taking piano lessons for three months.
We have been exercising regularly since January 1.
I have been thinking about you all day.
Like the first use of present perfect, present perfect progressive describes an action that started in the past and is continuing now. It gives extra emphasis to the ongoing nature of the action.
The time expressions for present perfect progressive are the same ones we use with present perfect verbs for continuing action. We can also use “lately” or “recently” when an action has become more frequent in recent time.
I have been feeling sick lately.
She has been eating more vegetables recently.
BONUS: Active versus passive
All of the examples above use active voice. This means that the subject of the sentence is doing the action or experiencing the state. Every verb tense can also have passive voice if the subject receives the action. Look at the examples below.
Ready for more?
Watch for two more blog posts soon on past and future verb tenses. Do you have a question about any of the present tenses? Ask us in the comments!