21 September 2011 / by Radmila Gurkova

Oxbridge TEFL - How to remember tenses and tense formation in English

Have you missed this important session about tenses in English?
Do you find it difficult to remember all these names with Latin roots? Do they not make any sense to you and just thinking about them makes you feel dizzy? Maybe if you think of them as combinatorics it will appear much easier to remember.

1. Let’s first take the three main time references: present, past and future.

These are universal categories. Things either happen now (present) or they happened before (past) or they will happen some time in the future (future).

2. All actions or states can happen at a certain moment and then we refer to them as simple. Other actions or states can have a duration in time and then we refer to them as continuous or progressive (in progress). And others can be completed (they have an end) regarding the time reference and then we refer to them as perfect, that means they have finished.

Continuous tenses use gerunds (verbs ending in –ing), e.g. playing, swimming, reading, drinking. The auxiliary verb bears the time reference.
Perfect tenses use past participles (regular verbs end in –ed; irregular verbs have different forms), e.g. played, swum, read, drunk. The auxiliary verb bears the time reference.
3.   Actions and states are not always just continuous or just perfect. They can even be both: perfect and continuous, then we refer to them as perfect continuous. That means that the action or state has been in a progress and has reached an end. The auxiliary verb bears the time reference.

Now, let the combinatorics begin: the combination of the time reference and the situation of the actions or states will give us all the tenses.



Simple action


Action in progress


Completed action

Completed action in progress

PRESENT Present simple

I walk

Present continuous

I am walking

Present perfect

I have walked

Pr. perfect cont.

I have been walking

PAST Past simple

I walked

Past continuous

I was walking

Past perfect

I had walked

Past perfect cont.

I had been walking

FUTURE Future simple

I will walk

Future continuous

I will be walking

Future perfect

I will have walked

Future perfect cont.

I will have been walking


If you are not a TEFL trainee or a teacher and you still can understand this, then my task is completed and my objective is reached. You’ve understood tense formation in English.


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