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What Are Verb Tenses? (Intermediate, B-Level)

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A “verb tense” tells us when an action or event happens: in the past, present, or future.

Tenses change the verb to show the time (or to put the verb in a particular time frame).

A verb tense also shows if the action or event is happening or has been completed. That is called the “aspect.”


The names of the verb tenses come from the time (past, present, or future) and aspect (simple or continuous / imperfect or perfect).

Table 1. Naming Verb Tenses




Verb Tense

past (imperfect)
past simple
past continuous
past perfect
past perfect continuous
present (imperfect)
present simple
present continuous
present perfect
present perfect continuous
future (imperfect)
future simple
future continuous
future perfect
future perfect continuous

Note. Although you have names for future verb tenses, English has no true future tense. In the future simple tense, you would say, for example, “I will go to the park.” The auxiliary “will” is actually in the present tense (present = will; past = would).


Table 1 above shows where the names of the verb tenses come from; however, the name of the verb tense does not always tell you where it puts the verb in a time frame.

In many cases, the same verb tense can express actions or events happening or having happened at different time points.


For example, the verb (to go) in the sentence “The plane leaves at 7 tomorrow” is in the present simple tense, but it expresses the future.

Similarly, when you say, “I am studying,” the present continuous tense indicates something that is happening at this moment; however, “I am studying to be a doctor," which uses the same vert tense, indicates something that you have been doing lately, but you may not be doing it right now.

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