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Comparison of English Tenses


You use the present tense to express something that happens in the present.  The Present Simple differs from the Present Continuous or Progressive in:

Present Simple

1. a present habit or routine

She smokes a lot. (She always smokes a lot.)

2. a general truth

Water is wet.

3. a present situation (not temporary)

He lives in Dendermonde.

4. always with STATE VERBS:

   a. verbs of the senses

   Do you hear anything?

   b. verbs of opinion and understanding

   He doesn't understand Japanese.

   c. verbs of emotions and feelings

   She hates classical music.

5. in the first conditional

He will come to the party, if you invite him.

Present Continuous or Progressive

1. a present and temporary activity

She is smoking a lot.  (She doesn’t normally.)

2. an on-going activity of limited duration

He is watching television at the moment.

3. a future arrangement

He is seeing his dentist tomorrow.  (an appointment)

4. repeated actions that irritate the speaker

He is always telling other people what to do.

(2) The PERFECT and PAST tenses

All these tenses describe actions in the past.  The Present Perfect differs from the Simple Past in:


Present Perfect

Simple Past

1. you know that the action took place in the past, but don't know when precisely.

I have seen her three times.  (when? you don't know)

1. you know precisely when the action took place in the past.

I saw her last week.  (when? last week)


2. very recent past

They've just left.

2. a past habit which is now finished

She smoked a lot. (not anymore now)

3. to announce news

A new president has been elected in Italy.

4. a state or situation which has started in the past and is continuing up to now.

I have lived there for a long time. (I am still living there.)

5. a finished state or activity but the period of time in which it has taken place is not finished.

I have written a letter this morning.  (the letter is finished and it is still morning)

6. a present result

I have lost my keys.

3. in the second conditional

She would help him, if she knew he was in troubles.

4. a state or situation which started in the past and is now finished.

I lived there for a long time.  (I am living somewhere else now.)

5. a finished state or activity and the period of time in which it has taken place is  finished.

I wrote a letter this morning.  (the letter is finished and it is no longer morning)


The Present Prefect Simple differs from the Present Prefect Progressive in:

Present Perfect Simple

1. a one-moment action

I have cut my finger.

2. the activity stops after the moment of speaking and you are speaking about a result.

I have painted the room.  (finished)

Present Perfect Progressive

1. an on-going activity

I have been cutting the grass.

2. the activity started in the past and is continuing after the moment of speaking a(so not finished).

I have been painting the room.  (still to finish it)

3. to express irritation

I have been waiting for hours.


(3) The PAST Perfect

You use the Past Perfect instead of the Simple Past or Present Perfect when an action has taken place before another action in the past.

She found feathers everywhere.  The cat had caught a bird.


(4) Expressing the FUTURE

There is no one future tense in English.  Instead, several verb forms and auxiliaries might be used to express the future.


4.1 will + infinitve: (shall after I and we in formal English)

1.) a prediction without proof and which is based upon your own opinion

I think Labour will win the elections. (That is my opinion.)

2.) in the First Conditional but never after if

If you aren’t careful, you’ll break that glass.

3.) a decision or an intention made at the moment of speaking

Someone is knocking at the door.  I’ll open it.


4.2 - to be going to + infinitive:

1.) a prediction based on a present fact or some evidence

Look at the sky.  It ‘s going to be a lovely day. (The sky proves this.)

2.) a decision or an intention made before the moment of speaking

When she grows up, she is going to be a ballet dancer.


4.3 the Present Progressive or Continuous

1.) a future arrangement (made an  appointment)

I’m seeing Aïda next month. (You have bought the tickets already.)


4.4 the Present Simple

1.) the certain future of a timetable or calendar

My flight leaves at 10.00.

It is my birthday tomorrow.

2.) after if, when, before and so on in the First Conditional

If the weather turns bad, the picnic will be cancelled.


4.5 the Future Continuous: will + be + -ing form

1.) an activity that will be in progress before  and after a time in the future

Don’t phone at 8.00, because we will be having dinner.

2.) a future event that will happen in he natural course of events

Don’t worry about our guests.  They’ll be arriving any minute now.


4.6 the Future Perfect

1.) an action that will be completed before a definite time in the future.

I’ll have done all my work by this evening.

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