English grammar has three main tenses: the present, the past and the future. Each of these tenses has a progressive/continuous aspect, a perfect aspect and a perfect progressive aspect, which adds up to 12 different tenses. The four English present tenses are the simple present, the present progressive, the present perfect and the present perfect progressive. The four English past tenses are the simple past, the past progressive, the past perfect and the past perfect progressive. And the four English future tenses are the simple future with will or going to, the future progressive, the future perfect and the future perfect progressive.
Understanding the difference between simple, progressive, perfect and perfect progressive tenses in English grammar can be very difficult for non-native speakers. Here, we compare the English tenses that learners tend to confuse and explain the difference between them. Simply click on one of the links below for a detailed online lesson with exercises to test your grammar skills.
We use the simple present for actions that take place regularly and repeatedly, and the present progressive for actions that are taking place at the moment of speaking.
- He usually wears a hat, but he is not wearing a hat now.
The simple present tense is used for general statements about the present, and for actions that regularly and repeatedly take place. The present perfect progressive tense is uses to express how long an unfinshed action has been taking place.
- I live in London. I have been living here for 3 years.
We use the present perfect for actions that started in the past but have lasted until the present moment or have just ended, especially if we want to emphasise the result. We use the present perfect progressive to emphasise the progression or length of the action.
- I have already done my homework.
I have been doing my homework for two hours.
The simple past is the narrative past form. We use it for events that took place one after the other. The past progressive is for actions that were in progress at a specific moment in the past.
- I was doing my homework when my friends came to see me.
We use the simple past to say when something happened. We use the present perfect to say that something happened, without mentioning when.
- He travelled to New York last week.
- I have never travelled to New York.
We use the simple past to describe events that took place sequentially in the past. To look further back and say what happened before these past events, we use the past perfect.
- The teacher corrected the tests that we had written.
There are four tenses to express the present in English. Click here to learn when to use the simple present, present progressive, present perfect or present perfect progressive.
- I am studying for a test. I have been studying for an hour, but I don’t remember what I have learned.
There are four tenses to express the past in English grammar. Click here to learn when to use the simple past, past progressive, past perfect and past perfect progressive.
- I was studying for a test when a friend I had met at the summer camp phoned me.
There are four tenses to express the future in English grammar. Click here to learn when to use the simple future, future progressive, future perfect and future perfect progressive.
- The train leaves in ten minutes. We will have to hurry up or we are going to miss the train.