13 tense structures overview

There are 13 tense structures for you to learn if you want to speak like a native. Not sure what I mean? read on…

Let’s start easy, then move onto the tough stuff. There are 3 tenses to understand:

  • past tense (an event happened in the past)
  • present tense (an event is happening now)
  • future tense (an event is going to happen)

HOT TIP – If you know your verbs (especially irregular verbs), you’ll find this a lot easier. You can revise regular and irregular verb lists here.

tense definition - learn the 13 tense structures in English

What is tense structure?

Tense structure is basically the order which the components go in a sentence. We’re talking subject, object, verbs, auxiliary verbs etc. The structure tells the reader/listener which tense the sentence is in (past, present or future). The verb/verbs help tell us this information.

Learning all 13 of the tenses can be a bit of a challenge to English language learners as there are 13 for you to remember. They each come with their own rules and structure. Some are much easier than others. The easier ones are the more common ones, so I suggest learning them first.

HOT TIP – Before learning the tense structures, I recommend checking out my page on sentence structure first, It’s a little easier if you’re a beginner. If you are already a pro at sentence structure, continue with this page.

Are you ready to learn all the verb tenses in English? First check out the slides and familiarise yourself with the names of the tense structures.

verb tenses in English - present - grammar rules
verb tenses in English - past - grammar rules
verb tenses in English - future - grammar rules

simple tenses

simple tense structure rules

If you’ve studied the 3 pictures above, you’ll have noticed that the easiest (and most common) structures are the ‘simple’ structures. I guess the clue is in the name really.

Now, study this picture and look what happens to the verb:

  • present simple – the verb is infinitive (column 1)
  • past simple – plus ‘ed’ for regular verbs, 2nd column for irregular verbs
  • future simple – will or going to plus the infinitive form of the verb

These are the rules for the 4 simple tenses, see you’ve learnt 4 already, only 9 more to go!

grammar tenses - simple sentence structure rules

simple tense structure exercises

Now it’s time for a little test before we get to the more difficult structures. Have a go at filling in the blanks on these 10 questions. If you get them right, move to the next section. If you are getting quite a few wrong, I suggest going back over the beginning of this page and revising verbs.

Answers are at the bottom of the picture.

Good luck!

simple tense structure exercises
simple tense structure exercises 1

continuous tenses

continuous tense structure rules

Let’s study the rules for the continuous tenses. I suggest trying to learn these if possible.

  • present continuous – am/is/are + infinitive + ing
  • past continuous – was/were + infinitive + ing
  • future continuous – will be + infinitive + ing

You may have noticed the verb ‘to be’ is also in this structure. It acts as a helping verb to give better understanding. These verbs are also known as auxiliary verbs.

grammar tenses - continuous sentence structure rules

continuous tense structure exercises

Are you ready for another test? It’s the same as before, filling in the blanks. Try and get them all right before continuing as we will be moving onto the more difficult tenses next.

continuous tense structure exercises 1
continuous tense structure exercises 2

perfect tenses

perfect tense structure rules

Let’s study the rules for the perfect tenses.

  • present perfect – have/has + regular verb + ed OR irregular – 3rd column
  • past perfect – had + regular verb + ed OR irregular – 3rd column
  • future perfect – will have + regular verb + ed OR irregular – 3rd column

You may have noticed the verb ‘to have’ is also in this structure. It acts as a helping verb to give better understanding. These verbs are also known as auxiliary verbs.

grammar tenses - perfect sentence structure rules

perfect tense structure exercises

Test time again before moving onto the final 3 tenses. The perfect tenses are a little more difficult and require knowledge of the ‘participle’ column for irregular verbs.

perfect tense structure exercises 1
perfect tense structure exercises 2

perfect continuous tenses

perfect continuous tense structure rules

Let’s study the rules for the perfect continuous tenses.

  • present perfect continuous – have/has + been + infinitive + ing
  • past perfect continuous – had + been + infinitive + ing
  • future perfect continuous – will have been + infinitive + ing
grammar tenses - perfect continuous sentence s

perfect continuous tense structure exercises

Ok, you’ve made it to the final set of structures, well done! These are the most difficult ones to learn as the sentences are more complex and require more words to make sense. More on that later.

 

So, fill in the blanks with the verb and tense provided. If you feel like a real challenge, try turning the sentences into past, present and future continuous.

perfect continuous tense structure exercises
erfect continuous tense structure exercises

13 tense structures and the active voice

The active voice is a structure where the subject does the action (the verb). For example:

  • The cat chases the mouse.
  • Milly played with her dolls.
  • Henry is learning English.

 

The active voice is very common in everyday speech. All the structures you’ve just learnt are in the active, but most of them can be converted into the passive voice. If you don’t know what the passive voice is, you can click the link to find out. Passive voice is difficult and not as common in everyday English so I suggest getting you head round this page first

Let’s have a recap by studying the different tenses side by side and identifying the active voice. The more you keep looking at them, the easier they will become.

grammar tense structure rules - examples of past perfect continuous tense
table of negative present tense structure with examples
table of negative future tense structure with examples

tense structure timeline

You may have noticed that as you move down the list, they get a little more difficult.

HOT TIP – When learning the tense structures, I suggest starting with the simple tenses (present simple, past simple and future simple). Once you’ve got the hang of those, move on to the the perfect tenses (present perfect, past perfect and future perfect). Finally have a crack at learning those pesky perfect continuous tenses (present perfect continuous, past perfect continuous and future perfect continuous).

Before we start, I want to give you a very important pointer that will help you conquerer the tenses:
– simple tenses = points in time
– perfect tenses = periods of time

Are you ready? Let’s go into the tense structures in more detail…

timeline of simple and continuous verb tense structures with examples
simple and continuous verb tense structures
simple and continuous verb tense structures

video of the structures

Take a look at this video for a run down of all of the tense structures in a little more detail.

negative structure

A lot of the time we need to say something negative i.e we are not doing something. The structures can easily be made negative. ​It’s very handy if you are up to speed on auxiliaries when converting these.

table of negative past tense structure with examples
table of negative present tense structure with examples
table of negative future tense structure with examples

interrogative structure

Interrogative basically means to ask a question. The structures can easily be made interrogative. ​Again, if you are up to speed on auxiliaries, you should find negating the structures easier.

table of interrogative past tense structure with examples
table of interrogative present tense structure with examples
table of interrogative future tense structure with examples

14 top tips for tense structures

I bet you’re thinking how the hell am I going to learn tenses in English. Don’t let tense structures be scary. Take a look at my 14 top tips for learning tenses.

how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 1 - Learn the 4 types of tenses as a group - simple tenses
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 2 - Learn the 4 types of tenses as a group - continuous tenses tenses
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 3 - Learn the 4 types of tenses as a group - perfect tenses
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 4 - Learn the 4 types of tenses as a group - perfect continuous tenses
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 5 - simple tenses are points in time
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 6 - perfect tenses are periods of time
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 7 - Third person singular rules apply to present simple statements.
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 8 - Change the auxiliary, not the main verb.
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 9 - Positive statements in present simple and past simple do not require an auxiliary.
how to learn tenses in English Tense structure tip 10 - The auxiliary and the main verb stay together in positive and negative sentences.
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 11 - The subject goes between the auxiliary and the main verb in questions.
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 12 - State verbs aren’t used in the continuous.
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 13 - Adverbs of frequency are used with the present simple.
how to learn tenses in English - Tense structure tip 14 - Learn some time phrases.

online english classes

How serious are you about learning English? I hope this page didn’t put you off…tenses are tough stuff!

If you really want to better yourself and improve your prospects, there are many courses and classes available online to help you achieve your goals.

Whether your at beginner level…

Or college/university English classes might be more your level…

Or you’re already a pro and want to sharpen your skills.

 

There are loads of options available to you, check out the links below and see what floats your boat.