Verb Tenses

Verb tenses are some of the most commonly studied grammatical structures in English, and with good reason as you can’t make a full, normal sentence without using a verb in its correct tense.

When thinking about verb tenses there are a few things to think about; how we make it, when we use it and related to that idea, what the time reference is for that tense. Thinking about these key ideas will help you to choose which tense you need to use. What follows in an overview of each tense from the most basic to the most complex, with links to more detailed explanations.

Present Simple

Form: Subject + Verb (conjugated in the correct form for the subject)

Use: We use the present simple to talk about states, repeated actions, habits, routines and things you do more than once. It’s not necessary for these actions to be frequent, but they must be repeated.

Example: I perform five or six international flights every month.

Negative: I don’t perform five or six international flights every month.

Question: Do you perform five or six international flights every month?

Click here for further information about using the present simple and also its advanced uses.

Click here for further information about conjugating the present simple

Present Continuous

Form: Subject + ‘be’ (with correct conjugation in the present simple) + verb-ing

Use: We use the present continuous to talk about things happening now or around now (example1). We can also use it to talk about future plans which are organised (example 2)

Example 1: We are descending to FL080.

Negative 1: We aren’t descending to FL080.

Question 1: Are you descending to FL080?

Example 2: I’m working on Saturday next week.

Click here for further information about using the present continuous and also its advanced uses.

Present Perfect

Form: Subject + have / has + past participle

Use: We use the present perfect to refer to actions which happen in ‘unfinished’ time periods.

Example: He has made two mistakes this week.

Negative: He hasn’t made two mistakes this week.

Question: Have you made two mistakes this week?

For further information click here for ‘present perfect 1’, click here for ‘present perfect 2’, and here for ‘present perfect 3’.

Past Simple

Form: Subject + Verb (conjugated in the correct past form for the subject)

Use: We use the past simple to talk about finished actions in the past.

Example: He flew three times last week.

Negative: He didn’t fly three times last week.

Question: Did you fly three times last week?

For further information on the use of the past simple click here, for more information on conjugating the past simple, click here.

Past Continuous

Form: Subject + ‘be’ (with correct conjugation in the past simple) + verb-ing

Use: We use the past continuous to say that something was in progress (and not finished) at a specific time in the past (example 1), or to say that something was in progress when another action happened. We often use the past continuous followed by the past simple (example 2). The past continuous can describe the situation when another (past simple) action happened (example 2 & 3).

Example 1: We were performing the landing at 2pm yesterday.

Negative 1: We weren’t performing the landing at 2pm yesterday.

Question 1: Were you performing the landing at 2pm yesterday?

Example 2: We were boarding the plane when the computer system shut down.

Example 3: They were learning about CRM when the fire alarm went off.

For further information about using the past continuous with the past simple click here.

Past Perfect

Form: Subject + had + past participle

Use: We use the past perfect to say the an action (past perfect) happened before a previously mentioned (past simple) action.

Example: I entered the cockpit and discovered that somebody had left their sunglasses on the seat. (In this example the action ‘had left’ happened before the ‘entered’ and ‘discovered’ action.

Negative: I entered the cockpit and discovered that somebody hadn’t left their sunglasses on the seat.

Question: Had you visited the aviation museum before last week?

For further information about using the past perfect click here.

‘Going to’ Future

Form: Subject + ‘be’ (in the present simple) + verb-ing + to + infinitive (verb)

Use: We use the ‘going to’ future to talk about future plans which you intend to do (but aren’t organised yet – example 1). We also use it to talk about future predictions that you’re quite sure about (example 2).

Example 1: I’m going to study at the weekend.

Negative 1: I’m not going to study at the weekend.

Question 1: Are you going to study at the weekend?

Example 2: It’s going to rain this afternoon.

For further information about using the ‘going to’ future click here.

Future Simple

Form: Subject + will + infinitive (main verb)

Use: We use the past simple to talk about future plans as you make them, you’re usually not sure about this plan (example 1). We also use the future simple to predict the future (again you’re not very sure about it – example 2).

Example 1: I’ll visit the chief pilot tomorrow.

Negative 1: I won’t visit the chief pilot tomorrow.

Question 1: Will you visit the chief pilot tomorrow?

Example 2: He’ll perform a smooth landing, even with the strong wind.

For further information about using the future simple click here.

First Conditional

Form: If + subject + present simple…, subject + will + infinitive

Use: We use the first conditional to talk about present or future ‘if’ situations which have a good chance of happening. Each element can be positive or negative as needed.

Example: If I fly next week, I’ll bring my new headset.

Negative: If you don’t study, you won’t pass your simulator session.

Question: Will you help me if you have time?

For further information about using the first conditional click here.

Second Conditional

Form: If + subject + past simple…, subject + would + infinitive

Use: We use the second conditional to talk about present or future ‘if’ situations which have a low chance of happening or are impossible. Each element can be positive or negative as needed. The speaker chooses to use the first conditional or second conditional based on how probable the situation is (in the speaker’s mind).

Example: If I flew next week, I would bring my new headset.

Example 2: If I had enough money, I would buy a private jet.

Negative: If I didn’t know him, I would think he is very arrogant.

Question: Would you fly in China if you had the opportunity?

For further information about using the second conditional click here.

Third Conditional

Form: If + subject + had + past participle…, subject + would + have + past participle…

Use: We use the third conditional to talk about the past when we imagine it to be different and the consequence of that difference. We sometimes say that we use it to talk about the ‘unreal’ past (or the past that didn’t happen). Each element can be positive or negative as needed.

Example: If we had been in Rio, we would have stayed in a nice hotel close to the airport. (In reality you weren’t in Rio and you didn’t stay in a nice hotel close to the airport)

Negative: If we hadn’t gone around, we would have crashed.

Question: Would he have received a promotion if he had been in the company for ten years?

For further information about using the third conditional click here.

These tenses are some of the most important tenses that you have to use accurately during a test if you want to achieve a good result. There are other structures which are important, but these are the most important ones. Practice these tenses until you can use them in the positive, negative and question forms without making mistakes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.