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The Four Present Tenses and their Ten Uses

Many philosophers and motivational speakers talk about the importance of living in the present. A lot of people would agree. However, when I hear this, all I can think is “which present”? As many English teachers and English students know, there are many different ways to describe the present.

In English, there are four present tenses: simple present, present perfect, present continuous, and present perfect continuous. These four tenses have a total of 10 different uses. In this post, we’ll look at the form and uses of each tense.

Simple Present

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Form: Use the base form of a verb, adding an /s/ to the end of the verb if the subject
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>is singular. (Unless the verb is irregular, in which case other rules may apply.)

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Uses:

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 1: Actions that are habitual or routine

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: The sun rises. I brush my teeth twice a day.

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 2: General, timeless facts

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: Spiders make webs. Babies drink milk.

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 3: Narrative style (used when recalling past events or announcing things that are
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>happening in the moment)

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: So I go to the store yesterday, and the clerk says “We’re closed!” He
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>hits the baseball out of the field and makes a home run!

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 4: The “real” present (things that are happening right now), but ONLY when the
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>verb is stative. Stative verbs* deal with the way the subject is, instead of what the
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>subject does.

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: That car looks old. They think that’s a bad idea.

*Learn more about stative verbs.

Present Perfect

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Form: Have or has + past form of a verb

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Uses:

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 1: Actions that started in the past, continue into the present, and may continue
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>into the future

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: The children have felt sick ever since they ate lunch. My neighbor has
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>lived next door to me for two years.

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 2: Separate actions that happened in the past and may happen again in the
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>future

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: That man has traveled overseas several times. We have eaten at that
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>restaurant once or twice.

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 3: Recently completed actions that still influence things happening in the
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>present

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: The sun has risen and you need to wake up. They have finished their
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>meeting, so now they can go.

Present Continuous

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Form: The present tense of “to be” (am/is/are)+ verb + ing

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Uses:

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 1: The “real” present (things that are happening right now), for all verbs except
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>stative verbs

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: I am sitting down right now. He can’t come to the phone because he is
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>working. You can’t see the children because they are hiding.

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 2: Temporary actions that may not be happening right now, but have not yet been
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>completed

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: I am taking an English course. The truck is being repaired. Plans are
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>being made.

Present Perfect Continuous

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Form: Have or has + been + verb + ing

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Uses:

<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>Use 1: Actions that started in the past, continue into the present, and may continue
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>into the future (note that this is the exact same use and meaning as Use 1 of present
<align=left style=”padding: 30px;”>perfect)

<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>EXAMPLES: The children have been feeling sick ever since they ate lunch. My
<align=left style=”padding: 50px;”>neighbor has been living next door to me for two years.
What a long and winding road! As important as it is to live in the present, it’s hard to know exactly which present you live in, isn’t it? You may want to use this blog post for reference as you practice your TOEFL grammar. On the other hand, if you would like to commit these tenses and uses to memory, you may use The Four Present Tenses and their Ten Uses Worksheet to practice and learn them.

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