TENSES: Most Important Part of English Language

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We have been reading and practicing the use of tenses since the school going days. The Tenses are the most important part of English Language. If you wish to write a correct sentence or  wish to say anything to anyone, you need to express the idea in the right form of Tenses. English language has three main time divisions- Past, Present and Future expressed by the tenses. Each tense is subdivided to express other aspects within its general time. Tenses form the backbone of the English language. The tense, which is most appropriate to express the idea, should be used, else the statement/question would express something opposite to what you wanted to state or write.  Correct use of tense will imply the use of correct form of verb with proper auxiliary.  

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What is a Tense? 
Tenses can be classified as the part which enables one to frame short/long sentences, write stories, essays etc.  A little knowledge or incorrect knowledge of the tenses might land the student in trouble. About two decades ago, the teachers who taught tenses to their students, ensured that the respective students must get ability to have proper translation skills from their native language to English language e.g. from Hindi to English, From Tamil to English, From Urdu to English and so on. This traditional practice clarified the rules of the Tenses as well as verb pattern of English vis-a-vis the Native Language. This pattern is found missing at the grass-root level in schools for one or other reason now. It is of utmost importance to write the sentences in correct and applicable tenses, otherwise the entire learning will become futile.


Importance of Tenses in BBA, MBA, Recruitment Exams
No entrance exam whether undergraduate like BBA/BBS DU JAT, NPAT, IPM AT or post graduate like CAT,XAT,CMAT, IIFT, SNAP, MAT, ATMA, NMAT among others can be cracked unless you have good understanding about the usage of Tenses. Besides, almost all the recruitment exams from junior most level to senior most level, contain questions based on Tenses.


Following types of questions you may find on usage of Tenses:

  1. Error Correction in Sentences
  2. Agreement of the Verb with the Subject
  3. Fill in the blanks with correct Verb according to Tense
  4. Using Conditionals with correct Tenses

You will find number of questions in your Verbal Ability section on correct use of Tenses. So any laxity in learning of Tenses and their usage may cause a loss of good percentile in the exam. Here we share the types of tenses, their usage with examples and key differences among them while putting each of them in proper use.


Broad Classification of Tenses
Tenses have three broad time classification:

  1. Present
  2. Past
  3. Future

Although this broad classification may give you some idea on tenses and their usage according to time, you need clear picture how and when they should be used. In fact each of the above three tenses is further classified a little deep into the time to provide clarity on its use.


Deep Classification of Tenses
The table below may give you an in depth classification of each of these tenses. Please note that all the tenses are further classified into three to four time classifications

Tense Type
Indefinite, Continuous, Perfect, Perfect continuous
Indefinite, Continuous, Perfect, Perfect continuous
Indefinite, Continuous, Perfect, Perfect continuous -(Seldom used)

Let us take up each one of these Tenses one by One to understand how it should


Indefinite Tenses
The indefinite tenses are of three types, Present, Past and Future. A little reference to each of them will enable us to have a clear picture regarding their utility in regular use.


Present Indefinite – It is used to express habitual action, general or eternal truths, the actions that take place in present, to introduce quotations, to express a future event that is part of a fixed timetable or programme.


The Formation of the Present Indefinite

I work.
He works. 
She works. 
It works. 
We work. 
You work. 
They work.
Do I work? 
Does he work? 
Does she work? 
Does it work? 
Do we work? 
Do you work? 
Do they work?
I do not work.
He does not work. 
She does not work. 
It does not work. 
We do not work. 
You do not work. 
They do not work.

The Present Indefinite is used to denote:
1) customary and permanent actions or states.

Affirmative Sentences 

Key example:
study English. Ann studies English.

For study:
What do I do in the morning?         What does Ann do in the morning? 

  1. get up at 7.
  2. do morning exercises.
  3. take a shower.
  4. get my breakfast ready.
  1. Ann gets up at 7.
  2. Ann does morning exercises.
  3. Ann takes a shower.
  4. Ann gets her breakfast ready.

What do I usually do?                        What does Ann usually do? 

  1. seldom switch the TV on.
  2. often play the piano.
  3. usually read books.
  4. always listen to the latest news.
  5. often take a walk.
  6. never have my supper late.
  1. Ann seldom switches the TV on.
  2. Ann often plays the piano.
  3. Ann usually reads books.
  4. Ann always listens to the latest news.
  5. Ann often takes a walk.
  6. Ann never has her supper late. 


Present Indefinite - Negative Sentences


What do I not do on Sunday?             What does Ann not do on Sunday?

  1. do not (don’t) get up early on Sunday. 
  2. do not set the alarm-clock. 
  3. do not go to the office.
  4. do not have dinner at the dining-room. 
  5. do not stay at home the whole day. 
  1. Ann does not (doesn’t) get upearly on Sunday. 
  2. Ann does not set the alarm-clock.
  3. Ann does not go to the office.
  4. Ann does not have dinner at the dining-room.
  5. Ann does not stay at home the whole day.

 Present Indefinite - Interrogative Sentences 


General questions

  1. Do I teach English?  
  2. Do we study at the reading-hall? 
  3. Do you read books in the original?  
  4. Do they attend concerts?
  1. Does Ann go to the University on Sunday?
  2. Does Ann go in for sports? 
  3. Does Ann play the piano well?
  4. Does Ann attend concerts?



Special Questions 

(Special questions in which an interrogative pronoun is the subject or an attribute to the subject are formed without the auxiliary verb to do.)

  1. When does Ann come home? 
  2. Where does Ann study? 
  3. When does the sun shine brightly? 
  4. What bread do you buy?  
  5. Why do birds fly to warm countries?  
  6. How often do parents come to school?
  1. Who comes home at 6?
  2. Who studies at school?
  3. What shines brightly in summer? 
  4. Who buys bread in your family?
  5. What birds fly to warm countries?
  6. Whose father often comes to school? 


Indefinite Tenses – Past Indefinite

Past Indefinite – It is used to express such an action , completed in the past. It is also used to indicate past habits.

                       The Formation of the Past Indefinite




I worked. 
He worked. 
She worked. 
It worked. 
We worked. 
You worked. 
They worked.

Did I work? 
Did he work? 
Did she work? 
Did it work? 
Did we work? 
Did you work? 
Did they work?

I did not (didn’t) work. 
He did not (didn’t) work. 
She did not work. 
It did not work. 
We did not work. 
You did not work. 
They did not work.

The Past Indefinite is used to denote a customary or a separate action referring to the past. (The time of the action may be indicated by adverbs of past time – yesterday, a week ago, last month, two days ago, etc.)

Key examples: 
It often rained last summer.
He was at home yesterday.
Sam graduated from the University in 1999.
He entered the room, took off his coat and set to work.

For study: 

  1. The weather was mild that winter. 
  2. The sun shone brightly. 
  3. The snow melted quickly. 
  4. The wind blew softly. 
  5. Some trees broke into blossom. 
  6. We didn’t wear winter coat.

Note. – A repeat action in the past is often expressed by used to + Infinitive or would + Infinitive.
E.g.  - I used to bathe before breakfast. He would join me on the beach every morning.

 Indefinite Tenses- Future Indefinite

It is used to express the actions which are supposed to be undertaken in future and we have no control over them. What we believe or think, likely to happen in future, is expressed in this tense. We sometimes use simple present tense to express the future as well.     

             auxiliary verb shall/will + I form of Verb

The Formation of the Future Indefinite




I shall work. (I’ll work). 
He will work. (He’ll work). 
She will work. 
It will work. 
We shall work. 
You will work. 
They will work.

Shall I work? 
Will he work? 
Will she work? 
Will it work? 
Shall we work? 
Will you work? 
Will they work?

I shall not (shan’t) work. 
He will not (won’t) work. 
She will not work. 
It will not work. 
We shall not work. 
You will not work. 
They will not work.

The Future Indefinite is used to denote a future action.

Key example:
I’ll see you tomorrow.

For study: 

  1. I’ll be delighted to go to the country. 
  2. You’ll be glad to see my friend. 
  3. They’ll be eager to make us comfortable. 
  4. We’ll go skiing and skating.


2) a future action in adverbial clauses of time and condition.

Key example:
shall call on you when (if) I am free.

For study: 

  1. Ann will have dinner when she comes from school. 
  2. Ann will lay the table after she washes her hands. 
  3. Ann will help mother with the salad when the table is set. 
  4. Ann will slice the bread if mother is busy. 
  5. Ann will not wash up until all have dinner.



Note-i)  Some times past tense may refer to present time and present tense to future time e.g.

     I wish I attended the conference. ( I am sorry, I can not attend the same) 

    Let us wait under the canopy till the rain stops. (Present tense for future action)


ii) Future indefinite tense is also used to express what we think or believe will happen in the future.

 For example- I am sure India will win the match.  I think I shall get through the examination.


iii) In future tense shall is commonly used with first person, whereas’ Will’ is used with second and third persons.  However, that rigidity is no longer in practice.  Despite that, when the speaker wishes to express, promise, determination,threat  etc. This order gets reversed i.e. ‘Will’ is used with first person and ‘Shall’ with second and third persons. 

Example- i) I will not allow him to enter the premises.  ii) You shall get a toy train.



1. Frogs jump. [This does not mean that frogs are at work.] 
2. Frogs are jumping. [This means that frogs are at work.]


The verbs in their base form have their singular and plural numbers and are used as follows: -

Plural Number: -

1. We get electricity from various resources.
2. Farmers grow rice and wheat in many parts of India.
3. We pray to God.
4. We get light and energy from the sun.
5. Some trees shed their leaves in autumn.
6. Trees cause rainfall and give us oxygen.
7. We enjoy things as long as we don't have them.
8. They speak various languages in India.
9. The Himalayas lie to the north of India.
10. Some persons live to eat while some persons eat to live.


The verbs in their base form have their singular number as well and are used as follows

Singular Number: -

1. The sun gives us light and warmth.
2. God protects all His creatures.
3. Electricity keeps our houses cool in summer.
4. She gets up early in the morning and enjoys a long walk.
5. She waters plants in the vases regularly.

6. My son keeps his office neat and clean.
7. A mother loves her children selflessly.

8. The boy always speaks the truth.
9. The moon shines at night.
10. The world needs more geniuses with humility.


  Important Examples-2

'I' and 'you' are always followed by the base form of the verbs in plural form. For example: -

1. I believe in God.
2. You please me with your pleasing nature.
3. I know that you belong to a village.
4. You depend upon your brothers.
5. These days I have some complications.

Auxiliary Verb 'do' is used with Plural Numbers and with 'I' and 'you', while 'does' is used with Singular Numbers in the Negative and Interrogative and Emphatic Sentences.


Study the following sentences; -


Negative Sentences: -

1. A dog does not eat grass.
2. I don't agree to your proposal.
3. Good people do not boast of their riches.
4. I don't intend to harm anyone; still I don't understand why I suffer.
5. 'Revenge' does not gratify our conscience.
6. Yoy don't want to tell me the fact.
7. People feel happy only if the future does not worry them.
8. Some trees do not shed their leaves in autumn.
9. War never brings peace in the world. ['never' is used without 'do' or 'does'] 
10. I don't do injustice to anyone.


Interrogative Sentences ['yes' or 'no' type]: -

1. Do you have your breakfast before you leave for your office? 
2. Does the tin you have contain ghee? 
3. Don't they agree to your proposal? 
4. Do the children of your colony play in the garden? 
5. Does your mother take much care of your kids?

6. Do India and China co-operate each other in the field of commerce and trade? 
7. Does your father not feel worried about you? 
8. Does the earth not move around the sun? 
9. Do most of the students of your college belong to villages? 
10. Don't we love our nation?


Interrogative Sentences [W/H type]: -

Pay Attention: 'Who', 'whom', 'whose', 'which', 'what', 'where', 'how', 'when', 'how much', etc., are always followed by Auxiliary Verbs 'do' or 'does'. These Auxiliary Verbs are placed just after the interrogative words, for example: 

  1. Why don't you attend to your duties? 
  2. How do you feel when worries surround you? 
  3.  When do you go to bed at night?


 Pay Attention: If the interrogative word itself is the subject to the verb; the Auxiliary Verbs 'do' or 'does' are not used. For example: -


4. What troubles you now and then? 
5. Which animal has tusks? 
6. How many students of your college participate in the debate every year? 
7. Who likes to be called a slave? 
8. Which student of the college disturbs the peace of the college?

9. . How many books do you study in a year? 
10. Which district do you belong to? 
11. Where do men come from and where do they go? Nobody knows. 
12. How much money do you spend on recreation? 
13. Which book do you like most? 
14. Who does not know the name of Gandhiji? 
15. Why do you bother about the future?


 Examples  (Emphasis on statement)


To emphasize the statement the Auxiliary Verbs 'do' or 'does' are used even in the Affirmative Sentences. For example: -

1. I do teach students honestly and efficiently.
2. She does love her children.
3. We do know the fact.
4. An honest judge does do justice to the people.
5. He does get up early in the morning.


Examples ( Usage of be form verbs)

The Use of 'be', i.e., 'is', 'am', 'are': -

A. As Finite Verbs with Complements [noun complements, adjectival complements, adverbial complements, participle complements]. Study the following sentences: -

1. Honesty is the best policy.
2. Good books are not available in the library.
3. Who is the Prime-minister of India?
4. There are many rivers and lakes in India.
5. It is kind of you to help the needy.
6. June is the hottest month while January is the coldest month in India.
7. Who is the best leader today?
8. Am I not ready to stand by you? I am your friend.
9. Are you not satisfied with my answers to your questions?
10. Everyone is acquainted with the fact that the great are great.


B. As Auxiliary Verbs in Passive Voice. Study the following sentences: -

1. Great persons are honoured everywhere.
2. Various languages are spoken in India.
3. Wheat and rice are grown in many parts of India.
4. Are big and heavy machines imported to India?
5. Some trains are run by electricity in our country.
6. Many houses are made for the poor but they hardly live in them.
7. Why are most of the schools and colleges closed in summer?
8. Milk is sold by the litre and cloth is sold by the metre.
9. Many festivals are celebrated with pomp and show in India.
10. Am I not told such things?


Examples (More)


Pay Attention: Some verbs, though they sound actions in continuity, are used in the Present Indefinite Tense. These verbs are - hope, believe, understand, desire, dislike, like, doubt, feel, forget, hear, see, smell, notice, recognize, know, love, mean, mind, perceive, prefer, please, hate, refuse, remember, smell, taste, think, want, wish own, possess, have, belong to, contain, consist, comprise, look, seem, appear.

Study the following sentences: -


1. Do you see someone on the road?
2. We remember our past days vaguely and sometimes feel disturbed.
3. What do you want to say?
4. The mangoes in the basket look fresh but do not taste sweet.
5. Krishna owns a palace and costly cars.
6. Do you understand what the leader is saying?
7. Fruits contain vitamins.
8. The house consists of four rooms and other amenities.
9. The flowers in the garden smell sweet.
10. The jury comprises seven judges.


Pay Attention: Some verbs that bear 'permanence' in action with continuity are used in the Present Indefinite Tense. For example: -


1. Most of the mango trees in my garden bear fruit every year. 
2. She resembles her father.
3. We believe in God.
4. He possesses a lot of wealth.
5. Which district do you belong to?
6. Mr. John depends on his friend.
7. She often remains silent.
8. The Tajmahal stands on the bank of the Yamuna river.
9a. Some boys are standing on the bank of the river.
9b. Some trees are standing on the bank of the river.

10. The committee comprises ten MP's


Clarification: In the first sentence, the boys may sit or may go; but in the second sentence, the trees may not sit or go. The second sentence is incorrect. The correct version is - Some trees stand on the bank of the river. [correct]

Pay Attention: The verbs (feel, see, think, mind, look) are used in the Continuous Tense when they are in progress. For example: -


1. The child is feeling hungry, so it is crying.
2. I am thinking, at present, of how to overcome the hurdles that are nagging me.
3. How cute are you looking now?
4. Are you not thinking of some new ways?
5. I am feeling a headache this time.
6. Are you not remembering the incidents that happened with you?
7. The Director himself is seeing to all the arrangements.
8. She is minding (means 'looking after') her child.


Watch this page for more updates and usage of Continuous and Perfect Tenses