Understanding Verb Tenses
The tense of a verb in grammar determines when it acts or what state it is in, such as present (something that is occurring right now), past (something that occurred in the past), or future (something going to happen). These are known as the time frame of the verb. For instance, consider that “I shall continue to walk as I do” (future) in the present and the past.
A verb may also have an aspect that provides additional information about the verb’s state of activity. It might be simple, perfect, progressing, or perfect simple. The fundamental present, past, and future tense verb forms cover simple sentences. Simple aspect verbs only sometimes indicate when an activity is finished. Instead, it would be best to use continuous/progressive tenses for a continuing or incomplete activity. You would use the perfect or perfect progressive tenses if the activity was completed:
The tenses for walking are: I walked (simple past), I am walking (present continuous, action is continuing), I was walking (past continuous, activity continued in the past), and I shall be walking (future continuous, ongoing action will happen later).
I have walked (present perfect progressive, the current ongoing action is complete), I had walked (past perfect progressive, the action was ongoing in the past and completed in the past), I will have walked (future perfect, the action will be completed in the future), I have been walking (present perfect progressive, the current ongoing action is complete), and I will have been walking (future perfect progressive, ongoing action will be completed in the future).
Of course, not all verb tenses in English are as simple to conjugate as ordinary verbs like: walk, walked, and walking participles. Consider the verb go, which in the past also transforms into went and gone:
I was going (past continuous, activity continued in the past), I went (simple past), I am going (present continuous, action is continuing), and I shall be going (future continuous, ongoing action will happen later).
I shall have gone (future perfect, action will have occurred), I had gone (past perfect, the action was accomplished in the past), and I will have gone (future perfect, action will be completed in the future).
The verbs indicate the actions that were continuing and accomplished in the past. I have been going (present perfect progressive), I had been going (past perfect progressive), and I will have been going (future perfect progressive, ongoing action will be completed in the future)
Helpers and Conditional Mood
The continuous and perfect tenses are created via auxiliaries, which are versions of the verbs “to be” or “have,” like in the examples from above:
- I was or am walking (continuously)
- I walked or had walked (perfectly)
- I’ll go forward via walking (future)
English only expresses future tense by the use of auxiliary verbs adjacent to the verbs, such as I will walk, I will be walking, or I am going to walk, rather than having a distinct future tense verb form (like adding a -ed to produce a past tense word).
The conditional mood (which is not a different verb form either) is used when something may or may not happen. It is frequently constructed with auxiliary verbs like may or can: I could walk (present conditional) or I may walk (past conditional).