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What Are the Indefinite Tenses?"Indefinite tense" is a category of verb tense. It covers the simple past tense, the simple present tense, and the simple future tense.
The three indefinite tenses express facts or habitual activities. Unlike the other tenses, the indefinite tenses describe actions without specifically stating whether the actions are completed or ongoing. (Remember that the indefinite tenses are more commonly called the simple tenses. When talking about the individual indefinite tenses, the term "indefinite" is rarely used. Therefore, we have kept the term "simple" when referring to the three indefinite tenses.)
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 started in the past, and it can be used for future events.
Table of Contents
- The Role of the Indefinite Tenses
- Examples of Verbs in the Indefinite Tenses
- Forming Verbs in the Indefinite Tenses
- The Indefinite Tenses in the Past, Present, and Future
- The "Indefinite Aspect"
- Interactive Verb Conjugation Tables
- Why Indefinite Tenses Are Important
- Printable Test
The Role of the Indefinite TensesHere is an explanation of how the three indefinite 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:
- He went.
- She played.
The Simple Present TenseThe simple present tense is a complex tense. It is used:
|(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||
- She will go.
- They will understand.
Examples of Verbs in the Indefinite TensesHere are some more examples of verbs in the simple tenses.
In the Past Tense
- I played chess. (simple past tense)
- They played chess. (simple past tense)
In the Present Tense
- I play chess. (simple present tense)
- They play chess. (simple present tense)
In the Future Tense
- I will play chess. (simple future tense)
- They will play chess. (simple future tense)
Forming Verbs in the Indefinite TensesHere is an overview on how to form the simple tenses:
Forming the Simple Past Tense (for most verbs)
- They danced.
Forming the Simple Present Tense (for most verbs)
- We play.
- He plays.
Forming the Simple Future Tense
- He will play.
The Indefinite 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||Example|
|simple past tense||I went|
|past progressive tense||I was going|
|past perfect tense||I had gone|
|past perfect progressive tense||I had been going|
|The 4 Present Tenses||Example|
|simple present tense||I go|
|present progressive tense||I am going|
|present perfect tense||I have gone|
|present perfect 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 perfect tense||I will have gone|
|future perfect progressive tense||I will have been going|
The "Indefinite Aspect"The term indefinite aspect is used to group all verbs (past, present, and future) in the indefinite 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 indefinite aspect express facts.)
Top 10 Regular Verbs
Top 10 Irregular Verbs
All 4 Past Tenses
|Person||Simple Past||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
|Person||Simple Present||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
|Person||Simple Future||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)
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