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Present Tense: Definition, Rules and Examples of the 04 Present Tenses

 Present Tense! Learn the 4 present tenses in English with useful grammar rules, example sentences, and ESL printable worksheets. The English language can express actions in the past, present, and future using various verb tenses. In total, the language has twelve verb tenses:

  • Simple Past
  • Past Progressive
  • Past Perfect
  • Past Perfect Progressive
  • Simple Present
  • Present Progressive
  • Present Perfect
  • Present Perfect Progressive
  • Simple Future
  • Future Progressive
  • Future Perfect
  • Future Perfect Progressive

This article will focus on the four present tenses and how they are used with a few examples of each one.

Present Tenses

Simple Present

The simple present tense is not used to talk about ongoing actions occurring in the present time; other present tense forms are used for that, as discussed below. Instead, the simple form is used:

  1. To express facts, general statements of truth, and common-sense ideas that everybody knows.
  2. To state habits, customs, and events that happen periodically.
  3. To describe future plans and events.
  4. To tell jokes, stories, and relate sporting events in real-time.

The third-person singular is formed using the following rules that must be memorized:

  • To most regular verbs, add an s’ at the end.
  • To verbs that end in s’, ss’, sh’, ch’, th’, x’, z’, or o’, add an es’.
  • To verbs that end in y’, drop the y’ and add ies’.

All other conjugations look the same as the infinitive form of the verb.

The simple present tense can be combined with several expressions to indicate the time when an action occurs periodically, such as “every Tuesday”, “always”, “usually”, “twice a month”, etc…Additionally, this form can be made negative or can be used in the interrogative form as well. There is a lot of flexibility to this so-called simple tense to express complex ideas.

Present Progressive

The present progressive tense is used to describe an action that is ongoing at the current time. It is formed with a variant of the verb to be + the present participle (verb form ending in -ing).

This verb form can also be used with time adverbs to talk about an activity that is continuing into some future time (e.g. in one hour’, this Fall’).

Additionally, present progressive verb forms are most commonly going to be found in the wild using dynamic verbs that describe:

  • an activity (e.g. learn, listen, read)
  • a process (e.g. change, grow, shrink)
  • a bodily sensation (e.g. ache, feel, hurt)
  • a transitional event (e.g. arrive, leave)
  • a momentary occurrence (e.g. hit, jump, kick)

The other type of verb, which is not generally seen with present progressive verb forms, is known as stative, and the reason it is not used here is that stative verbs describe actions that are done and over with and do not continue into the future at all (e.g. astonish, see, smell).

Present Perfect

The present perfect tense is used to describe an action that:

  1. Started in the past and ended in the past
  2. Started in the past and continues into the present time (but the future is indeterminate).

It is formed with a variant of the verb to have + the present participle (verb form ending in -ed).

The part that may confuse some readers is whether to use this present perfect verb tense (e.g. have walked) or to use the simple past (e.g. walked).

Simple Past

  • Used with adverbs that describe a time already past (e.g. I studied for the test on Sunday).
  • Used with an adverb that marks a specific point in time (e.g. I have studied today).

Present Perfect

  • Used with adverbs describing a time that started in the past and continues right up to the present time (e.g. I have studied every day this week).
  • Used with an adverb that marks a specific point in time (e.g. I have studied today).
  • Used when speaking about an event that happened in the recent past (e.g. I have studied night after night for this test).

Present Perfect Progressive

The present perfect progressive tense is used to describe an action that:

  1. Started in the past and ended in the past BUT continues to have some relevant effect in the present.
  2. Started in the past and continues to happen now and into the future.

It is formed with a passive variant of the verb to have + the present participle (verb form ending in -ing).

Similarly to the present perfect tense, this verb form primarily occurs with dynamic verbs that describe an activity (e.g. learn, listen, read), a process (e.g. change, grow, shrink), a bodily sensation (e.g. ache, feel, hurt), a transitional event (e.g. arrive, leave), or a momentary occurrence (e.g. hit, jump, kick). Stative verbs are not relevant to this tense.

Present Tense Examples

This section will just list one or two examples of each verb form to help solidify the previous discussion.

Simple Perfect

  • I go to the local Pizza Hut every Tuesday for lunch.
  • The sun sets around 5:30 PM during the Winter.

Present Progressive

  • I am performing my one-act play for this Fall’s talent show.
  • He is writing articles for the school newspaper.

Present Perfect

  • I have broken the neighbor’s window again playing baseball too close to their house.
  • I have read two chapters of the four assigned for tonight.

Present Perfect Progressive

  • After hearing the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” he has been visiting the local Farmer’s Market for his lunch every day.
  • I have been contributing two hundred dollars out of every paycheck to my retirement accounts.

Final Thoughts

This article covers a lot of ground relating to the four verb tenses that describe actions occurring in, or having some relevance to, the present time. Perhaps the most misunderstood form is actually the simple present tense since it is not actually used to describe actions occurring in the present time. The simple form requires a bit more active study to identify when it is appropriate to use that form as it is fairly common in speech to hear some confusion between the simple form and the others.

The present progressive, present perfect, and present perfect progressive are used even more often but many speakers do not specifically understand when or why to use those forms since it was originally learned through habit rather than study.

Finally, the best way to cement and maintain an understanding of these verb forms is to read much and focus on why specific verb forms are used in the text; not all at once, but one verb form at a time.

Present Tense Infographic

The 4 Present Tenses in English Grammar

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