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01 January 2013

Grammar: All About Verb Tense (From Past to Future)

By Rob San Miguel

In English, not all verb tenses are used often. Some verb tenses are only used when it is necessary.

The most commonly used verb tenses are: Simple Present, Simple Past, Simple Future, Present Continuous, Past Continuous, Future Continuous (be+going to), Present Perfect.

The following verb tenses are not often used because they can be replaced by the other commonly used tenses: Past Perfect, Past Perfect Continuous, Future Continuous (will be +ing), and Future Perfect.

Past Perfect:  I had washed the vegetables before I cooked them.
Simple (replaced by past tense): I washed the vegetables then I cooked them.


  1. Simple Present Tense: Talking about facts, habits or regular routine [Example: Water boils at 100 degree Celsius.]
  2. Present Continuous (am, is, are + ing): It is happening right now while I am talking. [Example: The water is boiling. Turn off the stove.]
  3. Simple Past Tense: It is finished. [Example: The water boiled a few hours ago.  It is cold now.]
  4. Past Continuous (was, were + ing): It was happening in a specific time in the past. [Example: The water was boiling around 8 this morning. The water was boiling when he arrived.]
  5. Simple Future (will): it will happen in the future [Example: The water will boil later.]
  6. Future Continuous (be+going to form): You are very sure it will happen [Example: The water is going to boil soon. Trust me.]
  7. Future Continuous (will+be+ing): You are very sure and you want to indicate a specific time in the future (formal) [Example: The water will be boiling in about 5 minutes, 6:55 to be exact.]
  8. Present Perfect 1 (has, have + past participle):  You are talking about your life experiences [Example:  I have boiled water before.  I know how to do it.]
  9. Present Perfect 2 (has, have + past participle):  The action has just finished. We can see, smell, feel, hear, or perceive the effect. Focus on the effect. [Example: I have boiled the water so it is ready and it is still hot. / If you do not want to focus on the effect, just say: I boiled the water.]
  10. Present Perfect 3 (has, have + past participle): Repeated action that started in the past and you connect it to the present. [Example: I have boiled six pitchers of water since this morning! I’m not hired just to boil water!]
  11. Present Perfect Continuous (has, have + been + ing):  The action started in the past and it is still continuing up to now. I want to focus on the length of time. [Example: I have been boiling water since 8 in the morning.  I am tired.]

If we talk about actions or situations that started in the past and it is continuing in the present, we can both use Present Perfect [HAS/HAVE+P.P.] and Present Perfect Continuous [HAS/HAVE+BEEN+ING].

What is the difference?

  • The action or situation (mostly situation and condition) started in the past and it is continuing in the present BUT the length of time is longer and the action or condition is more permanent. It cannot be easily changed.
  • Example: The Philippines has had a presidential form of government since 1898.

  • The action or situation (mostly actions) started in the past and it is continuing up in the present BUT the length of time is short and the action is temporary.  It will soon end.
  • Example:  The man has been standing in the hallway for an hour.  (Eventually, the man will stop standing in the hallway and go somewhere; if he stays there for the longest time, eventually he will die so he cannot stand there forever.)

12. Past Perfect Tense: Two finished actions and you want to connect the two finished actions together. The first action must use the “had + past participle” pattern. [Example:  I watched TV first. Then, I boiled water.  / Connect the two events:  I had watched TV before I boiled water.]

The following tenses are used only when it is necessary. For example in 2009, I can swear that I never used these tenses not even once in conversation.

Past Perfect Continuous (had + been + ing)
Let’s use a different example here.  The best way to explain this is to tell a story.
  • Yesterday, Lisa went to the party.
  • She arrived at 7 p.m.
  • Her boyfriend arrived at 7:15 p.m.
  • Her boyfriend broke up with her.
  • She cried afterwards.
  • She started crying at 7:30.
  • I arrived at 8:30
  • When I arrived, I saw that Lisa was crying. I could guess that she started crying earlier because her eyes were puffy and red, and there were many wet tissues on the table.
  • SO:  Lisa had been crying for a long time, perhaps more than an hour, when I arrived at the party yesterday. Poor girl.  I really feel sorry for her. 


Do you really need to say “Lisa had been crying for a long time when I arrived yesterday?” YES, if you really want to emphasize on the fact that Lisa had been crying for a long time when you arrived.  All events are important and the connections are important.

IF not just say:
Lisa was crying when I arrived at the party yesterday.  I don’t care why and how long. I just saw that she was crying. I am not interested. Hmp!

Future Perfect (will + have + past participle)
Let’s use a different example here as well.  The best way to explain this is to tell a story.
John wants to invite Lisa to have coffee tomorrow.

Lisa’s schedule tomorrow:
  • Tomorrow, I will clean my house.
  • I will start cleaning my house at 7 a.m.
  • Then, I will finish by 9 a.m.
  • By 9:01, I will have finished cleaning my house (Future Perfect). So I will be free after 9:01
  1. study English.
  2. am studying English now.
  3. studied English yesterday.
  4. was studying English yesterday evening around 7.
  5. I had studied my English lesson before I watched TV so do not get angry at me.
  6. will study English tomorrow.
  7. am going to study English later.
  8. will be studying English tomorrow around 6 p.m.
  9. will have studied English by 10 p.m. tomorrow.
  10. have studied English since I was 5 years old.
  11. have studied 7 chapters from my English book since this morning. I’m so tired.
  12. I have been studying English for 2 hours straight. I need a break.


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