Grammar: Understanding verb tenses


Verb tenses inform us how an action relates to time and can create a lot of confusion if used incorrectly. We suggest you familiarise yourself with the different verb tenses as verbs can change forms depending on the tenses they are used in. The general rule for simple past tense is to add “ed” at the end of the verb but this doesn’t apply to all verbs.

It may seem difficult at first but all you need to do is understand the logic and remember a few sentence structures and general rules. With a lot of practice, it will become second nature to you. Let’s get started.

Verb:A word that describes, gives more information about a verb, adjective, adverb or phrase.

Tense:Any of the forms of a verb which show the time at which an action happened

Simple Present:

The tense that is used to refer to events, actions, and conditions that are happening all the time, or exist now.

I swim every day.”

I play football.”

Simple Past:

The tense that is used to describe an event or action that happened in the past.

“Yesterday, I swam 10 laps.”

“Last night, I cooked chicken curry.”

Simple Future:

The tense that is used to describe things that haven’t yet happened at the present time but which are expected, or likely to occur in the future.

“I will swim more than 10 laps tomorrow.”

“You will see her again next week.”

Present Continuous:

The tense that is used for actions happening now or for an action that is unfinished. This tense is also used when the action is temporary.

“I am swimming in my neighbour’s pool now.”

“She is speaking to my mum at the moment.”

Past Continuous:

The tense that is used for a continuing action or event in a time which began or existed in the past. It can also be used to describe an unfinished action that was interrupted by another event or action.

“I was swimming with David last night when Bob arrived.”

“In May, she was teaching in a school in Darwin.”

Future Continuous:

The tense that is used for an unfinished action or event that will occur in future and continue for an expected length of time.

“I will be swimming in the new Olympic-sized swimming pool on Friday.”

“By December next year, I will be swimming like a fish.”

Present Perfect:

The tense that is used for something that started in the past and continued to the present time.

“I have swum in the sea countless times.”

“I have spoken to her many times”

Past Perfect:

The tense that is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past

“I had swum the breaststroke before I turned 8.”

“He had failed to communicate that he had another wife when we first met.”

Future Perfect:

The tense that is used for actions that will be completed between now and some point in the future.

“I will have swum at least 1000km by the end of the year”

“He will have built 40 homes by the first quarter of 2018.”

Present Perfect Continuous:

The tense that is used to show that something started in the past and is continuing at the present time.

“I have been swimming since I was 7 years old.”

“She has been competing in dance competitions lately.”

Past Perfect Continuous:

The tense that is used to show that an action started in the past and continued up until another time in the past.

“I had been swimming for many years before Priya picked up the sport.”

“Dave had been playing soccer for 10 years when he was offered a spot on the US Olympic team.”

Future Perfect Continuous:

The tense that is used to describe actions that will continue up until a point in the future.

“By noon today, I will have been swimming for 2 hours.”

“In April, Damien will have been working in the company for 10 years.”

Now that you understand the logic and know how to use it in a sentence, take our 15-question quiz to test your knowledge.

Note: Scroll down for answers


1. I’m heartbroken because my favourite mug _____.

(a) break
(b) broke
(c) broken

2. I was told that nobody _____ about our decision to terminate his contract.

(a) known
(b) knew
(c) know

3. My sister had _____ many hours just to see her idol perform on stage.

(a) drive
(b) driven
(c) drove

4. Daniel _____ his post as General Manager today after months of speculation.

(a) quit
(b) quits
(c) quitting

5. He had _____ her strict instructions not to say anything.

(a) give
(b) given
(c) gave

6. We walked into the room, furious when we saw what she had _____.

(a) did
(b) do
(c) done

7. Although she had not _____ since 2010, she sounded amazing.

(a) sing
(b) sung
(c) sang

8. You look like you have not _____ for a month!

(a) slept
(b) sleep
(c) sleeping

9. She flipped on the light and let the door _____ on its own.

(a) swing
(b) swung
(c) swinging

10. I am curious to know what she had _____ to her mother.

(a) written
(b) write
(c) wrote

11. After she completed her test, she almost _____ in relief.

(a) cry
(b) cried
(c) crying

12. Susan _____ the awful concoction of herbs and fruit juice, forcing herself to swallow it.

(a) drink
(b) drunk
(c) drank

13. A loud honk from behind _____ their attention

(a) draw
(b) drew
(c) drawn

14. Yesterday I _____ how to bake a chocolate cake from scratch.

(a) learnt
(b) learn
(c) learning

15. I _____ to work every week

(a) jogged
(b) jog
(c) jogging






1. (b); 2. (b); 3. (b); 4. (a); 5. (b); 6. (c); 7. (b); 8. (a); 9. (a); 10. (a); 11. (b); 12. (c); 13 (b); 14. (a); 15. (b)

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

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