What Are the Indefinite Tenses? (with Examples)
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.)
All 12 Tenses with the Indefinite Tenses HighlightedThe following slider shows all 12 tenses. The three indefinite tenses are highlighted with a yellow background.
The Role of the Indefinite TensesHere is an explanation of how the three indefinite tenses are used:
The Simple Past Tense. 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.
|(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||
The Simple Future Tense. The simple future tense is used for an action that will occur in the future. For example:
- 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)
- I play chess. (simple present tense)
- They play chess. (simple present 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)
[base form of the verb]+
- They danced.
Read more about forming the simple past tense.
Forming the Simple Present Tense (for most verbs)
[base form of the verb by itself]
or (if it's the third person singular (he, she, or it))
[base form of the verb]+
- We play.
- He plays.
Read more about forming the simple present tense.
Forming the Simple Future Tense
[base form of the verb]
- 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.)
Verb Tense WidgetUse 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!
Why Should I Care about the Indefinite 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. The simple tenses are usually the first tenses taught, but, as we've covered, they're not simple at all, and they're not used too often during a natural conversation.
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)