English Tenses Timeline

Introduction

Verb tenses show us when an action takes place: in the present, past or future. The simple past, simple present, and simple future tenses express an action in a neutral way. Whereas, tense aspects (progressive, perfect and perfect progressive) allow us to express not only time but also a point of view.

If we change the aspect of a tense, we change how the speaker views an action: progressive tenses express that an action is incomplete, ongoing or temporary; perfect tenses express a connection between a completed past action and a later moment in time, they also emphasise the result of an action; perfect progressive tenses show that an action which began at an earlier time is viewed as ongoing, they also emphasise an action itself (rather than a result).

Click on the interactive diagram below to compare the examples and usage point for the various tenses and aspects in English grammar. To learn more about the individual tenses, go to the tenses section of the website. To compare English tenses which are often confused, go to the tense comparison section of the website.

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Past Past
Present Present
Future Future
Simple Simple
Simple
Simple
Simple
Information
Progressive Progressive
Progressive
Progressive
Progressive
Information
Perfect Perfect
Perfect
Perfect
Perfect
Information
Perfect Progressive PerfectProgressive
Perfect Progressive
Perfect Progressive
Perfect Progressive
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Beispiel 1
Beispiel 2
Beispiel 3
Information 1

Simple Tenses

  • Use the simple tenses to express an action in a neutral way.
  • Actions expressed in the simple tenses are often factual or habitual.
  • An action expressed in a simple tense takes place at a general or unspecified time in the past, present or future.

Progressive Tenses

  • Use the progressive tense to express that you view an action as ongoing, incomplete or temporary.
  • Actions expressed in a progressive tense are in progress at a specific time in the past, present or future.

Perfect Tense

  • Use the perfect tenses to express that you view a completed action as connected to a later time.
  • When an action is expressed in a perfect tense, the result of the action is emphasised.
  • Actions expressed in a perfect tense take place earlier than a specific time in the past, present of future.

Perfect Progressive Tenses

  • Use the perfect progressive tense to express that you view an action as incomplete or ongoing, even if the action is not in progress at the moment of speaking.
  • An action expressed in a perfect progressive tense can be a singular ongoing action (She has been working at the bakery for 10 years), or a series of repeated actions that will continue beyond a certain time (She has been baking cakes all day).
  • Actions expressed in the perfect progressive tenses begin earlier than a specific time in the past, present or future.

Yesterday I baked a cake.

  • neutral point of view, stating a fact
  • general/unspecified time in the past

Yesterday at 2 pm, I was baking a cake.

  • the speaker sees the action as ongoing, incomplete or temporary
  • specific moment in time in the past

Yesterday at 2pm, I had just baked a cake.

  • the speaker wants to connect a completed action to a later time
  • completed earlier than a specific past time

Yesterday when you arrived, I had been baking a cake.

  • the speaker sees the action as incomplete, can be a single action or multiple repeated actions
  • began earlier than a specific past time and continues beyond it

I always bake a cake on Saturday.

  • neutral point of view, stating a fact
  • general/unspecified time in the present

I am baking a cake now.

  • the speaker sees the action as ongoing, incomplete or temporary
  • now, at the moment of speaking

I have just baked a cake.

  • the speaker wants to connect a completed action to the present time
  • completed earlier than the moment of speaking

I have been baking a lot of cakes lately.

  • the speaker sees the action as incomplete, can be a single action or multiple repeated actions
  • began earlier than the moment of speaking and continues beyond it

Tomorrow, I will bake a cake.

  • neutral point of view, stating a fact
  • general/unspecified time in the future

At 2 pm tomorrow, I will be baking a cake.

  • the speaker sees the action as ongoing, incomplete or temporary
  • specific moment in time in the future

Tomorrow at 2 pm, I will have just baked 3 cakes.

  • the speaker wants to connect a completed action to a later time
  • completed earlier than a specific future time

Tomorrow at 2 pm, I will have been baking for hours!

  • the speaker sees the action as incomplete, can be a single action or multiple repeated actions
  • began earlier than a specific future time and continues beyond it