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 Uses of English Tenses

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PostSubject: Uses of English Tenses   Sat Jan 30, 2016 10:56 pm


Uses of English Tenses


THE PRESENT SIMPLE: is used for:

a/ regular actions or events:
He plays tennis most weekends.

b/ facts:
The sun rises in the east.

c/ facts known about the future:
We leave at 8.30 next Monday

d/ thoughts and feelings about the time of speaking:
I don’t feel very well.

THE PRESENT CONTINUOUS: The Present Continuous is used for:

a/ the time of speaking (‘now’):
Sshh, I’m trying to hear what they are saying .

b/ things which are true at the moment but not always:
We’re looking for a new flat.

c/ present plans for the future:
We’re having dinner with them next week.

Look at these examples:

1. I don’t usually have cereals for breakfast but I’m having some this morning because there is nothing else.
2. I often cycle to work but I’m taking the car this morning because it’s raining very hard.
3. I’m thinking about having my hair cut short but I don’t think my husband will be very happy about it.
4. My parents live in OURZAZAT but I’m just visiting it.

Note how, in all these examples, we use the present continuous to talk about events which are temporary/limited in time and the present simple to talk about events which are habits/permanent.


THE SIMPLE PAST is used to:

a/ talk about actions and states which we see as completed in the past.

b/ to talk about a specific point in time.

I saw her in the street yesterday.
He came back last Thursday.
We didn’t agree to the deal.

c/ We can also use it to talk about a period of time.

We lived in Japan for five years.
She was in London from Monday to Thursday last week.
When he was living in New York, he went to all the bars and clubs he could.

You will often find the past simple used with time expressions such as these:

Yesterday
three weeks ago
last year
in 2002
from March to June
for a long time
for 6 weeks
in the 1980s
in the last century
in the past


THE PAST CONTINUOUS is used to:

a/ talk about past events which took place for a period of time.

b/ emphasize the continuing process of an activity or the period of that activity. (If we want to talk about a past event as a simple fact, we use the past simple.)

1. While I was driving home, Richard was trying desperately to phone me.
2. Sorry, were you sleeping?
3. I was just making some tea. Would you like some?
4. I was thinking about her last night.
5. In the 1990s, very few people were using mobile phones.

c/ We often use it to describe a “background action” when something else happened.

1. They were still waiting for the plane when I spoke to them.
2. He was talking to me on the phone and it suddenly went dead.
4. She was walking in the street when she suddenly fell over.
5. The company was growing rapidly before he became chairman.
6. We were just talking about it before you arrived.
7. I was having a cup of coffee when I remembered I was supposed to be in a meeting!


THE PRESENT PERFECT is used:

a/ When we want to look back from the present to the past.

We can use it to look back on the recent past.

1. I’ve broken my watch so I don’t know what time it is.
2. They have cancelled the meeting.
3. She’s taken my book. I don’t have one.

b/ When we look back on the recent past, we often use the words ‘just’ ‘already’ or the word ‘yet’ (in negatives and questions only).

1. We’ve already talked about that.
2. She hasn’t arrived yet.
3. I’ve just done it.
4. Have you spoken to him yet?
5. She’s done this type of project many times before.

c/ When we look back on the more distant past, we often use the words ‘ever’ (in questions) and ‘never’.

1. Has he ever talked to you about the problem?
2. I’ve never met a famous singer.


THE PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS is used to:

to talk about an action or actions that started in the past and continued until recently or that continue into the future:

a/ We can use it to refer to an action that has finished but you can still see evidence.

1. Oh, the kitchen is a mess. Who has been cooking?
2. You look tired. Have you been sleeping properly?
3. I’ve got a a stiff neck. I’ve been working too long on computer.

b/ It can refer to an action that has not finished.

1. I’ve been learning English for 3 years and I still don’t know how speak it very well.
I’ve been waiting for him for 30 minutes and he still hasn’t arrived.
He’s been telling me about it for days. I wish he would stop.

c/ It can refer to a series of actions.

1. She’s been writing to her regularly for a couple of years.
2. He’s been phoning me all week for an answer.

The present perfect continuous is often used with ‘since’, ‘for’, ‘all week’, ‘for days’, ‘lately’, ‘recently’, ‘over the last few months’.

1. I’ve been working for this companyt for ten years.
2. He’s been working here since 2001
3. You haven’t been getting good results over the last few months.
4. They haven’t been working all week. They’re on strike
5. I’ve been looking at other options recently.


THE PAST PERFECT SIMPLE is used:

a. To talk about what happened before a point in the past. It looks back from a point in the past to a time further in the past.

1. She had already spoken to him before I had time to give him my version.
2. I checked with our customers but they still hadn’t received the delivery.
3. I hadn’t known the bad news when I saw him.
4. The company had started the year very well but was hit badly by the strikes.

b/ It is often used when we report what people had said/thought/believed.

1. He phoned me to say that they had already paid the bill.
2. She said she thought John had moved to Italy.
3. I thought we had already decided on somewhere for our holidays.


THE PRESENT CONTINUOUS (FOR FUTURE) is used:

a/When we talk about things that we have already arranged to do in the future.

In these examples, we are talking about regular actions or events.

1.I’ve got my ticket. I’m leaving on Thursday.
2.I’m seeing a movie at 5 and then I’m having dinner with a colleague.

b/In many situations when we talk about future plans we can use either the present continuous or the ‘going to’ future. However, when we use the present continuous, there is more of a suggestion that an arrangement has already been made.

1.I’m going to see him./I’m seeing him.
2.I’m going to do it./I’m doing it.

c/We use the present simple to talk about events in the future which are ‘timetabled’. We can also use the present continuous to talk about these.

1.My plane leaves at 6 in the morning.
2.The shop opens at 9.30.
3.The sun is rising at 6.32 tomorrow.


THE FUTURE WITH (GOING TO..):

There is no one ‘future tense’ in English. There are 4 future forms. The one which is used most often in spoken English is ‘going to’, not ‘will’.

a/We use ‘going to’ when we want to talk about a plan for the future.

1.I’m going to see him later today.
2.We’re going to have lunch first.

Notice that this plan does not have to be for the near future.

1.When I retire I’m going to go back to my home town to live.
2.In ten years time, my elder son is going to take over my own successful company.

b/We use ‘going to’ when we want to make a prediction based on evidence we can see now.

1..Look out! That vase is going to fall off.
2.Look at those black clouds. It’s going to rain soon.


THE FUTURE WITH (WILL):

a/ We can use ‘will’ to talk about future events we believe to be certain.

1. Next year, I’ll be 50.
2. That plane will be late. It always is.

b/ Often we add ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’, ‘probably’, ‘possibly’ to make the belief less certain.

1. I’ll probably come back later.
2. Maybe it will rain again.
3. Perhaps we’ll meet again some day.

c/ We often use ‘will’ with ‘I think’ or ‘I hope’.

1. I think she’ll do well in the job.
2. I hope you won’t make too much noise.

d/ We use ‘will’ at the moment we make a new decision or plan. The thought has just come into our head. apromise or an offer:

1. Bye. I’ll phone you when I get there
2. I’ll answer that.
3. I won’t tell him. I promise.
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