The Present Simple Tense
The simple present tense is used in English for the following purposes:
- Repeated actions
- Simple statements of fact
- World truths
- With verbs of the senses and mental processes
- In jokes and story telling
- To refer to the future
How to form the present simple
The present simple tense is very often used with adverbs of repeated time. Look at these examples
(the adverbs are shown in bold):
I always come to school by car.
She frequently arrives here before me.
He never forgets to do his homework.
I often catch the late bus home.
I play football on Saturdays.
Once a year I fly back to visit my family in Korea.
The classrooms are cleaned every evening after school.
She sometimes loses her temper, but it doesn't happen very often.
Do you ever eat in the cafeteria?
Does your father speak English every day?
Simple statements of fact
When we want to state a fact or ask a question without any time reference, we use the present
I live in Frankfurt.
She plays football but she doesn't play tennis.
For breakfast he eats rice and drinks cold milk.
She works very hard.
My friend speaks four languages.
It rains a lot in Germany.
I don't like horror films!
Do you smoke?
Does your sister have any children?
How much does it cost to buy an apartment in Frankfurt?
Statements about rules of nature and the way the world is are in the present simple tense.
The sun sets in the West.
Most babies learn to speak when they are about two years old.
Water boils at 100° Celsius.
Trees lose their leaves in the fall.
Few people live to be 100 years old.
Wood floats on water.
Does it snow in the Sahara desert?
Do elephants live longer than humans?
Money doesn't guarantee happiness.
Flowers don't grow in the winter.
Verbs of the senses and mental processes
The present simple tense is used for many verbs of thinking, feeling and sensing. The most common
like love prefer know understand
hate need want believe remember
see hear taste smell look
She likes it in Germany.
I love lying in bed late on Sunday mornings.
I need to know right now.
She says she doesn't know who did it, but I don't believe her.
He doesn't want to speak to you again.
This doesn't taste very good, does it?
Do you remember the first time we met?
Do you smell something funny?
Does he understand which way to go?
In jokes, anecdotes and film or book summaries
The present simple tense is very often used in jokes and when telling a story to make the joke or
story seem more immediate. This use of the present tense is sometimes called the graphic present.
The present simple is also used to retell what happens in a book or film.
So in he walks with a parrot on his shoulder.
In his new film Robert Redford plays the part of a brave cowboy.
To refer to the future
The present simple is often used to refer to future events that are scheduled (and outside of our
Hurry up! The train departs in 10 minutes.
I leave Frankfurt at 5 o'clock in the morning and arrive in New York
at midnight the next day.
She has a piano lesson after school today.
There's no need to hurry. The train doesn't leave for another 30 minutes.
When does the meeting begin?
The Present Continuous Tense
The present continuous tense is most often used for the following:
- For actions happening now
- For future arrangements
- To express annoyance at repeated actions
How to form the present continuous
For actions happening now
When we want to talk about an action that is happening now or at this time (and is unfinished), we
use the present continuous tense. We also use this tense when we want to make clear that the action
Sorry, she can't come to the phone right now; she is having a bath.
Look! Someone is trying to break into your car.
This work is good! Your handwriting is getting better and better.
I'm wearing these old trousers to school this week, as we're doing a pottery course and it's
very messy work!
Of course she likes you. You're just being stupid!
Where's John? - He's playing soccer in the sports hall.
This calculator isn't working properly. Do you have another one.
You can go outside now. It isn't raining any more.
What are you doing? - My watch is broken and I'm trying to fix it.
Why are you talking? You should be listening to me.
For future arrangements
We usually use the present continuous tense for future events that have already been arranged:
I'm meeting my mother at the airport tomorrow.
Our grandmother is visiting us at Christmas.
Sorry, I can't stay after school today; I'm playing tennis with Jun-Sik.
My mother's going to the dentist tomorrow.
I'm not going home at Christmas, so I can come to your party after all!
Are you doing anything on Sunday morning?
Do you know if he is going to the dance with Maiko next week?
To express annoyance at repeated actions
Usually the present simple is used for repeated actions. For example, He always gets up before 7
o'clock, but .. the present continuous is the correct choice when the speaker wants to express
annoyance at a repeated action. (Note how often the word "always" is used in such statements):
You are always interrupting me when I'm talking and I don't like it!
She's always tapping her pencil on the desk and it's getting on my nerves!
My ESL teacher's always giving detentions; how can anyone be so mean?
I'm getting tired of you always coming late to class.
Why is it always raining in Germany?
Why are you always criticising me?
The Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect tense is most often used for the following:
- For past events with a connection to the present
- With words of unfinished time
How to form the present perfect | Present perfect continuous
For past events with a connection to the present
The present perfect tense is quite complicated to explain. It is used when an action that happened in
the past continues to have a strong connection in the present. The best way to understand it is to
look at some examples. They are followed in each case by a short explanation:
I have lost my dictionary. (I don't have my dictionary now; can you help me find it?)
Mary has fixed my computer (My computer is working now and I'm happy about it!)
You haven't eaten very much. (Don't you feel well? Don't you like it?)
I haven't read his letter. (I haven't had time yet. What does he say?)
Have you seen my calculator? (- I want to use it now!)
Has she had an accident? (- Someone said she's in hospital!)
Have you done your homework? (- It's due in today!)
With words of unfinished time
The present perfect tense is used with words or expressions of unfinished time. Unfinished time
started in the past and continues into the present. (So you can see how this use of the present
perfect is connected with use 1 above.) Here are some sentences in the present perfect. The
expressions of unfinished time are shown in bold.
I've played tennis 3 times already this week and it's only Thursday!
She's been back to Korea twice already this year, and she's going again next week!
Sorry, I've seen that film already. I don't want to see it again.
I've lived in Germany since 1986.
She's had a lot of bad luck recently.
I haven't seen my mother for 2 months.
No, you can't use the bathroom. You haven't finished the exercise yet.
She hasn't called me lately? Do you think she's sick?
Have you ever seen a ghost?
Has he lived here all his life?
Has the postman been yet?
** Be careful: sometimes an expression of unfinished time can be used with the past simple tense.
Look at these examples and explanations:
I drank three cups of coffee this morning.
The speaker is talking in the evening so for him this morning is finished time.
I didn't see John today.
The student is talking after school when there is no more possibility of seeing John on this day.
Today becomes an expression of finished time.
This year was a very good year for me!
This is possible if the speaker is talking very near to the end of the year, and so in her opinion the
year is finished. Therefore she uses the past simple was.
The Past Simple Tense
The past simple tense is most often used for the following:
- For actions that happened in the past
- In reported speech
- In conditional sentences
How to form the past simple
For actions that happened in the past
The past simple is the most usual tense for talking about things that happened or have finished
before now. Very often we use a word or expression of finished time with this tense. In the following
example sentences the expressions of finished time are shown in bold:
She came to Germany two years ago.
It rained every day for a week on my vacation.
Columbus discovered America in 1492.
I played tennis at the weekend.
I didn't see you yesterday. Were you in school?
My mother went shopping on Saturday but she didn't buy anything.
I felt embarrassed when the teacher asked an easy question but I didn't know the answer.
The weather was bad this afternoon* so we didn't have a picnic as planned.
How did you do that?
Did you see the film on TV last night?
Why didn't you do your homework?
* In this sentence the speaker is talking in the evening, so for her this afternoon is finished time.
In reported speech
In reported speech it is common to shift the tense back. So for example, if someone said something
to you in the present tense, you would report it in the past tense. Look at these examples. In each
case the first sentence is direct speech and the second sentence is in reported speech. The verbs in
the past simple form are shown in bold.
She said: "I live in Frankfurt."
She told me she lived in Frankfurt. *
He said: "I can speak 5 languages."
He said he could speak 5 languages.
The new girl said: "My father is a millionaire!"
The new girl told me her father was a millionaire but I don't believe her!
She said: "My mother doesn't like German food."
She said her mother didn't like German food.
He said: "I don't feel well."
He said he didn't feel well.
She asked: "Do you like ESL lessons?"
She asked me if I liked ESL lessons.
The teacher said: "Do you know the answer?"
The teacher asked me if I knew the answer.
* It is common in modern spoken English to NOT change the tense if you believe that what someone
told you is still true. So, for example, we could say:
She said she lives in Frankfurt.
She told me her mother doesn't like German food.
In conditional sentences
The past simple tense is used in conditional 2 sentences. Have a look at some examples before
reading the explanation about what the conditional 2 is. The verbs in past simple form are shown in
I would help you if I had time!
If I were the teacher I would give lots of homework every day!
What would you buy if you won a lot of money?
If you bought a calculator, you wouldn't have to borrow mine all the time!
If you didn't eat so much junk food, you would be a lot fitter!
I would be much happier if you didn't do that!
The past simple (conditional 2) is used in these sentences to express the idea of something that is
not true or that the speaker thinks is unlikely to happen. So, in the first 3 sentences above, the
interpretations would be:
I don't have time ..
I am not the teacher ..
I don't think it is likely you will win a lot of money ..
The Past Continuous Tense
The past continuous tense is most often used for actions happening at some time in the past.
How to form the past continuous
For actions happening at some time in the past
When we want to talk about an action that was happening over a period of time in the past, we use
the past continuous tense. Look at these examples:
At this time last week I was lying on the beach in Florida.
My mother was working in the garden so she didn't hear the telephone when I called her
I had my car fixed because it wasn't working properly.
Sorry, I wasn't listening. Can you say it again please?
What were you doing at 8 o'clock yesterday?
Why were you talking to John when I saw you in the cafeteria yesterday?
I went to lunch too early. The food was still being cooked. (passive)
The past continuous is very often used with the past simple to say that something happened in the
middle of something else. In each of the following examples, the single event (past simple) happens
in the middle of a longer action (past continuous).
You phoned while I was having a bath.
When I got home yesterday, a cat was sitting on the roof.
It started to rain just as we were getting ready to have our picnic.
The boy was standing on the table when the principal came into the room.
Many people were shopping in the market when the bomb exploded.
I saw Noriko in town yesterday. She was wearing a pink dress and an orange hat!
When I went to bed last night the sun was already beginning to rise.
It was lucky we weren't sitting under that tree when the lightning hit.
What were you doing when the lights went off last night?
Were you watching me when I showed you how to do it?
How fast was she driving when she had the accident?
The Past Perfect Tense
The past perfect tense is most often used for the following:
- For actions that happened before a past event
- In reported speech
- In if (conditional) sentences
How to form the past perfect | Past perfect continuous
For actions that happened before a past event
When we want to talk about an action that happened before a past event, we often use the past
perfect. Look at these examples:
When I got home yesterday, my father had already cooked dinner.
I didn't want to go to the movies with my friends because I had seen the film already.
My friend offered me an apple in class yesterday, but I wasn't hungry because I had just
I arrived very late at the party. All my friends had already gone home.
As soon as she had done her homework, she went to bed.
I was very tired as I hadn't slept well for several days.
Had you seen the film before?
Notice how often words like already, just, never etc. are used with the past perfect.
In reported speech
The past perfect is common when we report people's words or thoughts .., as in the following
John said that he had never eaten sushi before.
She told me that she had finished, but I knew she had not.
She wondered why he had been so unkind to her.
He told me he hadn't done his homework, but he was hoping to finish it on the bus.
I thought I had sent her a birthday card, but I was wrong.
In if (conditional) sentences
The past perfect tense is used in unreal or hypothetical stituations, as in the following sentences:
If I had known you were in Frankfurt, I would have called you. (but I didn't know you were
here so I didn't call you!)
If I had had enough money, I would have bought you a better present. (but I didn't have
I would have been very angy if you had laughed when I got the answer wrong. (but you
didn't laugh, so I wasn't angry.)
She wouldn't have been able to finish, if you hadn't helped her. (but you did help her and
she did finish.)
I wish I had studied for my exams. (but I didn't study - and I got bad grades!)
I would have been in big trouble if you hadn't helped me. (but you did help me so I stayed
out of trouble.)
The passive is a grammar construction that uses the auxiliary to be and the past participle of a verb:.
My camera has been stolen.
The Mona Lisa was painted in 1503.
We are being followed.
She was seriously injured in the car crash.
You will be told when to come.
The school was built just after the war.
The ski race has been cancelled due to lack of snow.
The passive has two main functions:
Firstly, we use the passive when we are more interested in what happened than who did it. For
example, in saying My camera has been stolen the speaker is conveying important information about
his camera. The camera is the focus of interest, and so the speaker has made it the subject of the
sentence. He does not know or care who took it. Similarly, in the sentence The Mona Lisa was
painted in 1503 the speaker wants to tells us when the painting was done. She is not interested in
telling us who painted it, or maybe she expects us to already know that it was painted by Leonardo
The passive can be used in all tenses. The following list has examples of the most common uses:
The classrooms are cleaned every afternoon. (present simple)
A new road is being built behind the school. (present continuous)
The boy was seen spraying paint on the wall. (past simple)
I was late because the road was being repaired. (past continuous)
The car thief has been caught. (present perfect)
The painting had been damaged during the war. (past perfect)
You will be shown how to do it. (future)
It must be done. (modal verb + simple infinitive)
She likes to be praised when she does well. (infinitive with to)
I hate being watched when I'm working. (gerund)
Note: In all the above sentences, it is not important to the speaker that s/he tells us who (e.g., who
cleans the classrooms, who is building the road behind the school, who saw the boy spraying paint).
Important is: what (or when, why, how).
The second important reason why we use the passive is to follow the typical English sentence
pattern of Given-New. This means putting given or old information at the beginning of the sentence
(as the subject), and following it with new information (as the predicate). Example:
The second world war began in September 1939. It was caused by the invasion of Poland by German
troops. At this time Poland was governed by the Polish Socialist Party.
Here is the alternative, putting the new information before the given or old, and using the active not
The second world war began in September 1939. The invasion of Poland by German troops caused it.
The Polish Socialist Party governed Poland at this time.