There are 12 basic tenses in the English language. These are the most common grammatical forms for expressing time in English. It can help to view the different time expressions on one timeline, so I have created a diagram to compare all the English tenses, below. This timeline can be used in conjunction with my book, The English Tenses, which explains in full detail how each of the tenses is used, and how they can be compared. I have included a list of example sentences on the timeline, and the most basic rules for each of the tenses below.
Please click on the infographic to see the timeline in full:
The tenses listed are, with examples:
Past perfect continuous: : an action that happened before a certain time in the past, to show duration. For example: I had been going to school for a year when it was closed.
Past perfect: an action that happened before another event in the past. For example: I had washed the car before it rained.
Past continuous: an action that happened at a specific point in the past. For example: I was washing the car when it rained.
Past simple: an action that happened in the past. For example: I went to school.
Present perfect continuous: an action still continuing from the past to the present. For example: I have been learning English for three years.
Present perfect: an action started in the past that has been completed in, or has relevance to, the present. For example: I have already studied the tenses today. Note that the example in the image should be I have gone to school to fit the pattern of examples, it says been as a more commonly used expression (which I need to update!).
Present continuous: an action occurring now. For example: I am studying.
Present simple: a general ongoing, regular or scheduled activity. For example: I take English classes every Monday.
Future perfect continuous: an action at a certain point in the future, expressing duration. For example: I will have been studying English for three years this summer.
Future perfect: an action that finishes in the future, before or at the time of another future action. For example: I will have learned all the tenses by tomorrow.
Future continuous: an action occurring at a specific point in the future. For example: I will be fishing this time next week.
Future simple: an action to be completed in the future. For example: I will go to the cinema.
If any of these are unclear, please contact me for more information! For more detailed discussion of each of the tenses, with examples, and more detailed analysis of the tense forms (such as the various ways to express future time), read the full textbook, The English Tenses.