Tenses : English Glossary

Previous Page

Tenses : English Glossary

Tense shows the time of a verb's action or being. There are three inflected forms reflected by changes in the endings of verbs. The present tense indicates that something is happening or being now: "She is a student. She drives a new car." The simple past tense indicates that something happened in the past: "She was a student. She drove a new car." And the past participle form is combined with auxiliary verbs to indicate that something happened in the past prior to another action: "She has been a student. She had driven a new car."

Unlike most other languages, English does not have inflected forms for the future tense. Instead, English future forms are created with the use of auxiliaries: "She will be a student. She is going to drive a new car." English can even create the future by using the present tense, "The bus arrives later this afternoon," or the present progressive, "He is relocating to Portland later next month."

1. Simple Present

  • My train leaves at 6.30.
  • This year the Easter holidays start on April 29th.
  • When ( = according to your travel schedule) do you go to London ?
  • As soon as I have the money, I will pay you back.
  • Regulations, programs, timetables ... (= ± fact)
  • Time clauses (after when, as soon as, until, before, after ...)
  • Conditional clauses (after if, provided that, so long as, unless, . . . )

2. Simple Future

  • I'll have my new car next month.
  • I think they will be on time.
  • If he asks me, I will refuse.

  • no definite plan or intention, mere prediction
  • often with I think, expect,wonder, suppose . . . or perhaps, probably ...
  • when a condition is attached

We also need to make a distinction between Simple Future for a decision that is not "premeditated," i.e. that is made on the spot (here and now or there and then), and the "going to" construction, which implies an intention that already existed before the moment of speaking.

  • How can I reach you?
  • I will give you my telephone number.
    (You would not say "I'm going to give you my telephone number," as this is a decision you make here and now, not something you had earlier intended to do).
  • I'm going to give John my phone number, so he can reach me if necessary." (Talking about your intentions — something you decided to do yesterday or intended to do all along.)

3. Future Perfect

  • I'll be tired when I arrive because I will have had an exam the day before.
  • Next month, I will have been with the firm for twenty years.

  • before a point of time in the future
  • covering a period until a point of time in the future

4. Present Continuous

  • We're playing bridge with the Smiths tonight.
  • We're having our living room redecorated next week.

  • Planned future, arrangements have been made (You have been invited by the Smiths, you have an appointment with the decorators ...).
  • Particular arrangements, not as part of a program, etc...

5. Future continuous

  • This time next week I'll be lying on a sunny beach, dreaming of wild parties.
  • I won't be coming to your party, as I'm engaged elsewhere.
  • Will you be using your car this afternoon?
  • I will be writing you soon.

  • something in progress at a future point of time
  • to avoid something sounding like a refusal in negative sentences
  • to avoid something sounding like a request in questions
  • when we anticipate something without really arranging it

6. To be going to

  • I'm going to take a few days off as soon as I can.
  • She's going to have a baby.
  • (Seeing dark clouds in the sky ) It's going to rain.

  • intentions before we have made a definite plan (compare with: I'm taking a few days off next week.)
  • not for sudden intentions or decisions: Mr Brown's phone number? Wait, I'll look it up for you.
  • prediction of future events from what we know of the circumstances

7. Future Perfect Continuous

  • Tomorrow I'll have been working non-stop for over three weeks.

  • Something in progress until a point of time in the future.


  1. If you want to inquire about a person's actions in the future, avoid the Simple Future, as it will make it sound like a request.
    • Compare: Will you be visiting him tomorrow ? (= I just wonder) with
    • Will you visit him tomorrow ? (= a request or an inquiry about his intentions).

  2. If you want to make it clear that the subject won't be doing something in the future, not because he does not want to, but due to circumstances, avoid the Simple Future.
    • Compare : He won't come to my party. (= he refuses to come)
    • He won't be coming to my party. (= he can't)

  3. If you want to use a future activity as an excuse, avoid to be going to, as that would make it sound like a personal preference at the moment. Use the Present Continuous instead, to make it clear that it is something you had already arranged, that you are engaged elsewhere.
    • I'm sorry, I'd love to have a game of chess with you, but I'm taking Mary out for dinner tonight. (I'm going to take ...would make it sound as if you prefer Mary's company to your friend's).

  4. It is safe to use WILL for the three persons, except in questions asking for instructions or advice, where we use SHALL.:
    • Shall I take your luggage upstairs? / What shall I do if Ken is late (= what do you want/expect me to do?)

English Glossary Index

From Tenses to HOME PAGE

Follow These Links!