All about verb tenses

Verb tenses tell us when actions took place. Here’s how to use them! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

January 29, 2024

All about verb tenses

Verb tenses tell us when actions took place. Here’s how to use them! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Jan 29, 2024

All about verb tenses

Verb tenses tell us when actions took place. Here’s how to use them! 

Christina Levandowski

Christina Levandowski

Jan 29, 2024

Key takeaways

  • Tenses tell your timing – Did the action occur in the past, present, or future? Use your tenses to tell your reader or audience all about actions happening during a specific time! 
  • Verb tenses look differently – To change the verb tense, add letters to the end of the verb or add words before the verb. We’ll show you how!
  • Tense subtypes offer more details – In this overview, you’ll learn perfect, continuous, and perfect-continuous. You can use these to provide more detail in fewer words.

Verb tenses are essential in the English language, generally telling when a verb action happened and how long that verb was occurring. Verb tenses help us tell stories correctly and relay important information to readers in homework or essays.

Below, we’re covering everything you need to know about English verb tenses.

Overview of English verb tenses

You can use tenses to describe the window of time in which an action took place in many different ways. The three most common verb tenses students see in class are the past, present, and future tenses. (and their subtenses, too!) 

Past tense

The past tense is just like it sounds. It talks about actions that have already happened in the past. Verbs in past tense are usually formatted with an “-ed” at the end of the word to show that it is not currently happening. Or it is preceded by “had” or “was.” 

There are a few funky irregular verbs to watch out for — around 200, to be exact! Don’t worry, though. We’ve linked the Cambridge guide that covers every verb and form of the verb that you’ll need to know. 

  • Simple past. Add the suffix -ed or -d to the end of the verb.

“I picked up the glass of water.”

  • Past perfect. [had] + [past participle]

“I had picked up the glass of water.”

  • Past continuous. [was/were] + [present participle] 

“I was picking up the glass of water.”

  • Past perfect continuous. [had] + [been] + [present participle]

“I had been picking up the glass of water.”

Present tense

Present tense expresses action or state in the present time. You’re actively doing it right now, as you’re speaking, or you’ve just done it a few seconds ago. 

In most cases, simple present tense is just the verb with no changes or additions. However, this changes if you’re speaking in the first or third person. In these cases, you’ll add the suffix -s, -es, or -ies, depending on the verb’s ending. 

As a general rule, add -s to the end of the verb unless:

  • It ends in o, ch, sh, th, ss, gh, or z. Then, you add -es. 
  • It ends in a consonant and y. Then, you drop the y and add -ies.

Here are the four types of present tenses with examples:

  • Simple present. Leave as is or add -s, -es, or -ies. 

“I work at Disneyland!” 

  • Present perfect. [have/has] + [past participle]

I have worked at Disneyland.” 

  • Present continuous. [am/is/are] + [present participle]

I am working at Disneyland.” 

  • Present perfect continuous. [has/have] + [been] + present participle]

I have been working at Disneyland.” 

Future tense

The future tense defines something that hasn’t happened yet but will in the future. You’ll use this to talk about things that you hope to accomplish.

These are the four different varieties of future tenses with examples:

  • Simple future. [will] + [verb root form]

“I will learn how to sew before Saturday.”

  • Future perfect. [will] +  [have] + [past participle]

“I will have learned how to sew before Saturday.” 

  • Future continuous. [will] + [be] + [present participle]

“I will be learning how to sew before Saturday.”

  • Future perfect continuous. [will] + [have] + [been] + [present participle]

“I will have been learning how to sew for three days before Saturday arrives.”

Comparing past, present & future verb tenses

Sometimes, it’s easier to see the tenses, too. We’ve put together a helpful table below using the verb “paint.”






I painted

I paint

I will paint


I was painting

I am painting

I will be painting


I had painted

I have painted

I will have painted

Common mistakes in using verb tenses

While we might find ourselves automatically using different verb tenses in our conversations, it’s easy to make simple grammatical errors. 

Let’s learn how to avoid these common mistakes when using verb tenses!

Mixing tenses in your writing. When a writer uses more than one verb tense in a paragraph or paper, it can confuse readers. This common grammar mistake is also known as “tense shift.” Avoid unnecessary tense shifts, and try to stick to one tense.

  • Incorrect: “I walk to the coffee shop and bought a croissant.” The verb “walk” is in simple present tense, while “bought” is a past tense verb. 
  • Correct: “I walked to the coffee shop and bought a croissant.” 

Incorrect irregular verbs. The English language has many irregular verbs, which drastically change when they go from present tense to past tense. Here are a few common irregular verbs that sometimes confuse young students.

  • To be
  • To have 
  • To do
  • To go
  • To say
  • To see
  • To take
  • To get

Be sure to check your writing and speech regularly to keep yourself polished and practicing well!

Tips for mastering verb tenses

Looking to master your verb tenses? We’re here to help! We’ve condensed the learning process down, making it simple for you to master every tense — from simple tense to past perfect tense(s)! 

Practise regularly — This may seem like a given. However, nothing can replace consistent practise. As you write and speak, pay attention to the verb forms that you’re using. Are they correct? Do they make grammatical sense? 

If you want to go the extra mile, work with your teachers, parents, and friends to remain as accurate as possible. Form matters! 

Focus on one tense at a time — If you attempted to learn all the tenses at once, you’d likely overwhelm your brain and start making mistakes. It’s best to attempt to learn the tenses one tense at a time, moving on only when you’re confident in your knowledge of the previous tense. 

We recommend starting with the more common main verb tenses (such as simple past tense, progressive tenses, and other major verb tenses). Then, you can work your way up from there. 

Learn how to use different tenses in context — Context is everything. Once you understand what each of the English tenses is and looks/sounds like, it’s time to put them into practise in the correct context. This generally means ensuring that the tense is used in the correct conditions.

Whether you’re working on learning the present progressive tense or practising with perfect progressive and present perfect progressive, we want to take a moment and give you a round of applause. By practising and mastering your tenses, you’re able to add time frames into your content, keep your facts straight, and communicate clearly — all of which will help you thrive in school and beyond. 

Practise makes perfect, so don’t be afraid to get out there and progress, even if you make a mistake. We’re all rooting for you. 

Use this as a basal guide to experiment and visualise the verb tenses, and practice applying them to your own contexts. Once you master them (in the very near future), you can begin practising adding on auxiliary verbs and other elements to make your sentences even clearer. 

Explore verb tenses with DoodleEnglish

DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises covering grammar, punctuation, spelling and more!

Designed by teachers, it creates each child a unique work programme tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills in English. Try it for free today!

try doodleenglish for free

FAQs about verb tenses

There are many different types of tenses. Commonly encountered tenses include past, present perfect, present perfect continuous, simple future, future, past perfect, future perfect, past continuous, simple, present, present continuous, future, and future continuous. 

Practise makes perfect. Consider reaching out to a teacher, parent, or mentor, and ask them to help you practise writing and speaking using proper verb tenses. You’ll begin to see what “sounds” and feels right as time goes on. 

The most common errors are overuse of a specific verb text (resulting in clunky text), mixing up verb tenses in the same sentence (which usually makes you question if it “sounds” correct on paper or verbally), and misuse in conditional if/then statements. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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