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)
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.
tense structures in English – 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!
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.
tense structures in English – 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.
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.
tense structures in English – 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.
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.
tense structures in English – 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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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How serious are you about learning English? I hope this page didn’t put you off…tenses are tough stuff!
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