Last week we began a discussion about tenses. We talked about the six main tenses, their companion progressive tenses, and how to form them all. This post will talk about the time each tense refers to, as tense is all about time.
Here is a timeline of the six main tenses, from earliest to most future:
< Past Perfect Past Present Perfect Present Future Perfect Future >
Here are explanations of each of the tenses:
Present: Something that is happening now.
- I take piano lessons.
- I am taking piano lessons.
Past: It already happened, and it is over. (Note the difference between past and present perfect.)
- I took a piano lesson last night.
- I was taking a piano lesson last night.
Future: It will happen at some time in the future.
- I will take a piano lesson tomorrow afternoon.
- I will be taking a piano lesson tomorrow afternoon.
Present Perfect: It happened in the past, and it is likely continuing in the present. It may not be over. (Compare with past tense.)
- I have taken piano lessons for the past five years.
- I have been taking piano lessons for the past five years.
Past Perfect: It happened in the past before something else happened in the past. Note that it is used in a sentence along with a past tense verb. Don’t use it with another past perfect verb.
- I had taken piano lesson for five years before I won the state piano contest.
- I had been taking piano lessons for five years before I won the state piano contest.
- Not: I had been taking piano lessons for five years before I had won the state piano contest.
Future Perfect: It will happen in the future before some other event in the future. Note that the future perfect is generally used with another verb that is present, but implies the future. Do not use it with a future tense.
- I will have taken piano lessons for five years before I go off to college to major in music.
- I will have been taking piano lessons for five years before I go off to college.
- Not: I will have been taking piano lessons for five years before I will go to college.
Most people don’t think about what tense they are using, and usually things are okay. In a couple of weeks, we will talk about some of the tense errors that are made.
Note, too, that infinitives can be used in the present tense or the past tense:
- I wanted to go to the mall yesterday.
- I wanted to have finished my shopping by now.
I hope you are less tense after two weeks of tense talk! Next week, we will talk about some irregular verbs that make us tense when we use them in various tenses!