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English, French, and Math Support: Verb tenses

Marianopolis College provides students with support for improving their English and French language abilities, as well as support for improving their Math skills, all through professional support. All services are free.

Verb tenses

Mastering English verb tenses is essential to becoming a skilled writer. This tip sheet provides a brief overview of each tense, how it is formed, and examples. The tense of a verb refers to when in absolute time it occurs. The aspect refers to the time relative to other events. English verb forms include present and past participles, which can function as part of the verb, or as a noun or adjective.

Base / Infinitive Present Participle Past Past participle
(to) boil boiling boiled (has/have) boiled


Present tense

Tense and aspect Use and form Example

Simple Present

- general fact

- habit or routine

-event in a literary analysis

verb + s in 3rd person singular

Water boils at 100℃.

The news comes on at 5:30 every night.

The protagonist gets married, and then kills her husband.

Present Continuous

- action currently in progress

- action that will occur in the near future

am/is/are + present participle

The water is boiling, so let's add the pasta.

We are driving to New York this weekend.

Present Perfect

- action that begins in the past and continues until now

- repeated action in a period or time still in progress

- action occurrign at an unspecfied time in the past

has/have + past participle

The water has already started boiling.

She only went to the gym twice last, but she has gone four times this week.

We have waited for hours.

Present Perfect Continuous

- repeated action that began in the past and continues now

has/have + been + present participle

The water has been boiling for about ten minutes.

He has been working here since the company was founded.


Past tense

Tense and aspect Use and form Example

Simple past

- action that occurred at a specific time in the past

verb + ed, or

past form for irregular verbs

The water boiled on the stove.

Shakespeare wrote his plays centuries ago, but they are still performed and enjoyed today.

Past continuous

- action that was in progress at a specific time in the past

was/were + present participle

The water was boiling, so she prepared for the tea ceremony.

Protesters were marching and chanting outside city hall while the mayor and councillors debated the issue.

Past perfect

-action that occurred before a specific point in the past

had + past participle

The water had already boiled, so it was safe to drink.

Many people were desperate because they had not procured emergency supplies before the flood.

Past perfect continuous

-action that was in progress before a specific point in the past

had + been + present participle

The water had been boiling for a while before they remembered it.

When they finally found him, he couldn’t speak because he had been yelling for hours.


Present tense

Tense and aspect Use and form Example

Simple future

- action predicted to happen in the future
- spontaneous decision

will + infinitive


- action that has been planned for the future

am/is/are + going to + infinitive

The water will boil if you turn on the stove.

We are out of cream, so I will use milk in the recipe.

She is going to travel in Europe until September.

Future continuous

- action that will be in progress at a specific time in the future

will + be + present participle

The water will be boiling, so be careful carrying the kettle.

I am going to bed around 10:30, so I will probably be sleeping at midnight.

Future perfect

- action that will be completed before a specific time in the future

Will + have + past participle

The water will have boiled by the time you finish chopping those vegetables.

By December, the snow will have fallen.

Future perfect continuous

- a repeated action that will be completed before a specific time in the future

Will + have been + present participle

By six o’clock, the water will have been boiling for an hour.

By the time I graduate in 2017, I will have been studying at Marianopolis College for two years.


Verb tenses -- Exercises

Each of the following sentences has at least one error. Find the error, circle it, and write the correct verb tense or form above it.

Visit Writing Centre staff to check your answers.

  1. I am a student here since September.
  2. While the author wrote the novel, soldiers patrolled the streets just outside her door.
  3. By 2018, the International Space Station is going to be in space for twenty years.
  4. The winds of change blew during the late 1950’s, and by the 1960’s, several social movements erupted.
  5. 1066 is a pivotal year in the history of the English language. In that year, the Normans had invaded England and were beginning to introduce elements of Norman French into Old English.
  6. By the time they had located her, it was too late: she died the year before.
  7. The novel is about a thief who snuck into the home of a wealthy family and stole their books.
  8. No one knows whether he will have won the MVP Award until the Athletic Banquet next month.
  9. I am not waiting any longer! The doctor is so behind with his appointments that by the time he sees me, I am going to be dead!
  10. Currently, the number of violent crimes decreases, but that might be because they are not being reported.
  11. The English Exit Exam is next Wednesday; many students will have been reviewing literary devices all weekend.
  12. By the time the disease is detected, it is too late: the bacteria begin to multiply.
  13. Do not call them now. They probably eat dinner.
  14. For the past three years, the government is ignoring calls for reform. Now, voters will be getting angry.
  15. You have no money? I am going to lend you some, but you will have been paying me back!
  16. At the movie premiere, the entertainment reporters have probed the actor for more details about his private life, but he refuses to offer any.
  17. We did not know that she retired the previous year.
  18. If you need me this afternoon, call my office. I will have been working on a report between 1:00 and 3:00 o’clock.
  19. Botswana is having one of the highest standards of living in Africa, even though a significant percentage of the population is suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
  20. Last year, he nearly won the championship. This year, however, he didn’t win a single match.

Verb tenses -- Printable format

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