Tense and Aspect in English

(intermediate level)


Tense and aspect are two different grammatical categories, but they always go together in a given phrase or structure.


There are six (three primary and three secondary) tenses and two aspects in English:

presentpresent perfect
pastpast perfect
futurefuture perfect


Present Simple
(present tense + common aspect)

1 Usual, regular action:

I always go out on Saturday evenings.

She never gets up early in the morning.

My father paints pictures.

We sometimes take the children to the zoo.

Peter goes to secondary school.

2 General existence; stating a fact:

Dogs have four legs.

The moon goes round the earth.

3 Dramatic narrative (theatre, sports, etc. events):

Smith holds the ball, now he passes it to Jones, he kicks, and it's a goal!


Question and negation in Present Simple
Do you (ever) go out on Saturdays?Yes, I do. / No, I don't.
Yes, I often do.
No, I never do.
Does she get up early?Yes, she does. / No, she doesn't.
Yes, she sometimes does.
No, she never does.
What do you do?I work in an office.
What does your father do?He works in a bank.
Where does he live?He lives in Paris.
Where do you take the children on Sundays?We always go to the zoo.
I don't go out on Saturdays.
She doesn't get up early in the morning.
They don't live in this street.



Present Progressive
(present tense + progressive aspect)

1 Action happening now (at the moment):

I'm sitting here and listening to you.

Look out, it's raining.

2 Action happening about this time, but not necessarily at the moment:

He's teaching French and Italian.

They're attending a course on philosophy.

3 Definite arrangement in the near future:

I'm flying to London tomorrow.

My daughter is going out with Jason tonight.


Question and negation in Present Progressive
Are you listening to me?Yes, I am. / No, I'm not.
Is it raining?Yes, it is. / No, it isn't.
What are they doing?The're playing tennis.
Where is she going tonight?She's going to the cinema.
She isn't going to the cinema.
I'm not working now.
They aren't watching TV tonight.



Past Simple
(past tense + common aspect)

Actions and events in the past:

I played tennis with Sheila yesterday.

Grandfather came home early.

It rained last night.


Question and negation
Did you play tennis yesterday?Yes, I did. / No I didn't.
Did your sister have a good time in the club?Yes, she did. / No, she didn't.
When did grandfather come home?He came home at six.
I didn't play tennis yesterday.
Grandfather didn't come home last night.



Past Progressive
(past tense + progressive aspect)

Action in progress in the past:

I was sleeping when mother came home.

We were playing tennis at six yesterday.

She was studying English from six to seven.


Question and negation in Past Progressive
Were you sleeping then?Yes, I was. / No I wasn't.
Yes, we were. / No, we weren't.
What were you doing at six yesterday?I was writing my homework.
What was she studying from six to seven?She was studying chemistry.
We weren't playing at six.
She wasn't studying anything.



Present Perfect Simple
(present perfect tense + common aspect)

1 Action with a result:

Sorry, I've broken your glasses.

Have you done your homework (yet)?

We haven't had breakfast yet.

He has already cleaned the car.

2 Action in incomplete time:

Our team have played six matches this season.

3 Action in the past without saying when:

Peter has already been to England.

Have you ever visited this museum?

4 Action beginning in the past and still continuing:

We have lived here for ten years.

She has played the guitar since 1986.


Question and negation in Present Perfect
Have you done your homework?Yes, I have. / No, I haven't.
Has he cleaned the car?Yes, he has. / No, he hasn't.
What have you done?I've broken this glass.
I haven't seen you for ages.
She hasn't been to England (yet).



Present Perfect or Past?
I've (already) been to England.
(The fact is important, the time when I was there isn't mentioned.)
I went to England last year.
(The time of the action is mentioned.)
She's just posted the letter.
(The result is important.)
She posted the letter a minute ago.
(It's important when the action was completed.)



Present Perfect Progressive
(present perfect tense + progressive aspect)

Cp. Pres. Perf. 4 (above) with the progress emphasized:

We've been living here for ten years.

She has been playing the guitar all this morning.


Present Perfect Simple or Progressive?
I've written three letters today.
(The action has been completed, the letters are finished.)
I've been writing letters all day today.
(This is /or was/ my activity today, I haven't finished yet, or the result isn't important.)
The guests have stayed here for seven days.
(They have just left or they're leaving now.)
The guests have been staying here for seven days.
(They are still here.)




Past Perfect Simple
(past perfect tense + common aspect)

Action in the past before another:

She said she had played tennis with Peter the day before.

We had lived in Oxford before we moved to London.


Past Perfect Progressive
(past perfect tense + progressive aspect)

Past Perf. with the progress emphasized:

She said she had been playing tennis all that morning.


Future Simple
(future tense + common aspect)

Future actions and events:

I'll have a day off tomorrow.

Our train will arrive at 7.30.


Future Progressive
(future tense + progressive aspect)

Action in progress at a given time in the future:

This time tomorrow we'll be flying to Scotland.

He will be working when you come home tomorrow.



Future Perfect
(future perfect tense + common aspect)

Action completed by a given time in the future:

They will have finished the work by seven tomorrow.

I'll have posted all the letters by the time the boss comes back.


Future Perfect Progressive
(future perfect tense + progressive aspect)

Action still in progress for a given period of time in the future:

By this time next week the tourists will have been staying here for five days.




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