What Are the Nine Verb Tenses?

Dictionaries are useful in answering questions about tense.

The essential purpose of tense in English is to indicate the time in which the action of verbs occurs. There are nine basic verb tenses relating to the past, present and future, but the number of tenses can be extended and some authorities argue that there are at least 12. The nine commonly used verb tenses are present, present perfect, present continuous; past, past perfect, past continuous; future, future perfect, future continuous. There are alternative names for each tense, and the most common are given in brackets.

1 Present Tenses

Present Tense (or Simple Present) refers to an action as it takes place; for example, “I write.”

Present Perfect (or Simple Present Perfect) concerns action that began in the past but is completed in the present; for example, “I have been writing.”

Present Continuous (or Simple Present Progressive) indicates action that is happening in the present but is ongoing, such as “I am writing.”

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2 Past Tenses

Past Tense (or Past Simple) identifies an action that has occurred and is now complete, such as “I wrote.”

Past Perfect (or Simple Past Perfect) refers to an action that began and was completed in the past, such as “I had written.”

Past Continuous (or Simple Past Progressive) identifies action that began and was continuing in the past; for example, “I was writing.”

3 Future Tenses

Future Tense (or Future Simple) looks ahead to action that is yet to take place; for example, “I will write.”

Future Perfect (or Simple Future Perfect) describes an action that is still to take place as though the action were completed; for example, “I will have written.”

Future Continuous (or Future Progressive) describes continuing action that is yet to begin; for example, “I will be writing.”

4 Examples

For simplicity, the examples given are all first person singular, but the same rules apply whether the noun or pronoun used with the verb is singular or plural. “We will have written,” “They will have written” and “You will have written” are all examples of the future perfect tense.

Peter Staples has been writing professionally since 1965, in journalism and public relations. He has worked for “The Times," BBC online and other outlets in England, plus Australian newspapers “Sydney Morning Herald” and "Melbourne Age." Staples holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and history from the U.K.’s Open University.