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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

Form: Use the base form of a verb, adding an /s/ to the end of the verb if the subject
is singular. (Unless the verb is irregular, in which case other rules may apply.)

Uses:

Use 1: Actions that are habitual or routine

EXAMPLES: The sun rises. I brush my teeth twice a day.

Use 2: General, timeless facts

EXAMPLES: Spiders make webs. Babies drink milk.

Use 3: Narrative style (used when recalling past events or announcing things that are
happening in the moment)

EXAMPLES: So I go to the store yesterday, and the clerk says “We’re closed!” He
hits the baseball out of the field and makes a home run!

Use 4: The “real” present (things that are happening right now), but ONLY when the
verb is stative. Stative verbs* deal with the way the subject is, instead of what the
subject does.

EXAMPLES: That car looks old. They think that’s a bad idea.

*Learn more about stative verbs.

Present Perfect

Form: Have or has + past form of a verb

Uses:

Use 1: Actions that started in the past, continue into the present, and may continue
into the future

EXAMPLES: The children have felt sick ever since they ate lunch. My neighbor has
lived next door to me for two years.

Use 2: Separate actions that happened in the past and may happen again in the
future

EXAMPLES: That man has traveled overseas several times. We have eaten at that
restaurant once or twice.

Use 3: Recently completed actions that still influence things happening in the
present

EXAMPLES: The sun has risen and you need to wake up. They have finished their
meeting, so now they can go.
 

Present Continuous

Form: The present tense of “to be” (am/is/are)+ verb + ing

Uses:

Use 1: The “real” present (things that are happening right now), for all verbs except
stative verbs

EXAMPLES: I am sitting down right now. He can’t come to the phone because he is
working. You can’t see the children because they are hiding.

Use 2: Temporary actions that may not be happening right now, but have not yet been
completed

EXAMPLES: I am taking an English course. The truck is being repaired. Plans are
being made.
 

Present Perfect Continuous

Form: Have or has + been + verb + ing

Uses:

Use 1: Actions that started in the past, continue into the present, and may continue
into the future (note that this is the exact same use and meaning as Use 1 of present
perfect)

EXAMPLES: The children have been feeling sick ever since they ate lunch. My
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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13 Responses to The Four Present Tenses and their Ten Uses

  1. abeer May 25, 2016 at 7:39 am #

    it is a really nice information it is so easy to understand

  2. Prathamesh Seth June 10, 2016 at 5:36 am #

    very helpful and nice experience

  3. imran June 19, 2016 at 11:51 pm #

    could you please, explain the use of third from (e 3: Narrative style) thanks

    • David Recine
      David Recine June 20, 2016 at 10:02 am #

      Narrative style is used to make an event sound very immediate. If it’s used to describe a past event, simple past will be replaced by simple present. (“I ran out of my house” changes to “I run out of my house.”) If it’s used to describe a present event, present progressive (the tense for most actions that happen in the present) will be replaced by simple present. (“He is running to the end of the field to make the goal” changes to “He runs to the end of the field to make a goal.”)

      To native English speakers, this change to simple present tense makes events sound immediate, close and dramatic. So English speakers use narrative simple present tense to make a story or event sound more interesting. Does that make sense?

  4. imran June 21, 2016 at 3:57 am #

    Thank you David Recine!!! that helps me to understand. Thanks once again

  5. Syed Kadery July 25, 2016 at 1:36 am #

    Sir this had been a great experience.
    It would be reaaly nice if you give such uses of the future tense.

  6. american schreave July 28, 2016 at 12:27 am #

    i want make a past perfect sentence. about the author career.
    she has wrote novel for 3 years. is it true?

    • David Recine
      David Recine August 1, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

      That’s not quite right but is close. For past perfect, you need to use “had” instead of “has.” And it’s better to use a past participle verb form such as “written” instead of a simple past verb form like “wrote.” So in past perfect, you’d what to say “She had written the novel for 3 years.” For more help with this, check out our post on the four past tenses and their ten uses.

  7. sugule October 24, 2016 at 11:22 pm #

    thank you David Recine…
    give me 10 sentences of simple present tense 8 of them is singular.

    • David Recine
      David Recine October 25, 2016 at 2:59 pm #

      I’m glad this helps. If I understand correctly, you want some more example sentences in simple present. But can you tell me a little more? Why do you want to see 8 sentences with singular simple present and another 2 with plural simple present? And what questions do you have about singular simple present verbs versus plural ones?

  8. Laxmikant naik May 17, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    Nice sir great

  9. motilal pujar September 6, 2017 at 5:56 pm #

    Very nice it did great help to me….👌


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