What Are the Simple Tenses?"Simple tense" is a category of verb tense. It covers the simple past tense, the simple present tense, and the simple future tense.
The three simple tenses express facts or habitual activities. Unlike the other tenses, the simple tenses describe actions without specifically stating whether the actions are completed or ongoing.
Be aware that the "simple present tense" is an oddity. Despite its name, it is not always about activities in the present. The simple present tense can be used for activities that are not currently happening, and it can be used for future events.
Table of Contents
- The Role of the Simple Tenses
- Examples of Verbs in the Simple Tenses
- Forming Verbs in the Simple Tenses
- The Simple Tenses in the Past, Present, and Future
- Interactive Verb Conjugation Tables
- Why Simple Tenses Are Important
- Test Time!
The Role of the Simple TensesHere is an explanation of how the three simple tenses are used: The simple past tense describes a completed activity that happened in the past. In other words, the activity started in the past and ended in the past. For example:
- I went.
- He saw.
|(1) To describe facts and habits
|(2) To describe scheduled events in the future
|(3) To tell stories (particularly jokes) to make your listener or reader feel more engaged with the story
- I will go.
- He will see.
Examples of Verbs in the Simple TensesHere are some more examples of verbs in the simple tenses.
In the Past Tense
- I cleaned the window. (simple past tense)
- They cleaned the window. (simple past tense)
In the Present Tense
- I clean the window. (simple present tense)
- They clean the window. (simple present tense)
In the Future Tense
- I will clean the window. (simple future tense)
- They will clean the window. (simple future tense)
Forming Verbs in the Simple TensesHere is an overview on how to form the simple tenses:
Forming the Simple Past Tense (for most verbs)
- They jumped.
Forming the Simple Present Tense (for most verbs)
- We jump.
- He jumps.
Forming the Simple Future Tense (for most verbs)
- He will jump.
The Simple Tenses in the Past, Present, and FutureThis table shows how the simple tenses (shaded in yellow) fit with the other tenses. There are 12 tenses in total.
|The 4 Past Tenses
|simple past tense
|past progressive tense
|I was going
|past perfect tense
|I had gone
|past perfect progressive tense
|I had been going
|The 4 Present Tenses
|simple present tense
|present progressive tense
|I am going
|present perfect tense
|I have gone
|present perfect progressive tense
|I have been going
|The 4 Future Tenses
|simple future tense
|I will go
|future progressive tense
|I will be going
|future perfect tense
|I will have gone
|future perfect progressive tense
|I will have been going
The "Simple Aspect"The term simple aspect is used to group all verbs (past, present, and future) in the simple tenses. (Remember that the aspect of a verb is determined by whether the verb expresses a fact, an ongoing action, or a completed action. Verbs in the simple aspect express facts.)
Top 10 Regular Verbs
Top 10 Irregular Verbs
All 4 Past Tenses
|Past Progressive Tense
|Past Perfect Tense
|Past Perfect Progressive Tense
The simple past tense is for a completed activity that happened in the past.
The past progressive tense is for an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.
The past perfect tense is for emphasizing that an action was completed before another took place.
The past perfect progressive tense is for showing that an ongoing action in the past has ended.
All 4 Present Tenses
|Present Progressive Tense
|Present Perfect Tense
|Present Perfect Progressive Tense
The simple present tense is mostly for a fact or a habit.
The present progressive tense is for an ongoing action in the present.
The present perfect tense is for an action that began in the past. (Often, the action continues into the present.)
The present perfect progressive tense is for a continuous activity that began in the past and continues into the present (or finished very recently).
All 4 Future Tenses
|Future Progressive Tense
|Future Perfect Tense
|Future Perfect Progressive Tense
The simple future tense is for an action that will occur in the future.
The future progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will occur in the future.
The future perfect tense is for an action that will have been completed at some point in the future.
The future perfect progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future.
Remember that tenses do not just tell us whether something is a past, present, or future action. They also tell us whether the action is habitual, completed, or ongoing (called the aspects).
The trick to learning tenses is mastering the following:
- The verb "to be" in all its forms (am, is, are, was, were, will be)
- The verb "to have" in all its forms (has, have, had, will have)
- Present participles, i.e., the "ing" form of verbs (e.g., playing, thinking, eating)
- Past participles (e.g., played, thought, eaten)