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.

TOEFL four present tenses-magoosh

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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Happy studying!

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Author

  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!