Simple Verb Tenses in English
English has three simple tenses: present, past, and future. These simple tenses show actions or states of being at a point in time, but don’t always pin down a specific moment. Past, present, and future are easy verb forms to use.
Present tense tells you what is going on right now. The present form shows action or a state of being that is occurring now, that is generally true, or that is always happening.
Reggie rolls his tongue around the pastry. (rolls is in present tense)
George plans nothing for New Year’s Eve because he never has a date. (plans, has are in present tense)
Past tense tells you what happened before the present time. Consider these two past-tense sentences:
When the elastic in Ms. Belli’s girdle snapped, we all woke up. (snapped and woke are in past tense)
Despite the strong plastic ribbon, the package became unglued and spilled onto the conveyor belt. (became and spilled are in past tense)
You can’t go wrong with the past tense, except for the irregular verbs, but one very common mistake is to mix past and present tenses in the same story. Here’s an example:
So I go to the restaurant looking for Cindy because I want to tell her about Grady’s date with Eleanor. I walk in and I see Brad Pitt! So I went up to him and said, “How are the kids?”
The speaker started in present tense — no problem. Even though an event is clearly over, present tense is okay if you want to make a story more dramatic. But the last sentence switches gears. Suddenly we’re in past tense. Problem! Don’t change tenses in the middle of a story. And don’t bother celebrities either.
Future tense talks about what has not happened yet. This simple tense is the only one that always needs helping verbs to express meaning, even for the plain, no-frills version.
Nancy will position the wig in the exact center of her head. (will position is in future tense)
Lisa and I will never part, thanks to that bottle of glue! (will part is in future tense)