Drawing conclusions about tense (Part I)

by Anna Tarnow

Tenses can get pretty confusing in writing, even when you think you know what you’re doing. It can also be challenging to explain tenses because time is a confusing concept to talk about. That’s why I love thinking about tenses in terms of visuals. It can sometimes help to map out your tenses to get a better grip on grammar. This great chart (from gives a really nice sense of tense through simple visuals.

Simple present
This tense is used in two kinds of ways.

First, simple present can be used to describe a series of repeated actions. For example, “She runs every day.” This action is happening repeatedly along a timeline, so it is described by simple present.

Second, simple present can be used to indicate generalizations, which describe something that is happening throughout all of time. For example, “Bob likes to drink coffee.” Bob’s enjoyment of coffee isn’t limited to any one moment, but to all, so this statement is a generalization.

Simple Present


Present continuous
This tense is used to describe an action that is going on in the present. It can be used either exactly or approximately. Examples: “He is eating” or “They are finding out that the food is gone.

Anna Tense Present Continuous

Simple past
This tense can also be used in two ways.

First, the simple past can describe a short completed action, such as “I called my lawyer.”

Second, it is used to describe an extended period of time that both began and ended in the past. For example: “I lived in Mexico for six years.”

Anna Tense Simple Past

Past continuous
This tense describes an action that happened and was interrupted in the past. For example, “I was cooking when the doorbell rang.”

Anna Tense Past Continuous

Present perfect
This tense can be used in two ways.

First, present perfect describes an event that happened at an unspecified time in the past. It always uses the present form of “to have” (has/have) and a verb in the simple past. Example: “I have seen Jeremy before.”

Second, present perfect may describe a change over a period of time. For example, “This flower has grown much taller.”

Anna Tense Present Perfect

Thinking of tenses in a different way can help make sense of confusing conjugations. Click here for Part II!

Anna Tarnow is a senior majoring in English and enjoys working on the Pilot newspaper, where she is editor-in-chief.

“Verb Tense Tutorial.” Table. English Page. N.p., n.d., Web. 4 Oct. 2015. <>.

One thought on “Drawing conclusions about tense (Part I)

  1. This is such a helpful tutorial on verb tenses. I’m going to use this in my FYE. Thank you.

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