TENSES -Meaning and examples of different tenses


TENSES -Meaning and examples of different tenses

Tense refers to the form which a verb takes in order to show the exact point of time a particular action takes place in sentence construction. Consider the verb “speak” and the different changes it undergoes in form and use in order to reveal the times of the action.

For example:
• He speaks eloquently. (Time_ Always).
• He spoke yesterday. (Time_ Past)
• He will speak soon. (Time_ Future)
• He has spoken. (Time_ Completed)
• He is speaking. (Time_ Now)

In any language, tense is divided into three classes namely:
1. Present.
2. Past and
3. Future tense.


When a verb is used to show that an action takes place at present, it is known as the present tense.
For example:
• He speaks English well.
• It rains today.
• I like Nigerians.
• We are fond of Music.

The present tense is further divided into four classes namely:
1. Simple present tense.
2. Present continuous tense.
3. Present perfect tense.
4. Present perfect continuous tense.


The simple present tense indicates the present time. In order to indicate the simple present, the verb takes either the ‘s’ form or the simple form of the verb. The simple present tense expresses six important actions.
1. Action that happens regularly, often, habitually and seldomly.
• He eats food a lot.
• I go to church on Sundays.
• They go to school every day.

  1. It is also used in the expression of the general truth, that is, what is known by all persons.
    • There are thirty days in September.
    • Life is precious.
    • Death is inevitable.

  2. Again, it is also used in the expression of non-action activities.
    • I like music.
    • You are clever.

  3. It is used in exclamatory sentences beginning with “here” and “there”.
    For example:
    • Here comes Amaka!
    • There the bus stops!
    • Look! How Juliet sings!

  4. It is also used to express planned activities.
    For example:
    • The president visits Ebonyi State next Monday.
    • My father comes tomorrow.

  5. It is also used to introduce quotations.
    For example:
    • Kents says “ a thing of beauty is a joy forever”.
    To form this tense, main verb such as play, sing, make, like, attract “s” or “es” when used with singular persons and without ‘s’ or ‘es’ when used with plural persons.

PERSON                         VERB

I                                         Speak
We                                     Speak
You                                    Speak
They                                   Speak
He                                      Speaks
She                                    Speaks
It                                         Speaks



Just like nouns and pronouns, verbs also have singular and plurals. The only difference being that in nouns, the singular does not normally attract an ‘s’. The plural does.
For example:
NOUN                   SINGULAR                    PLURAL
Girl                             Girl                              Girls
Boy                             Boy                             Boys
Footballer                 Footballer                  Footballers
Student                     Student                     Students

In the case of the verb, it takes the opposite form. For example, the singular attracts an ‘s’ while the plural does not.
VERB                            SINGULAR                  PLURAL
Fight                                Fights                          Fight
Read                                Reads                         Read
Feel                                  Feels                          Feel
Play                                  Plays                           Play
Laugh                               Laughs                       Laugh
Write                                 Writes                         Write
Cook                                 Cooks                          Cook

The rule in singular and plural verbs is to match plural nouns and singular verbs with singular nouns.
• That boy fight all the time.
• Boys fights all the time; are both wrong.

The noun boy is singular, but the verb fight is plural. There is no agreement. To match the noun and the verb properly
We shall have:
• That boy fights all the time.
• Boys fight all the time.

Other examples are:
• Girls cooks all the time (wrong)
• Girls cook all the time (right)
• A good student read always (wrong)
• A good student reads always (right)
• I goes to church every Sunday (wrong)
• I go to church every Sunday (right)
• They writes always (wrong)
• They write always (right)

(a) For a temporary action.
For example
• I am reading Kosi’s book.
• I am eating rice.
• I am dancing for you.


(b) For a future planned action.

For example:
• Okeke is entering secondary school this Monday.
• Chidi is singing at the concert this Sunday.
• We are visiting Enugu this week.


(a) This is used to denote activities that are in progress while they are being discussed or a temporary situation. Auxiliary verbs in the present and main verb with the “ing” are used to express thus:
For example:
• Cyprian is writing.
• Miracle is reading her book.
• I am teaching.
• You are learning.


A tense is said to be perfect when the action expressed by the verb phrase is regarded as complete. The tense is present perfect when you view the action from the present moment. ( I have written the letter) I mean that as of this present moment, I have completed the action of writing the letter.

This tense is made up of the auxiliary verb “have” or “has” (which is in the present) and the main verb in the “perfect” or past participle form.

Examples are:
We have eaten the food. (have + eaten)
Micheal has scored a goal. (has + scored)
Has Chidera read his book? (has + read)
I have not done my work.(have + done)


This is used to express an action that started in the past and is still at the time of speaking. This tense is made up of “have” or “has” + “been” + main verb in the –“ing” form. For e.g Samuel has been reading since 8 am. The first auxiliary verb “has” indicates the “perfect” and then “sleeping” which is the main verb in the continuous form.
Further examples are:
• Nonso has + been + reading for two hours and hasn’t finished yet.
• We have + been + waiting for hours, yet he has not arrived.

Please note that “has” is a singular verb while “have” is plural. Remember also that we earlier said that singular or plural nouns must agree with singular or plural verbs.

For example:
She                                                                       Has                                      Eaten
He                                                                         Has                                      Written the test
It                                                                            Has                                      Broken
My father                                                               Has                                      Gone to work
My Mother                                                            Has                                       Gone to market
We                                                                       Have                                      Been waiting
The Boys                                                              Have                                     Been playing football
They                                                                     Have                                     Been singing in the church

Note also that ‘I’ and ‘you’ take a plural verb.

For example:
• I have done it, not I have done it.
• You have done it, not you have done it.


This is used to show that an action was completed at a definite time in the past. The past tense of a verb, therefore, expresses an action that already happened. In addition, it usually indicates the time of the action.
The past tense is divided into:
• The simple past tense.
• The past progressive (continuous) tense.
• The past perfect tense.
• The past perfect continuous tense.

For example:
• He went to the market yesterday.
• He bought the car four years ago.
• We were in a primary school last month.
• They prayed in the church on Sunday.
• It was hot yesterday.
• I spoke to her for two hours.


The simple past tense shows a complete action. In addition, it usually indicates the time of the action. Let us examine the examples of our simple present tense and convert it to the simple past tense for a better understanding of simple past tense.

For example:
• He eats food a lot (simple present tense)
He ate food a lot yesterday (simple past tense)
• I go to church on Sundays (simple present tense)
I went to church last Sunday (simple past tense)

Other examples are:
• She usually sang songs in the evening. (she is not singing now)
• Ike always talked about his friend. (he has stopped talking about it now)


The past progressive or continuous tense is used in the formation of two distinct actions.
(a) A past action that took place over a period of time
• He was reading for two hours.
• She was praying throughout the night.

(b) It may also describe a past action interrupted by another __ all in the past.
• We were reading when he shouted.
• We were learning when he left.
• He bruised his toe as he was running.
• We were enjoying the movie when the light went off.
(c) It may also be used for a persistent habit in the past.

For example:
• He was always talking about his friend.
• She was always telling us about her brother.
• Unoka was always thinking about his poverty.
Note that most often; the tense consists of an auxiliary verb in the past and a main verb with the “ing”.


This is used in a situation where one action in the past happened before another one; to show that the first action was complete before the second one. It is expressed in the past perfect tense while the second action is expressed in the simple past tense.

For e.g “Emma had spoken before Emeka spoke”. It is clear that Emma spoke first and had finished speaking before Emeka spoke.

The past perfect tense is made up of the auxiliary verb “had” (which is in the past) and the main verb in the “perfect” or “past participle” form. It is also used in reported speech.

Further examples are:
• I had finished my breakfast before he came in. (had + finished)
• When I entered the classroom, the teacher had left. (had + left)
• When they entered the classroom, the teacher had started the lesson. (had + started)
• You had gone home as the rain started. (had + gone)


This expresses an action which had been in progress before another one interrupted.
For example:
• I had been reading for a long time when he arrived.
• She had been walking for a long time when she became tired.


When a verb is used to show that an action will take place in future, it is known as future tense.
For example:
• He will go to Enugu tomorrow.
• Kosi will be twenty years old next year.
• It will rain tomorrow.
The future tense is further divided into
• The simple future tense.
• The future progressive or continuous tense.
• The future perfect tense.
• Future perfect continuous tense.


Simple future tense shows events, actions and activities; that will or won’t exist or happen in the future. This is formed by using “WILL” or “SHALL” with the main verb in the simple present tense.


This tense specifies events, actions, activities or states of being that are expected to happen and go on in the future.
For example:
• I shall be going home soon.
• We shall be travelling next week.
• You will be reading your book later today.
• When I return in the evening, Ada will be sweeping the room.
• He will be washing his school uniform after school today.
• She will be sweeping the classroom after school today.
• When I go home, she will be waiting for me.


The future perfect tense is used for a future completed action.
For example:
• The will have reached home.
• I shall have written the book by tomorrow.
• We will have been married when you come again.
• By tomorrow at this time, i will have run the race.


This is used for an action going on in the future and will continue to a certain time in the future.
For example:
• They will have been building the house for five years by next year.
• By next month, she will have been working in the bank for 20years.

Mood is the mode or method by which a verb is used to express a particular action.
There are three kinds of moods in English, namely:
• Indicative mood.
• Imperative mood.
• Subjunctive mood.

A verb which is used to make a statement of fact, a question or a supposition is known as indicative mood.
• We read other books daily.
• My brother likes reading.
• Do you read your books everyday?
• Are you a lazy student?
• If you are intelligent, you shall be made the class prefect.
• If it rains, we shall stop the work.

The imperative mood is used to express a command, advice, orders and instructions or to make a request or entreaty.
• Close the door behind you.
• Get me a taxi.

• Be kind to the poor.
• Be polite to the strangers.
• Try to be honest.
• Could you type this letter?
• Will you please open the window?
Please note that “you” is omitted in the imperative mood.
For example:
• Post this letter and not (you post this letter).


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