What Are the Complete Tenses? (with Examples)

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The Complete Tenses

Complete tense is a category of verb tense used to describe completed actions. It covers the past complete tense, the present complete tense, and the future complete tense. It is more commonly called the perfect tense.

Examples of Verbs in the Complete Tense

Here are some examples of verbs in the complete tense:

The Complete Perfect Tense
  • I had gone.
  • He had seen.
The Present Complete Tense
  • I have gone.
  • He has seen.
The Future Complete Tense
  • I will have gone.
  • He will have seen.

Slider Showing Verbs in the Complete Tenses

The following slider shows all 12 tenses. Each infographic shows how the tense is formed, the role of the tense, and some examples. The complete tenses (i.e., those in the complete aspect) are highlighted with a yellow background.

Forming the Complete Tenses

The complete tenses are formed using a form of the auxiliary verb "to have" and the past participle. For example:

Forming the Past Complete Tense

[past participle]
  • He had worked.

Forming the Present Complete Tense

"has" or "have"
[past participle]
  • He has worked.
  • We have worked.

Forming the Future Complete Tense

"will have"
[past participle]
  • She will have worked.

The Complete Tenses in the Past, Present, and Future

Here are the 12 tenses again. This time, the tenses are ordered under the headings past tense, present tense, and future tense. The complete (or perfect) tenses are shaded in yellow.
The 4 Past Tenses Example
simple past tense I went
past progressive tense I was going
past complete tense I had gone
past complete progressive tenseI had been going
The 4 Present Tenses Example
simple present tense I go
present progressive tense I am going
present complete tense I have gone
present complete progressive tense I have been going
The 4 Future Tenses Example
simple future tense I will go
future progressive tense I will be going
future complete tense I will have gone
future complete progressive tense I will have been going

Verb Tense Widget

Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , then you can click it!

The Complete Aspect

The term complete aspect (or perfect aspect) is used to group all verbs (past, present, and future) in the perfect tenses. (Remember that the aspect of a verb is determined by whether its action is ongoing or completed.)

Read more about aspect.

Why Should I Care about the Complete Tenses?

Native English speakers can use all twelve tenses without giving the grammar a second thought. However, if you're learning or teaching English, you must spend time learning the tenses because expressing when something occurs is a fundamental communication skill. Remember though 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)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is verb tense? What is aspect? What is the perfect aspect? What is the past perfect tense? What is the present perfect tense? What is the future perfect tense? Glossary of grammatical terms