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Tense and Time

It is important not to confuse the name of a verb tense with the way we use it to talk about time.

For example, a present tense does not always refer to present time:

  • I hope it rains tomorrow.
    "rains" is present simple, but it refers here to future time (tomorrow)

Or a past tense does not always refer to past time:

  • If I had some money now, I could buy it.
    "had" is past simple but it refers here to present time (now)

The following examples show how different tenses can be used to talk about different times.

TENSE TIME
past present future
Present Simple   I want a coffee. I leave tomorrow.
She likes coffee.
Present Continuous   I am having dinner. I am taking my exam next month.
They are living in London.
Present Perfect Simple I have seen ET. I have finished.  
Present Perfect Continuous I have been playing tennis.    
We have been working for four hours.  
Past Simple I finished one hour ago. If she loved you now, she would marry you. If you came tomorrow, you would see her.
Past Continuous I was working at 2am this morning.    
Past Perfect Simple I had not eaten for 24 hours.    
Past Perfect Continuous We had been working for 3 hours. If I had been working now, I would have missed you. If I had been working tomorrow, I could not have agreed.
Future Simple   Hold on. I'll do it now. I'll see you tomorrow.
Future Continuous     I will be working at 9pm tonight.
Future Perfect Simple     I will have finished by 9pm tonight.
We will have been married for ten years next month.
Future Perfect Continuous     They may be tired when you arrive because they will have been working.
In 30 minutes, we will have been working for four hours.

Basic Tenses »

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