What are Tenses? - Definition, Types, Rules

IELTS

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Priya
Priya Garg
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Apr 17, 2024 10:12 IST

What is tense in English?: Imagine describing your morning routine by saying, "I wake up early, have breakfast, and then catch the bus." These sentences use simple present tense, which describes habits, facts, and general truths. But what if you want to talk about something happening right now? Here's where the present continuous tense comes in. You could say, "I am waking up (right now) and am having breakfast." Tenses add a crucial layer of meaning to your sentences, allowing you to express the timing and duration of actions.

What is Tense in English?

Mastering the 12 tenses in English grammar is the key to establishing effective communication in English with confident expression. Tenses are a set of certain rules that help us to make sentences in English for different sets of time. Adjoining your knowledge of tenses with a good vocabulary can help you articulate impressive sentences to hold good conversations among your peers. 

This blog includes the tenses definition, tenses rules, tense chart and 12 types of tenses in English grammar with examples. Students can find in-depth details on tenses in this article and they can also download the Tenses in English grammar with examples PDF by clicking on the “Download Guide” button given at the top of the page. 

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Table of Contents:

What is Tense in English Grammar?

Tenses, the building blocks of sentences, are a form of the verb used to express the time of an action and its degree of completeness. The tenses help us to express the time of an event, the time when a person did something or the time when something happened. 

Types of Tenses in English Grammar

Tenses are of three main types, as given below.

  1. Present tense 
  2. Past tense
  3. Future tense

To describe the degree of completeness of an action or a situation, the above grammar tenses are further divided into 4 parts each, thus giving us the 12 tenses in English grammar. So, we can say that there are 4 types of present tense, past tense and future tense. 

All tenses in English are given in the table below. 

Tense 

Present

Past 

Future 

Indefinite/Simple

Present Indefinite Tense

Past Indefinite Tense

Future Indefinite Tense

Continuous 

Present Continuous Tense

Past Continuous Tense

Future Continuous Tense

Perfect

Present Perfect Tense

Past Perfect Tense

Future Perfect Tense

Perfect Continuous

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Future Perfect Continuous Tense

Now that we have understood “What is the meaning of tense”, let us continue to understand each of the 12 types of tenses briefly, followed by the tense chart that contains the rules for making sentence structure for each type of tenses. 

What is Present Tense?

A present tense describes the work/habit that is occurring at present and the degree of its completeness is described by 4 different tenses. Below we have listed all 4 present tenses to help you understand what is the difference between either of them and where and when to use them. We have also given the rules for each present tense later in the tense chart below. 

  1. Present Indefinite Tense: Also known as the Simple Present tense, these tenses do not clearly describe whether the work (that is talked about in the sentence) is still ongoing or is complete. Usually, by simple present tense, we describe a habit, a daily routine, a general fact, the current moment or a near future event.
  2. Present Continuous Tense: These tenses describe that an action/condition is occurring in the current moment and may continue into the future.
  3. Present Perfect Tense: This tense describes an action that has been started in the past and has been completed until the current time. This means that the Present Perfect tense describes the work/action that has been “completed” however, some of its effect remains in the present time as well. 
  4. Present Perfect Continuous Tense: These tenses describe an action that has started in the past and is still continuing in the present/current time. These actions are not “complete” and are continuing till the present time.  

What is Past Tense?

A past tense describes an action that has been completed/happened or a state/situation that existed in the past. The 4 types of past tenses in English are described briefly below. 

  1. Past Indefinite Tense: Also known as the Simple Past Tense, this tense describes an action that has happened in the past or a situation that occurred in the past. Present Indefinite tense is used to describe past actions:
    • that are described by time (such as by using words - yesterday, last, ago, never, etc.),
    • that have occurred as a habit in the past, and
    • which are described using “since” as an adverb
  2. Past Continuous Tense: This tense describes an action that continued to occur for some certain time in the past.
  3. Past Perfect Tense:  This tense describes an action already completed before the start of another event in the past. It also sometimes describes the actions that were completed at a certain point in the past.
  4. Past Perfect Continuous Tense: This tense describes actions that started and continued till a certain point in time in the past. This tense also describes an action/situation that continued till another action/situation occurred in the past. 

What is Future Tense?

The future tense describes a situation that doesn’t exist in the present moment or an action that has not happened in the present yet and may happen in the future. The 4 different types of future tenses in English are given below. 

  1. Future Indefinite Tense: Also known as the Simple Future Tense, the Future Indefinite Tense describes the actions that are going to happen in the near future or in the coming time.
  2. Future Continuous Tense: Also known as the future progressive tense, this tense is used to describe an action that will continue or remain in progress in the future. It is simply the future form of the present continuous tense.
  3. Future Perfect Tense: This tense is used to describe the actions that will be completed by a certain time in the future.
  4. Future Perfect Continuous Tense: Also known as the Future Perfect Progressive Tense, the future perfect continuous tense is used to describe actions that will remain progressing until a certain time in future. 

Tense Chart

Tense chart in English: The total 12 types of tenses with examples and formulas are given in the tenses chart below. 

Tenses Rules 

Tense Chart

Present

Past 

Future 

Indefinite/Simple

Subject + V1 + Object

Subject + V2 + Object 

Subject + will/shall + Object

Continuous 

Subject + is/are/am + V1 + ing + Object

Subject + was/were + V1 + ing + Object

Subject + will/shall be + V1 + ing + Object

Perfect

Subject + has/have + V3 + Object

Subject + had + V3 + Object

Subject + will/shall have + V3 + Object

Perfect Continuous

Subject + has/have been + V1 + ing + Object

Subject + had been + V1 + ing + Object

Subject + will/shall have been + V1 + ing + Object

Where, V1 = first form of verb, V2 = second form of verb and V3 = third form of verb. 

Note: You can make sentences in English by using the above tenses rules, you just need to have prior knowledge of all three forms of the commonly used verbs (V1, V2 and V3) and a clear understanding of the subject and object in a sentence. 

However, it must be noted that the above ones are the basic tense rules for making affirmative sentences through each of the mentioned tense rules. The rules slightly differ in each of the 12 types of tenses when making affirmative, negative and imperative sentences. The rules for making affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences in each of the above-discussed tenses will be discussed in their specified articles. and their examples will be discussed in the later part of this article. 

12 Tenses Examples

The examples of the 12 tenses in English grammar are given below. 

Tenses Examples

Tenses

Present

Past

Future

Indefinite 

I go shopping every weekend. 

I went shopping yesterday.

I will go shopping tomorrow.

Continuous

I am going shopping right now. 

I was going shopping when you called.

I will be going shopping at 3 pm tomorrow. 

Perfect

I have gone shopping already.

I had gone shopping before the stores closed. 

I will have gone shopping by the time you arrive. 

Perfect Continuous

I have been going shopping all afternoon.

I had been going shopping for hours when I finally found what I needed. 

I will have been going shopping for two hours by the time we meet. (Check out Future Plans)

This was all about the tenses definition in English, 12 the types of tenses in English grammar, and the chart of tenses in English with examples (tense chart) and tenses rules. 

Also Read:

Simple Present Tense

Present Continuous Tense

Present Perfect Tense

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Want to learn more? If you wish to ace your study-abroad dream by improving your English communication and comprehension skills then, you can join Shiksha’s FREE IELTS Classes; wherein our experienced expert trainers will prepare you for each section of your upcoming IELTS exam for free!

What is Tense FAQs

Q. What is the use of tenses in different English language proficiency exams?

A. Tenses are important for scoring well in different English exams like IELTS, TOEFL, PTE and Duolingo for the following reasons:

  • Correct understanding of tenses shows your grammar accuracy (subject-verb agreement, verb conjugation).
  • The ability to inter-convert sentences easily from one tense form to another demonstrates your ability to express actions in different timeframes (past, present, future).
  • Tenses help you understand the “reading passages” and “listening tasks” which are present in most of the English exams.
  • With your good knowledge of tenses, you can even eliminate the wrong choices in multiple-choice questions and thus get to a correct choice in the exam.

Q. What is tense definition?

A. In grammar, tenses show the time of an action or state of being expressed by a verb. Tenses indicate when something happened (past), is happening (present), or will happen (future).

Q. What is the present perfect tense?

A. The Present Perfect Tense is used to describe an action that has started in the past and continues up to the present time. This tense focuses on the completion of the action, not the exact time of the start of the action in the past.

Q. How many tenses are there in English grammar?

A. There are 12 tenses in grammar, formed by combining the three forms of verb (present, past and future) with four different aspects (simple, continuous, perfect, perfect continuous) that help to express the status and degree of completeness of an action or existence of a situation. All the tenses in English are given in the table below. 

Present Indefinite Tense

Past Indefinite Tense

Future Indefinite Tense

Present Continuous Tense

Past Continuous Tense

Future Continuous Tense

Present Perfect Tense

Past Perfect Tense

Future Perfect Tense

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

Future Perfect Continuous Tense

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Priya Garg
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Priya Garg is a seasoned content writer and editor. With her rich experience in content writing, teaching and research & analysis, Priya believes in providing only the correct information which is also up-to-date. H... Read Full Bio

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