What are Tenses in English? Definition, Examples of English Tenses

Grammatical tense definition: English tenses are the form the verb takes to show the time of an action.

What are Tenses in English?

Grammar tenses refer to the state of the verb. The state, or tense, of the verb explains the time of the action.

There are three major tenses in English. These include past, present, and future. Each of these tenses can explain an event that occurred in the past, an event that occurs in the present, or an event that will occur in the future.

Example of Past, Present, and Future Tenses:

  • I danced. (past)
  • I dance. (present)
  • I will dance. (future)

What is Past Tense?

Tenses of English tense list What does past tense mean? The past simple tense of verbs expresses events or actions that already occurred. These actions are finite in that they have both a starting and a stopping point.

Examples of Past Tense Verbs

For regular verbs, the past tense is formed by adding “-ed” to the end of the infinitive (base).


  • Verb: to listen
  • Past: listened
  • Verb: to credit
  • Past: credited
  • Example: He credited Mr. McAneny and Mr. Bassett with creating a revolutionary document couched in accepted common-law and constitutional doctrines. –The New York Times

Some regular verbs with short vowel sounds require adding an extra consonant to the end of the infinitive before adding “-ed.”


  • Verb: to brag
  • Past: bragged

A verb with a silent “e” at the end just requires a “-d” to create past tense.


  • Verb: to require
  • Past: required

Irregular verbs take various forms in the past tense. One example follows.


  • Verb: to bring
  • Past: brought

What is Present Tense?

Grammar Tense in English What does present tense mean? The present simple tense expresses events that happen in the present but are not actions happening now. The present tense is used for facts, habits (habitual actions), general truths, and states of being.

This may seem confusing, so an example will clarify.

Examples of Present Tense Verbs


  • He works at Target.
    • While he works at Target, he may not be working at Target at this very moment. This statement expresses a fact.
  • He works hard to have the most opportunities possible available to him. And he is excited for where he is headed. –The Washington Post
    • Similar to the last example, while he works hard, he may not be working hard right this very moment.

The present tense takes the infinitive (base) for all conjugation except for the singular third person. An “-s” is added to the singular third person to create the present tense.

Example with “to hear:”

  • I hear.
  • You hear. (singular, plural)
  • He hears. (She hears. It hears.)
  • They hear.
  • We hear.

What is Future Tense?

English tense grammar What does future tense mean? The future simple tense expresses actions that have not yet occurred but that will occur at a future date.

The future tense is formed in two ways:

  1. Adding “will” between the subject and the infinitive (base) of the verb.
    1. I will go to the store later today.
    2. She will answer the question shortly.
  2. Adding “going” between the subject + the infinitive of the verb.
    1. I am going to remind you tomorrow.
    2. We are going to sleep

Full List of English Verb Tenses

Verb tenses English Here are all of the major types of tense in English. For a full explanation of each tense, click the links below.

Four Past Tenses

  • Simple Past Tense > He smiled
  • Past Progressive Tense > He was smiling
  • Past Perfect Tense > He had smiled
  • Past Perfect Progressive Tense > He had been smiling

Four Present Tenses

  • Simple Present Tense > He smiles
  • Present Progressive Tense > He is smiling
  • Present Perfect Tense > He has smiled
  • Present Perfect Progressive Tense > He has been smiling

Four Future Tenses

  • Simple Future Tense > He will smile
  • Future Progressive Tense > He will be smiling
  • Future Perfect Tense > He will have smiled
  • Future Perfect Progressive Tense > He will have been smiling

Exercises with English Grammar Tenses

Are the following sentences written in past, present, or future tense?

  1. I answered the question correctly.
  2. She will attend the ball.
  3. Quietly, Jeremy listened to the recording.
  4. Sally sleeps in her crib every night.
  5. Smoking is not permitted in the park.

Summary: What are the English Tenses?

Past and present tense Define tense: In grammar, the definition of tense is a verb’s quality that shows time in which an act, state, or condition occurs or occurred.

In summary, there are three tense groups in English which include past, present, and future. The past expresses events that have ended. The present expresses general truths. The future expresses events that will happen.


  1. past
  2. future
  3. past
  4. present
  5. present