Tense Summary

Cover of "English Verbs"
Cover of English Verbs

Present tenses

Simple present (or simply “present”): “I listen.” For many verbs, this is used to express habit or ability (e.g. “I play the guitar”, “Listen to me please”.).
Present continuous: “I am listening.” This is used to express what most other languages use the simple present tense for. Note that this form in English can also be used to express future actions, such as in the phrase (e.g. “We’re seeing a film tonight”, “I am listening to you now”. )
Present perfect (or simply perfect): “I have listened.” This is used to express a completed action that took place at an non-specific moment in the past, and that has an ongoing relevance in the present. It blurs the line between a present and a past tense: it is conjugated using the present tense of the verb have, and cannot be used in such a sentence as *”Bob, who is now dead, has seen the movie many times”, but on the other hand, there is not a great difference in meaning between (e.g. “I did it many times”), using the past tense, and (e.g. “I’ve done it many times”, “I have listened to you on many occasions but it’s not worth it”.)
Present perfect continuous: “I have been listening.” This is used to express that an event started at some time in the past and continues to the present. (e.g. “I have been listening to music all day”, “I have been listening to you all day so can we take a break?”.)

Past tenses

Simple past: “I listened.” This is used to express a completed action that took place at a specific moment in the past. (In English, unlike some other languages with aorist tenses, this tense implies that the action took place in the past and that it is not taking place now.) (e.g. “I listened to the news before lunch”, “I listened to you yesterday for two hours”.)
Past perfect or Pluperfect: “I had listened.” This expresses an action completed prior to some other action in the past. The pluperfect is thus expressing an action even more in the past. (e.g. “I had listened to the song before”, “I had listened to you for an hour before I went home”.)
Past continuous (or imperfect): “I was listening.” This is used to express an incomplete action in the past. (Thus an “imperfect” action, as opposed to a completed and therefore “perfect” action.) (e.g. “I was listening to music before you arrived”, “I was listening to you but I became distracted”.)
Past perfect continuous or simply “perfect continuous”: “I had been listening.” Usually expressed with a duration, this indicates that an event was ongoing for a specific time, then completed before a specific event. (e.g. “I had been mowing the lawn for quite a while”, “I had been listening to you for some time before I fell asleep”.)

Future tenses

Simple future: “I shall/will listen.” This is used to express that an event will occur in the future, or that the speaker intends to perform some action. (e.g. “I will listen to the news this evening.”, “I shall/will listen to you more often”.)
Future continuous: “I shall/will be listening.” This is used to express an ongoing event that has not yet been initiated. (e.g. “I will be listening to the news in the Garden”, “I shall/will be listening to you tomorrow”.)
Future perfect: “I shall/will have listened.” This indicates an action which will occur before some other action in the future: Normally two actions are expressed, and the future perfect indicates an action which will occur in the future but will, at the time of the main future action expressed, be in the past (e.g. “I will know the tune by the end of next week because I will have listened to it by then”, “I shall/will have listened to you about 10 times by the end of next week”.)
Future perfect continuous: “I shall/will have been listening.” Expresses an ongoing action that occurs in the future, before some other event expressed in the future. (e.g. “I will have been listening to music for two hours before you arrive”, “I shall/will have been listening to you for an hour by the end of the meeting”.

Conditional tenses

Present conditional or simply “conditional”: “I would listen.” This is used to express that an event would occur in the future in the past, or that the speaker intended to perform some action. (e.g. “ I would listen to her for hours after dinner”, “I would listen to you but you are so boring”.)
Present continuous conditional: “I would be listening.” This is used to express an ongoing event that had not yet been initiated. (e.g. “I would be listening to the news by then”, “I would be listening to you now but john is snoring”.)
Conditional perfect: “I would have listened.” Indicates that an action would occur after some other event. (e.g. “I would have listened to the news but I forgot my radio”, “I would have listened to you more often but I didn’t have the time”.)
Conditional perfect continuous: “I would have been listening.”: Expresses an ongoing action that would occur in the future in the past, after some other event. (e.g. “I would have been mowing the lawn by now if it hadn’t rained”, “I would have been listening to you more intently but I had a headache”.)
Notes: The future in the past. Describes an event that would have occurred sometime in the future with reference to another event in the past.

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