The best way to learn tenses, is to see them used in their real life contexts. Here below I’ve written out sentences that are true for me, how I would normally speak. I’ve included the most commonly used tenses.
Simple & Continuous Tenses
In the Present Simple I talk about facts of my life, they are general facts about routine and habit.
In the Past Simple I talk about facts clearly stated in the past : ie. yesterday – agreed, had, met
In the Future Simple I talk about facts with regard to the future.
In the Present Perfect Simple / Continuous I talk about past events coming up to and continuing in the present, ie. just, for about 10 minutes.
In the Present Continuous I talk about events happening now.
- Present Simple. “I drink coffee, usually in the morning, after I get up; then rarely, but from time to time over dinner in the evening. But generally not, because it disturbs my sleep.”
- Past Simple. “I met Christoph for coffee yesterday, we had a chat, and agreed to meet again the following week.”
- Future Simple. “I will meet him next week on Saturday.”
- “I’m going to meet him next week on Saturday.”
- “I’ll be meeting him next week on Saturday.”
- “I’m going to be meeting him next week on Saturday.”
- Present Perfect Simple & Continuous. “I have just had lunch, and I’ve been writing this article for about 10 minutes.”
- Present Continuous. “I’m sitting here writing this text on a cold wintry day in January.”
- Past Continuous. “I was thinking about going out today, but it’s too cold and wet.”
ADDING MORE COMPLEX IDEAS
- “If I had known it was going to be so cold, I would have canceled our appointment for a walk on the hills.”
- “If I was you, I’d stay home, and read a book.”
- “But if I stay at home all day, I know I’ll get a bit crazy.”
Can you see the three conditional forms here? Can you see how they are formed? Let’s do another theme, and see if you can follow the rules:
- “If I had known the coffee was so bad, I wouldn’t have bought it. I should have paid a little more, and got something nicer.”
- “I’d be happier if they made the coffee a little stronger.”
- “If they don’t improve the service here, I won’t come again.”
I’ve mixed up the sentences here, so try to see if you can still follow the logic of the grammar. You can find many grammar explanations online. However, I feel it’s better if you do your own research. Find some examples online and put them into categories: first conditional, second conditional, third conditional.
Why was the coffee so bad, we may ask? We don’t know exactly, but we can speculate. ‘Should have,’ we use for advice and suggestion, ‘can’t have,’ we use to explain a sure negative. ‘Must have,’ expresses a sure positive, while ‘ought to have,’ expresses a serious suggestion, stronger than should. ‘May have,’ is a more speculative, unsure statement.
- “The cheapskates – They should have put more coffee in!”
- “It can’t have been easy setting up a new coffee bar in the city, there are hundreds.”
- “They must have spent a fortune on the furniture, it looks fantastic.”
- “I can’t be sure, but I think they may have got the money from the government.”
- “They ought to have put a sign out in front of the shop, nobody knows there’s a café inside.”
As before, go on the internet or look in a book and do some research. Find some examples of how these forms are used. Be creative, think of how you could formulate sentences for the following situations:
A business is going bust
A husband has left his wife and family
A company was floated on the stock exchange, but has since lost a lot of value.
Make a note under the different headings and keep on looking at the examples and returning to them until you’ve mastered it. Good luck!
LISTING VERBS IN THE ING FORM
What I like about drinking coffee in the morning. I’m going to list the things below. Take something you like doing at the weekend, and make a list:
- Sitting in the dark before dawn, drinking coffee
- Drinking coffee and thinking about my day
- Drinking coffee before going back to bed
Now think about what you like doping at the end of the day, and write that down. If you do this every day, it’s good for your notes and good training to think in the English language.
- Getting into bed when it’s cold outside
- Thinking about the day I’ve had
- Reading my book that I’m reading at the moment
As you can see if you copy the tenses exactly, you can also learn something here about the tenses, that we looked at in the beginning.