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How To Choose the Right Tense!

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When there are lots of different tenses to learn, it can seem a little mind-boggling to decide which one you need to use – and when!

So to help you learn to choose the correct one for each situation, read on for some simple pointers on each tense.

Using the present simple tense

The present simple tense is the one you’ll use the most often. It’s used when you’re talking about something that is happening right in the moment that you are describing the action – not before, or after.

For example:

“She cooks in her kitchen.”

You can also use the present simple tense to describe something that takes place regularly.

For example:

“The train takes a detour every Thursday.”

Using the present continuous tense

The present continuous tense is used when you’re talking about something that is happening in the present moment – but will also be continuing afterwards.

Instead of using the present simple tense, you use the present form of “to be”, followed by the verb, with the suffix “–ing” at the end.

For example:

“I am driving to work.”

You can also use the present continuous to talk about an activity you have planned in the near future.

For example:

“They’re flying in tomorrow evening.”

Using the past simple tense

If you’re talking about something that happened in the past, then this is the tense you’re most likely to use. It’s used when something took place in the past and stopped at a clear point.

For example:

“The car broke down after they crossed the bridge.”

Using the past perfect tense

This is another way of talking about the past – but unlike the past simple tense, this is used to describe something that happened before another action, which also took place in the past.

You put it together by using “had” followed by the past participle of the verb.

For example:

“He had never studied art before he came to college.”

Past perfect continuous

Like the present continuous, this tense is used to describe something that started in the past and continued happening for some period of time.

It doesn’t matter how long the duration was for – whether it was for a few minutes or several years, you would still use this tense.

The important thing to remember is that the activity being described must have already stopped, before the present moment.

To use it, you use “had been” followed by the present participle of the verb.

For example:

“We had been walking for over 2 hours before we finally found help.”

Simple future

Unlike the past and present simple tenses, the simple future is a little more complicated!

There are two different ways of expressing this tense: using “will” or “be going to”. While both are used to talk about something that will happen in the future, they each have a different meaning.

“Will” is usually used to show that you have voluntarily chosen to carry out an action, or to express a promise.

For example:

“I will buy you the biggest cake in the store for your birthday.”

“Be going to” meanwhile, is used to indicate a plan for the future.

For example:

“They are going to take a cruise next summer.”

You can also use both these forms to describe predictions for the future, and neither will change the meaning.

For example, you could say “next year will be amazing” or equally, “next year is going to be amazing.”

Your turn

The best way to get familiar with the different tenses in English is to practice – so take every chance you get to use each of the tenses, in different situations! Why not try writing one sentence in each tense, by describing a similar action in the past, present and future?