There are three main verb tenses in English – the past, the present and the future – which each have various forms and uses. Today, we’re going to explore the four different aspects of the present tense: the present simple, the present continuous, the present perfect and the present perfect continuous.

We’ll look at how these tenses are structured, when exactly to use them – and of course, include some activities for you to practise them at home.

Let’s get started!

 

The Present Tenses

 

These are the four present tenses in English and how they are used in a sentence:

The Present Tenses | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

1.Present Simple

The present simple is usually the first tense English students learn. You can use it to talk about yourself and other people – as well as things that occur habitually in the present.

Form

In the present simple, the base form of the verb is the same for every subject pronoun, except the third person, where you add an “s” to the end of the verb.

Let’s take a look at the verb “eat”:

Present Simple | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

Uses & Examples

  • HabitsI sometimes go to the gym. I never eat fish.
  • General TruthsLondon is the capital of England.
  • Repeated Actions of EventsWe drive to work every day.
  • Fixed Arrangements/ TimetablesThe bus leaves at 6:30pm.
  • Feelings/Opinions/BeliefsI love sandwiches. I hope to see you soon.
  • InstructionsFirst put the water in the pot, then bring to a boil.
 

Present Simple Activity

Now, it’s your turn! Take a look at this present simple activity all about the daily routine of the Queen. As you watch the video, try to think of the correct answer, then wait a few seconds to find out what it is.

*Remember to use third person “s.”

 

2. Present Continuous

 

Now you can use the present simple, it is time to look at the present continuous.

Form

Use the verb to be + base verb + ing (sometimes called the gerund or present participle).

Here’s an example using the word “sleep”.

Present Continuous | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

Uses & Examples

  • Actions happening in the momentWe are learning grammar. Look! That man is reading a book.
  • Fixed arrangements for the futureI’m getting married in July.
  • Temporary eventsHe’s living in Wales for the moment.
  • To complain, or emphasize continuous behaviour with words like ‘always’, ‘forever’ and ‘constantly’You are always leaving your socks on the floor!
 

Stative Verbs

There are some verbs we cannot use in the continuous tense. These are called stative verbs. Stative verbs refer to states, feelings, or senses rather than actions. In these cases, we use the present simple instead. Here are some examples of stative verbs:

Stative Verbs | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

Present Continuous Activity

Take a look at this picture below. Can you describe what is happening using the present continuous? We’ll post an answer key at the end of this blogpost.

*Remember if it’s a stative verb to use present simple instead.

Present Continuous - Describe the picture | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

3. Present Perfect Simple

 

The present perfect simple is used to connect the past to the present. The time of the action is often unspecified, and the focus is more on the result rather than the action. Let’s look at the form:

Form

Use the auxiliary verb have + the past participle of the main verb.

The past participle of regular verbs end in -ed, for verbs like walked, played, looked and watched. But there are lots of irregular verbs – for example, been (be), eaten (eat), made (make), gone (go), got (get), given (give), read (read), said (say), taken (take).

Note that in 3rd person, we use “has” instead of “have”.

Present Perfect Simple | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

Uses & Examples

  • Actions that start in the past and continue to the presentI’ve lived here for 3 years.
  • Life experiences, at an unspecified time in the pastI’ve swum with dolphins.
  • Repeated action in an unspecified time periodI’ve visited the Eiffel Tower three times.
  • Unfinished time (today, this week, this month, this year)I’ve ridden my bicycle today.
  • A finished action with a present resultI’ve lost my keys (so I can’t open the door).
  • Recent past with the words ‘just’, ‘recently’, ‘already’ and ‘yet’I’ve just spoken to Mark on the phone.
 

However, keep in mind that when we give more details in a sentence – and explain things like when, who, where, who, and why – we change the tense we use to the past simple.

Here is an example:

-Have you ever been to Scotland?

-Yes I went there for a week when I was ten years old.

Present Perfect Simple Activity

Look at the activity below. First complete each gap with an appropriate past participle. Then answer the questions in the present perfect simple.

Present Perfect Simple Activity | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

4. Present Perfect Continuous

 

The present perfect continuous is the last of the present tenses. It is used to talk about an action that started in the past but perhaps has still not finished in the present. The focus is on the process as well as the result. The process may be still going, or may have recently finished.

Form

Use the auxiliary verb have/has + been + base verb + ing to form the present perfect continuous. Let’s take a look at the verb “read”:

Present Perfect Continuous | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

Note that the verbs “live” and “work” can be used with either present perfect simple, or present perfect continuous without changing the meaning.

Also note you cannot use stative verbs with continuous tenses. For these, we use the present perfect simple.

Uses & Examples

  • Actions that started in the past and continue in the presentI’ve been watching Game of Thrones.
  • To emphasise the duration or ’how long’ (with for and since)Henry has been playing the violin since he was eight.
  • Recently finished actions, with present resultsWhy have you been crying? (there are tears in her eyes). It’s been raining (the ground is wet).
 

Present Perfect Continuous Activity

Answer the questions below about yourself in full sentences. Then compare your answers with the examples at the end of this blogpost.

Present Perfect Continuous Activity | 4 Present Tenses and When to Use Them | Oxford House Barcelona

Suggested Answers

 

Present Continuous Activity

There is a room full of people. It looks like an art gallery. Most of the people are looking at the phones or are taking a picture of something. The woman in the middle is wearing a hat. Lots of people are listening to audio guides. One woman is showing her friend her picture on her phone.

Present Perfect Simple Activity

I have/have never eaten sushi.

I have/have never broken a bone.

I have/have never sung karaoke.

I have/have never been scuba diving.

I have/have never gone camping.

I have/have never played tennis.

Present Perfect Continuous Activity

I have been living in Barcelona for 15 years/all my life/since I was a child.

I have been learning English for 10 years/since I was 10 years old.

I’ve been playing football for 2 years now/all my life.

I’ve been reading this blogpost for 5 minutes/ 10 minutes/1 hour.

Glossary for Language Learners

 

Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Daily routine (n): your habitual, normal everyday routine.

Unspecified (adj) : not stated clearly or exactly.

Perhaps (adv): maybe.

Key

n = noun

adj = adjective

adv = adverb

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