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What are the 12 tenses of the verb?

We usually describe verbs as an "action word", telling students that "a verb is something you do". However, verbs can also describe the state of something. All verbs fall under one of three tenses: past, present, or future. In addition, depending on how the verb is being used, it falls under the simple, progressive, perfect, or perfect progressive. These verb tenses can help us understand how one action relates to another. See the charts below to find an example of each verb tense and when to use each:

English Verb Tense Past Present Future
Simple I looked yesterday.

To describe an action that has been completed, usually including a finished time.
I look.

To describe a routine action
I will look.

To describe an action that will happen in the future.
Continuous I was looking at the new car when it started raining.

To describe an action at a specific moment in the past; it is often interrupted by another action.
I am looking.

To describe what is happening right now.
I will be looking at the solar eclipse tomorrow at 10 am.

To describe an ongoing action happening in the future, usually at a specific time.
Perfect I had looked at the painting before we left the museum.

To discuss two actions. Past perfect describes the first action being completed before the second action occurred.
I have looked.

To describe an action that has been completed or discuss something that has changed.
I will have looked at the new house seven times before we buy it.

To express an action that will be completed before a second action occurs.
Perfect Continuous I had been looking for my dog for three hours before I found him.

Similar to past perfect, it is used to describe two actions in the past. It often indicates how long the first action occurred or describes a first action that occurred for a longer period of time.
I have been looking.

To discuss an action that started in the past and continues into the present.
I will have been looking for a new car for months by the time I buy one.

To describe an action in the future that is occurring when interrupted by a second action.

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FAQs

How do I decide if a verb is past, present, or future?

To decide the tense of a verb, consider when the action is happening. If it's already happening, the verb is in the past tense. If it is happening right now, the verb is in the present tense. If it is going to happen in the future, the verb is present tense.

What's the difference between present perfect and present perfect progressive?

The present perfect and present perfect progressive tenses both use the word have before the specific action. However, present perfect tense refers to an action that is complete or to a change that has occurred. Present perfect progressive tense refers to an action that is still occurring in the present.

How do I use irregular verbs with different verb tenses?

Irregular verbs never follow the verb conjugation patterns of regular verbs, such as adding -ed to the past tense. When using irregular verbs in the 12 different tenses, it is important to always follow the rules of that specific verb. You must also remember that some verbs have different past tenses, such as flew and flown. (I flew in the plane. I had flown to California.)

When should I teach verb tenses?

Native English speakers usually don't need to learn verb tenses as they learn English, because they are able to discern which verb tense sounds correct in a given sentence. Many state standards mandate that verb tenses are taught starting between 3rd-5th grade, with more complex tenses taught in higher grade levels.