Using Verb Tenses

Avertissement

Ce contenu est offert en anglais seulement.

The form of a verb indicates the time of the action, event or condition. The complex temporal relationship of actions, events and conditions is indicated using a sequence of tenses.

There are various ways of categorizing the twelve verb tenses, including according to time: past, present and future.

Verb tense: time

There are four past tenses:

  1. simple past (I went)
  2. past progressive (I was going)
  3. past perfect (I had gone)
  4. past perfect progressive (I had been going)

There are four present tenses:

  1. simple present (I go)
  2. present progressive (I am going)
  3. present perfect (I have gone)
  4. present perfect progressive (I have been going)

Note that the present perfect and present perfect progressive are not past tenses—the speaker is currently in the state of having gone or having been going.

There are four future tenses:

  1. simple future (I will go)
  2. future progressive (I will be going)
  3. future perfect (I will have gone)
  4. future perfect progressive (I will have been going)

 

Verb tense: aspect

 

Verb tenses may also be categorized according to aspect. Aspect refers to the nature of the action described by the verb. There are three aspects: indefinite (or simple), complete (or perfect) and continuing (or progressive).

The three indefinite (or simple) tenses describe an action but do not state whether the action is finished:

  1. simple past (I went)
  2. simple present (I go)
  3. simple future (I will go)

The indefinite aspects are used when the beginning or ending of the action, event or condition is unknown or unimportant to the meaning of the sentence. The indefinite aspect also indicates a habitual or repeated action, event or condition.

The three complete (or perfect) tenses describe a finished action:

  1. past perfect (I had gone)
  2. present perfect (I have gone)
  3. future perfect (I will have gone)

The complete aspect indicates that the end of the action, event or condition is known and emphasizes the fact that the action is complete. The action may, however, be completed in the present, in the past or in the future.

The three incomplete (or progressive) tenses describe an unfinished action:

  1. past progressive (I was going)
  2. present progressive (I am going)
  3. future progressive (I will be going)

The progressive aspect indicates that the action, event or condition is ongoing in the present, the past or the future.

It is also possible to combine a complete (or perfect) tense with an incomplete tense to describe an action which was in progress and then finished:

  1. past perfect progressive (I had been going)
  2. present perfect progressive (I have been going)
  3. future perfect progressive (I will have been going)

 

The Function of Verb Tenses

 

 

The simple present tense

 

The simple present tense describes actions, events or conditions happening in the present, at the moment of speaking or writing. The simple present is used when the precise beginning or ending of the action, event or condition is unknown or unimportant to the meaning of the sentence.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are in the simple present tense. Each sentence describes an action taking place in the present:

  • Joe waits patiently while Bridget books the tickets.
  • The shelf holds three books and a vase of flowers.
  • The crowd moves across the field in an attempt to see the rock star.
  • The Stephens sisters are both very talented; Virginia writes and Vanessa paints.
  • Bridget annoys Walter by turning corners too quickly.

The simple present expresses general truths such as scientific facts, as in the following sentences:

  • Rectangles have four sides.
  • Canada Day takes place on July 1, to mark the anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act.
  • The moon circles the earth once every 28 days.
  • Calcium is important to the formation of strong bones.

The simple present indicates a habitual action, event or condition, as in the following sentences:

  • Leonard goes to The Jumping Horse Pub every Thursday evening.
  • My grandmother sends me jigsaw puzzles each spring.
  • It seems that bad things happen in threes.
  • We never finish jigsaw puzzles because the cat always eats some of the pieces.

The simple present is also used to write about works of art, as in the following sentences:

  • One of Artemisia Gentileschi’s best known paintings represents Judith’s beheading of Holofernes.
  • The Lady of Shallot weaves a tapestry while watching the passers-by in her mirror.
  • Lear rages against Cordelia and only belatedly realizes that she, not her sisters, loves him.
  • The play ends with an epilogue spoken by the fool.

The simple present refers to a future event when used with an adverb or adverbial phrase, as in the following sentences:

  • The doors open in 10 minutes.
  • The premier arrives on Tuesday.
  • My French classes end next week.
  • The publisher distributes the galley proofs next Wednesday.
  • The lunar eclipse begins in exactly 43 minutes.

The present progressive tense

While the simple present and the present progressive are sometimes used interchangeably, the present progressive tense emphasizes the continuing nature of actions, events or conditions.

The highlighted verbs in the sentences below are in the present progressive tense, which emphasizes the ongoing nature of the action:

  • Nora is looking for the first paperback editions of Raymond Chandler’s books.
  • Joe is dusting all the shelves on the second floor of the shop.
  • The strikers are pacing up and down in front of the factory.
  • CBC is broadcasting the hits of the 70s this evening.
  • The presses are printing the first edition of tomorrow’s paper.

The present progressive occasionally refers to a future event when used with an adverb or adverbial phrase, as in the following sentences:

  • The doors are opening in 10 minutes.
  • The premier is arriving on Tuesday.
  • My French classes are ending next week.
  • The publisher is distributing the galley proofs next Wednesday.

The present perfect tense

The present perfect tense describes actions that began in the past and continue into the present or that have just been completed at the moment of speaking or writing. The present perfect often suggests that a past action still has an effect upon something happening in the present.

The highlighted compound verbs in the following examples are in the present perfect tense:

Example Explanation
They have not delivered the documents we need. This sentence suggests that the documents were not delivered in the past and that they are still undelivered.
The health department has decided that all children should be immunized against meningitis. The present perfect tense suggests that the decision made in the past is still of importance in the present.
The government has cut university budgets; consequently, the dean has increased the size of most classes. Here both actions took place sometime in the past and continue to influence the present.
The heat wave has lasted three weeks. The present perfect tense indicates that a condition (the heat wave) began in the past and continues to affect the present.
Donna has dreamt about frogs sitting in trees every night this week. Here the action of dreaming began in the past and continues into the present.

The present perfect progressive tense

Like the present perfect, the present perfect progressive tense describes actions, events or conditions that began in the past and continue in the present. The present perfect progressive, however, stresses the ongoing nature of the action, condition or event.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are in the present perfect progressive tense and suggest that the actions began in the past and continue in the present:

  • That dog has been barking for three hours; I wonder if Joe will call the owner.
  • I have been relying on my Christmas bonus to pay for the gifts I bought for my family.
  • They have been publishing this comic book for 10 years.
  • We have been seeing geese flying south all afternoon.
  • Even though the coroner has been examining the corpse since early this morning, we still do not know the cause of death.

The simple past tense

The simple past tense describes actions, events or conditions that occurred in the past, before the moment of speaking or writing.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are in the simple past tense and describe actions taking place at some point in the past:

  • A flea jumped from the dog to the cat.
  • Bridget gripped the hammer tightly and nailed the boards together.
  • The gemstones sparkled in a velvet-lined display case.
  • Artemisia Gentileschi probably died in 1652.
  • The village elder began every story by saying, "A long time ago when the earth was green."

The past progressive tense

The past progressive tense describes actions ongoing in the past, which generally took place within a specific time frame. While actions referred to using the present progressive tense have some connection to the present, actions referred to using the past progressive tense have no immediate or obvious connection to the present. The ongoing actions took place and were completed at some point well before the time of speaking or writing.

The highlighted verbs in the following examples are in the past progressive tense:

Example Explanation
The cat was walking along the tree branch. This sentence describes an action that took place over a period of time in the past and has no immediate relationship to anything occurring in the present.
Lena was telling a story about her most recent exploits when a tree branch broke the living room window. Here the action (was telling) took place and continued for some time in the past.
When the fire alarm rang, Jesse was writing a progress report on her project. This sentence describes actions (rang and was writing) that took place sometime in the past. However, the continuing nature of only one of the actions (was writing) is emphasized.
The archivists were eagerly waiting for the delivery of the former prime minister’s private papers. Here the ongoing action occurred at some time unconnected to the present.
Between 1942 and 1944 the Frank and Van Damm families were hiding in an Amsterdam office building. The action took place over an extended period of time and its continuing nature is emphasized.

The past perfect tense

The past perfect tense refers to actions that took place and were completed in the past. The past perfect generally emphasizes that one action, event or condition ended before another past action, event or condition began.

The highlighted verbs in the following examples are in the past perfect tense:

Example Explanation
Miriam arrived at 5 p.m. but Whitaker had closed the store. All the events occurred in the past, but the act of closing the store took place before Miriam arrived at the store.
After we located the restaurant that Christian had raved about, we ate there every Friday. Here the praise (had raved) precedes the finding (located) of the restaurant. Both actions took place sometime before the moment of speaking or writing.
The heat wave had lasted three weeks. This sentence describes an action that began and ended sometime in the past (had lasted). The past perfect tense indicates that the heat wave has no connection to any events occurring in the present.
After she had learned to drive, Alice felt more independent. Here the learning took place and was completed at a specific time in the past. The past perfect emphasizes that the learning preceded the feeling of independence.

The past perfect progressive tense

The past perfect progressive tense indicates that continuing actions in the past began before other past actions began or interrupted them.

The highlighted compound verbs in the following examples are in the past perfect progressive tense:

Example Explanation
The second graders had been running around the school yard for 10 minutes before the teachers shooed them back inside. Here the actions of the second graders (had been running) are ongoing in the past and preceded the actions of the teachers (shooed), which also took place in the past.
We had been talking about repainting the front room for three years, and last night we finally bought the paint. The ongoing action of talking preceded another past action (bought).
The construction crew had been digging for three days before they found the water main. Here the action of digging took place in the past and occurred over a period of time (three days). The digging was followed by the action of finding.
Madeleine had been reading mystery novels for several years before she discovered the works of Agatha Christie. Here the act of discovery occurred in the past after the ongoing and repeated action of reading.
The chef’s assistant had been chopping vegetables for several minutes before he realized that he had minced his apron strings. This sentence is a bit more complex in that it contains a sequence of three different past tenses, which conveys a complex set of information. The past perfect progressive (had been chopping) emphasizes the ongoing nature of the past act of chopping. While another past perfect progressive (had been mincing) could be used to describe what happened to the apron strings, the past perfect (had minced) suggests that act of mincing was completed. The simple past (realized) describes the action closest to the present—an action that followed both the chopping and the mincing.

The simple future tense

The simple future tense refers to actions that will take place after the moment of speaking or writing.

The highlighted verbs in the following sentences are in the simple future tense:

  • They will meet us at the newest Thai café in the market.
  • Will you walk the dog tonight?
  • At the barbecue, we will eat heartily.
  • Bobbie will call you tomorrow with details about the agenda.
  • The Smiths say that they will not move their compost bins.

The future progressive tense

The future progressive tense describes continuing actions that extend into or will happen in the future.

The highlighted compound verbs in the following sentences are in the future progressive tense:

  • The glee club will be performing at the celebration of the town’s centenary.
  • Ian will be working on the computer system for the next two weeks.
  • The selection committee will be meeting every Wednesday morning.
  • The candidates will be writing an exam every afternoon next week.
  • They will be ringing the bells next Sunday.

The future perfect tense

The future perfect tense refers to actions that will be completed sometime in the future before another action takes place.

The highlighted verbs in the following examples are in the future perfect tense:

Example Explanation
The surgeon will have operated on six patients before she attends a luncheon meeting. The act of operating will take place sometime before the act of attending.
The plumber and his assistant will have soldered all the new joins in the pipes before they leave for the next job. Here the plumbers’ act of soldering will precede the act of leaving.
By the time you get back from lunch, we will have finished writing the letters. Here the act of returning from lunch will take place after the act of writing.

The future perfect progressive tense

The future perfect progressive indicates continuing actions that will be completed at some specified time in the future.

The highlighted verbs in the following examples are in the future perfect progressive tense:

Example Explanation
Bridget will have been studying Greek for three years by the end of this term. The future perfect progressive tense indicates the ongoing nature of the future act of studying, which will occur before the upcoming end of term.
By the time the meeting is over, the selection committee will have been arguing about which candidate to interview for three hours. The ongoing nature of the future act of arguing is emphasized by the use of the future perfect progressive. The act of sustained arguing will take place before the meeting is over.
When Miguel returns, the wine will have been fermenting for three months. Here the ongoing action of fermentation will precede the act of returning.

Rechercher par thèmes connexes

Vous voulez en apprendre davantage sur un thème abordé dans cette page? Cliquez sur un lien ci-dessous pour voir toutes les pages du Portail linguistique du Canada portant sur le thème choisi. Les résultats de recherche s’afficheront dans le Navigateur linguistique.

Date de modification :