English Verb Tenses: How to choose the right verb tense in English

English Verb Tenses can be a minefield for English learners

English verb tenses can present a sink hole of options for English learners and native speakers alike and it can be a very frustrating thing picking the right one. The thing with English verb tenses and the difference between native speakers and learners is that most native speakers hardly if ever think about these various options. They simply speak the language without thinking too analytically about the tense. You will know you are a native speaker when you stop obsessing about the correct tense. For now, as you try to improve your proficiency you want to know all you can about tenses and which one is correct in which context. In the post below, 12 English verb tenses will be examined.

  1. Simple Present
  2. Present Continuous
  3. Simple Past
  4. Past Continuous
  5. Past perfect
  6. Past perfect Continuous
  7. Present perfect
  8. Present perfect continous
  9. Future
  10. Future Continuous
  11. Future Perfect
  12. Future Perfect Continuous


32 Ways to conjugate a verb

You may wonder how many tenses there are to start with. Answer: It depends on who you ask. Some experts claim that there are really only two verb tenses in English: past and present. But others would argue differently. One expert makes the argument that there are really 32 English tenses! This is how he demonstrated his point by using the verb “To take” and conjugating it 32 different ways:

takes, is taking, has taken, has been taking,
took, was taking, had taken, had been taking,
will take, will be taking, will have taken, will have been taking,
would take, would be taking, would have taken, would have been taking,
is taken, is being taken, has been taken, has been being taken,
was taken, was being taken, had been taken, had been being taken,
will be taken, will be being taken, will have been taken, will have been being taken,
would be taken, would be being taken, would have been taken, would have been being taken (for more go here: http://www.englishforums.com/English/HowManyTensesInEnglish/brxx/post.htm)

The 12 Basic English tenses

The present tense is a basic building block of the English language. Use this tense when you are talking about events that are happening in the moment; or that happen habitually or repetitively. It is also used to give opinions, orders or imperatives and to talk about established facts. (Words like “always” “constantly” and “usually” are often used with the present tense.)


  • Succeed! (imperative)
  • Let’s succeed or die trying! (imperative)
  • The meetings starts now. (happening in the moment)
  • I succeed at everything I do. (habit)
  • I succeed because I never give up. (habit)
  • Hard workers always succeed. (opinion)


The present continuous is used with the verb “to be” (am/is/are + present participle + ing) and it expresses action that is in the process of happening right now; or is expected to happen in the near future when the time is scheduled. Generally, it is used to express a continuing action that is not yet completed. It has nothing to do with “habit” per se which differentiates it from the purely present tense. (Like the simple present tense, words like “always” “constantly” and “usually” are often used with the present continuous tense.)


  • We are succeeding!
  • The meeting is starting now.
  • The earth is constantly moving around the sun.
  • I am succeeding even when it looks like I am failing.
  • I always adopt the mindset that I am constantly succeeding; thoughts of failure do not exist in my mind.



So for example, you can’t say: “I am knowing how to dance.” or I am believing you right now. These verbs, as well as, NORMALLY ARE NOT put in the continuous tense but in some cases it could be a question:

  • understand
  • remember
  • forget
  • want
  • believe
  • feel (?)
  • think (?)
  • hate (?)
  • cost
  • mean

cannot generally take the progressive form.

The present perfect tense uses the auxiliary verb have + the past participle to express an action that occurred in the past but also has present conséquences; or bears a relation to the present even though it started in the past. The emphasis is on repetition on the past action.  You cannot use the present perfect if there is a specific date in question that conjures duration. Even though it seems like a present tense it is really a past tense. Adverbs like “since” and “for” are commonly used with the present perfect.


  • I have succeeded against the odds.
  • I have succeeded many times when others expected me to fail.
  • I have lived here for ten years
  • I have lived here since 1993


BUT you can’t say:

  • I have succeeded at obtaining a college degree in 1993. (This is incorrect because of the specific time.  Here you cannot use the present perfect but would use the simple past and say “I succeeded at obtaining a college degree in 1993.”

The present perfect continuous is formed with the two auxiliary verbs “have” and “been” + present participle “ing.”You use the present perfect continuous tense to convey action that has just stopped; or action that started in the past at a specific time but that continues in the now. Usually the action is indicated in a certain time frame. So usually the words “since” or “for” are used to convey this specific time frame. This action is ongoing and progressive. It has not stopped.


  • I have been succeeding at business since I was fifteen years old.
  • Paris Hilton has been succeeding with various entertainment platforms for five years.
  • He has been succeeding in this industry since 1993.
  • I have been eating a lot of ice cream lately but I have decided to stop.
  • She has been succeeding with that.

The simple past tense is one of the basic building blocks of the English language. It is used to convey action that has already occurred and is completed. It is not a continuing action like the present perfect which started in the past but has a relation to the present. This action is finished. It is “dead in Vegas” and stays there.


  • He succeeded.
  • She succeeded in spite of the attempted sabotage.
  • Josh succeeded while others failed.

The past continuous tense uses the verb “to be” (was/were) + the present participle “ing” to convey action that started in the past but that was interrupted by another action in the past and thus is no longer happening in the present even though it may have implications in the present. With the past continuous, the main action is in the more distant past and the interrupting action occurred after, but is likewise in the past. You also use the past continuous to express two contemporaneous actions. You can use the words “always” and “constantly” and “usually” with the past continuous with this tense. With the past continuous tense, both actions are “dead in Vegas.” 


  • Jenny was succeeding before the boss turned on her.
  • While Anna was succeeding, her rival was flunking all over the place.
  • Jason was constantly succeeding to the vexation of his naysayers.
  • I was eating when you called.
  • The phone was ringing while the baby was crying.

The past perfect is used with the auxiliary verb  “had” + the past participle. It is used to convey action that occurred in the past because of some other action, or before that action. Key words are “already” and “before.”Example:

  • They had succeeded at outsourcing the fabrics before other players entered the market.
  • Before the technology boom, entrepreneurs had not succeeded at retailing PCs.
  • John had succeeded before his father became the CEO; he did not succeed because of his father.

This tense uses auxiliaries “had” + “been” + the present participle “ing”. It conveys action that began in the distant past but has an impact on the not so distant past. It is used with “before” or “because” to show the relationship between the two past actions.Example:

  • Jen had been succeeding in her career before she met Brad.
  • Both Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian had been succeeding in their careers before their sex tapes hit the Internet.
  • I had been working there for two years before my new boss arrived and decided to terminate my position.

The future tense is a basic building block of the English language used to convey action that is to happen at a later time than the present.


  • We will succeed no matter what.
  • Do you believe we will succeed?
  • How can you be so sure you will succeed?
  • The boss is going to go to Vienna in March.
  • The meeting is going to take place at 6 pm.

Use this tense to express action in the future at a particular moment in the future. The action commences at that moment in the future but it does not necessarily end at that moment.Example:

  • Tories will be succeeding long after you and I stop following politics.
  • This time tomorrow night, Betty will be succeeding with taking the exam while you will be looking like a fool.

Use the future perfect tense to express action that will happen in the future before another action happens. It is formed with the auxiliaries “will” + “have” plus the past participle. It can also be formed with “are” + “going to have” + past participle.Example

  • Americans will have succeeded at flying to the sun long before the Chinese.
  • The Chinese will have succeeded at out-pacing American GDP by 2019.

This is formed with “will have been” + the present participle “ing”. Use this to express duration in the future up to a particular point in the future.


  • Americans will have been succeeding at flying to the sun ten years before the Chinese get there.
  • The Chinese will have been succeeding at out-pacing American GNP well before the 2119 projected date.



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