Tag Archives: Tenses

Brush Up On Your Tenses – The Conditional Tense

Conditional Tenses

Conditionals are a grammatical mood (remember moods) to express:

what happens

will happen

might have happened

would have happened

if you do

will do

did

did

something

In other words, they talk about the consequences of facts/hypothetical situations.

Example: If you read this article, your writing may improve.

In this example the improvement of your writing may happen, doesn’t just happen. It is a possible consequence of the condition of reading this article. Your writing may improve if you read this article. And yes, the sentence still means the same when you turn it around, but like always, you use a comma when you put the ‘if’ part before the main clause.

Conditional sentences have two parts:

  1. The main clause, stating what could/would/should happen (in past, present, or future)
  2. The conditional clause (the ‘if’ clause), stating what the condition is for the main clause to happen

Conditional tenses can be positive, mostly using ‘if’ in the condition, or negative, using ‘unless’ in the condition. The negative conditional tenses use the same sentence structure as the positive conditional tenses.

There are four types of conditional sentences, expressing different meanings.

Zero Conditional Tense

This is a commonly used form of the conditional tense.

Usage:

For general truths/realistic expectations, not specific situations.

Construction:

If clause –> simple present

Main clause –> simple present

Example: If you write, you are a writer.

 

First Conditional Tense

Usage:

These refer to possible conditions and probable real-world results in the future, based on facts. They are often warnings.

Construction:

If clause –> simple present

Main clause –> simple future (may contain modals)

Example: If you write today, you will finish your book tomorrow.

Example: If you don’t write today, you may not finish your book tomorrow.

The second example includes a modal in the main clause.

Note: For the next two Conditional tenses, you need to know:

The present conditional tense is formed by two elements: would + infinitive

Example: It would work.

The perfect conditional tense is formed by the elements: would have + past participle

Example: It would have worked.

Second Conditional Tense

Usage:

To describe a situation anytime that is very likely unreal. The if clause is hypothetical and/or completely unrealistic, i.e. not based on facts. The main clause, i.e. the result of the conditional, is probable but not certain.

Usually, a modal auxiliary verb (must, shall, will, should, would, can could, may, and might) is used in the main clause to express the (un)likelihood of the result happening.

Construction:

If clause –> simple past

Main clause –> present conditional/present continuous conditional

Example: If I won the lottery, I would share it with you.

Often, If I was… is replaced by If I were…

Example: If I were you, I wouldn’t do it.

Again, modals are usually used in the main clause.

Example: He might write a review if you paid him for it.

 

Third Conditional Tense

Usage:

To describe how things would be different if something had changed in the past. The main clause describes a contrast of the current reality, but the if clause could have been real.

Construction:

If clause –> past perfect

Main clause –> perfect conditional/perfect continuous conditional

Example: If only I had paid more attention at school, I would be a better writer now.

 

Mixed Conditional Tense

The ‘mixed’ refers to the different times of the two parts of the conditional sentence.

 Usage:

  1. When you express a present result of a past condition

Both parts of the sentence are a contrast of reality.

Construction:

  • If clause –> past perfect
  • Main clause –> present conditional

Example: If I sold a million books for 99c, I would be rich.

This is not the same as the Third Conditional Tense, where you use the past perfect and perfect conditional.

  1. When you express a past result of a present/continuing condition.

Construction:

  • If clause –> simple past (now or always)
  • Main clause –> perfect conditional (before now)

Example: If I wasn’t so distracted by social media, I would have finished my novel a long time ago.

 

Overview

Conditional sentence type Usage If clause verb tense Main clause verb tense
Zero General truths Simple present Simple present
Type 1 A possible condition and its probable result Simple present Simple future
Type 2 A hypothetical condition and its probable result Simple past Present conditional or Present continuous conditional
Type 3 An unreal past condition and its probable result in the past Past perfect Perfect conditional
Mixed type An unreal past condition and its probable result in the present

An unreal (current) condition and its probable result in the past

Past perfect

 

Simple past

Present conditional

 

Perfect conditional

(Table adapted from https://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/english-grammar/conditional/)

Brush Up On Your Tenses – The Future

Even though most novels are written in the simple past, the future tense often features in them. You need to be able to use it properly to convey exactly what you think is going to happen. Have a quick read of The Past and The Present if you missed them.

The Future Tense

There are four future tenses:

  • The simple future
  • The future continuous/progressive
  • The future perfect simple
  • The future perfect continuous/progressive

Simple Future

Use when:

  • a future action is predicted (using will or [be] going to)
  • a future action is planned/intended (using [be] going to)
  • an action is spontaneous (using will)
  • an action is offered/promised/threatened (using will), either given/made or talked about
  • an action is offered in a question (using shall…)
  • a future action is questioned (using what/where/how/why shall…)
  • the action is an order (using you will)
  • the action is an invitation

Shall is mainly used with ‘I’ and ‘we,’ use will for all other objects of the sentence.

Note: The simple future is used when the action in the future is not 100% certain to happen (it is predicted/planned/offered/promised, but not written in stone).

Note: Sentences beginning with time indications about arranged events together with others at a later date don’t use the present tense. In these cases, use the present continuous.

Example: When I’m attending this workshop tonight with my friend,  I am going to learn a lot.

Form: will/shall + verb root or   [be] + going to + verb root

Note that future tenses always use an auxiliary verb (will/shall or am/is/are + going to). These are verbs that help to convey the tense/aspect/mood of another verb.

Example: She is going to catch the train to get there in time.

Example: I will pick her up from the station.

Example: She will come every Wednesday to help us.

Example: Shall we pick her up from the station together?

Example: What shall we give her for helping?

Example: You will give her something!

Example: Will you accept our gift?

Example: I would like to, but I can’t.

Signal or Key words:

There are no specific signal or key words for future tenses. The future is indicated when:

  • Using certain verbs (would like, plan, want, mean, hope, expect, etc.)
  • Using modals like may, might, and could if the future isn’t certain
  • Using should to indicate you want something to happen or something is likely to happen

Future Continuous/Progressive

Use when:

  • An action is going to start at an unspecific time in the future and will still be happening at a specific time in the future (often accompanied by a future time indication)
  • An action is certain to happen
  • An action is being questioned
  • Two actions will be happening at the same time in the future

The future continuous stresses an action in the future that is/can/will/should be interrupted by another future action.

Form: will + [be] + present participle (= verb root + -ing)

or

[be] + going to be + present participle (= verb root + -ing)

Example: I will be addressing the media at noon tomorrow when I need to take my anti-stress pills.

Example: I am going to be working on the final chapter next week.

Example: Will you be helping me with my grammar?

Example: I will be writing and he will be reading.

Future Perfect Simple

Use when:

  • An action at a certain point in the future will have finished

Form: will + have + past participle (= verb root + -ed)

Example: I will have learned all tenses by the time I get to the end of this article.

Signal or Key words:

By Before

Future Perfect Continuous/Progressive

Use when:

  • An action has already happened at a certain time in the future and is unfinished in a more distant future, often used with a time indication

Note: When using the future perfect continuous, you are stressing the duration of the action.

It is not a very often used tense in the English language.

Form: will + have + been + present participle (= verb root + -ing)

Example: My novel will have been praised by many this time next year.

or

[be] + going to have been + present participle (= verb root + -ing)

Example: My novel is going to have been praised by many this time next year.

 

Beside the four future tenses, you can also talk about the future without a future verb tense by:

  • Using the simple present when an action is in the immediate future

Example: I throw the ball, you catch it.

  • Using the simple present when an action is a scheduled event

Example: You arrive on Thursday evening for the meeting Friday morning.

  • Using the present continuous when an action is a future arrangement

Example: She is working the night shift.

  • Using the verb going to

Example: We are going to do this!

  • Using future obligations

Example: She is to be wed to the old man.

I am aware that this explanation of tenses is far from complete/perfect, but I hope it will get the beginner writer a long way.

Here is a timeline graph that I made that I hope puts things into perspective.

Tenses_Graph

Brush Up On Your Tenses – The Present

Yesterday’s the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present. This post is all about the present tense. Read up about The Past here.

The Present Tense

Most novels are written in past tense, but some authors prefer the present tense. It is the tense commonly used in dialogue.

For the following explanation of the tenses, please note that the root of a verb is the base form of a verb (= whole verb minus –ing).

Simple Present

Use when:

  • an action is happening right now
  • an action happens regularly/never stops (and hence is sometimes called the present indefinite)
  • an action refers to timetables.

Form:  Verb root

If that word ends in a consonant; you need to add an ‘e’). You also need to add an ‘s’ or ‘es’ in the third person (use ‘es’ when the root form ends in o, ch, sh, th, ss, gh, or z).

Example: I write novels, but she writes thrillers.

Example: He goes to work when she comes home.

Example: We always watch movies on Fridays, but he watches movies on Saturdays.

Signal or Keywords:

Always Seldom After work
Often Never/Hardly ever First
Usually Every … Then
Sometimes On Mondays

Note that most of them indicate a frequency and the others a recurring time frame.

Present Continuous / Progressive

Use when:

  • an action is happening now
  • an action is certain to continue/stop in the near future.

Form: [be] + present participle (= verb root + -ing).

Example: I am writing tonight.

Example: He is finishing his novel this weekend.

Signal or Keywords:

Now For a few days Tonight
At the moment Always Later
Currently Forever This weekend
These days Constantly Little by little
Gradually Look, Listen,
Still At present Even now
Any longer Any more

Present Perfect

Use when:

  • an action has happened in the past but at an unspecified time
  • an action has an unfinished time (i.e. the action is happening all the way up to the present time)
  • an action has been recurring in the past up until now
  • an action has been completed in the very near past (usually indicated by ‘just’)

The present perfect explains why things are the way they are now; there is a connection between the past and the present. It is used to emphasize the result of a(n) (finished)  action.

Form: have/has + past participle (= verb root + -ed)

Example: She has published five novels during her life.

Note that during her life doesn’t indicate exactly when; it is an unspecified time.

Example: I have finished my book and can rest now.

Example: Why is he happy? Because he has sold one hundred books.

Note that he is happy is written in the simple present, and the reason Because he has sold one hundred books is written in the present perfect as it is the reason for the current state.

Signal or Keywords:

Today This week This year
In my lifetime Just Yet
Never Already Ever
So far Up to now Recently
Since For Not yet
Lately Recently Once
It’s the first time

Present Perfect Continuous / Progressive

Use when:

  • an action has begun in the past (sometimes at an unspecified time) and has lasted up until now, but could still be going on.

In contrast to the present perfect, the action of the present perfect continuous isn’t finished. It could be seen as a time indication of the near past (lately, recently) and the result of that action is still visible, heard, or felt. It puts emphasis on the duration of the action, which is often temporary.

Form: has/have + been + present participle (=verb root + -ing)

Example: I have been writing this last hour and have a cramp in my hand now.

Example: She has been teaching English for ten years, so she knows her grammar.

Signal or Key words:

All day Since For
The whole time (…week, year, etc.) How long (used in a question)

Tenses_Graph

Brush Up On Your Tenses – The Past

It’s been a while since I mentioned writing some grammar articles on the English tenses, but I’m finally back into (some sort of) a routine. Today, I’ll be discussing the past tense. If you’d like to read up on the introduction again before diving into this one, you can find it here.

The Past Tense

The past tense is used when we write about what happened before now, what happened right up until now, and what happened right up until now and is still happening.

The past tense can be divided into:

  • the simple past
  • the  past continuous
  • the past perfect
  • the past perfect continuous

Simple Past

Use when:

  • an action has happened once in the past
  • an action happened repeatedly in the past
  • an action was true for some time in the past
  • the word ‘ago’ is used in the sentence.

The action could have happened once, never, or several times, but both the beginning and the end of the action(s) lie in the past.

Form: verb root + -ed

Example: I worked all night to finish the chapter.

Example: He attended several workshops on writing.

Example: We lived there for years.

Example: It was a long time ago when she kissed him for the first time.

Signal or Key words:

Often Always Sometimes
Last (time frame; day, week, etc.) When Yesterday
(period of time) ago The other day In (year)

Past Continuous / Progressive

Use when:

  • an action was happening before, during, and after another action or specific time in the past
  • an action is interrupted by another action
  • an action was happening for a while in the past
  • an action happened repeatedly in the past
  • an action was evolving/growing in the past
  • you want to indicate a change of mind in the past
  • two actions happened at the same time in the past
  • (you are wondering about something)

When you are wondering about something, you use the past continuous, but it is not a true time on the time line.

Form: was/were + verb root + -ing

Example: He was lying in the grass when he had an epiphany.

Example: I was writing a paranormal novel when I was asked to write an article on grammar.

Example: She was working on that book for ages.

Example: He was reading to us every night.

Example: Their grasp of the English language was improving.

Example: We were thinking about entering a writers’ competition, but we don’t think we’re good enough.

Example: I was writing while he was making dinner.

Example: (I was wondering if you could help me with my grammar.)

Signal or Key words:

While When

Past Perfect

Use when:

  • an action happened before another action or specific time in the past
  • an action happened before and up until another action in the past (example: live, work, teach, study)
  • using reported speech
  • (using if)

It is possible to use the simple past instead of the past perfect if ‘before’ or ‘after’ is used in the sentence to indicate the time the action happened.

You can’t use the past perfect if there is no specific time indication.

Form: had + past participle (= verb root + ed)

Example: She had always walked to work until she had the accident.

 Example: He had lived in a student flat for years until he got his first job.

 Example: I had thought her to be helpful before, but she wasn’t.

 Example: (If he had worked harder, he would have finished his novel by now.)

Signal or Key words:

When After Before
By the time Already Just
Never Not yet Until … (in the past)

Past Perfect Continuous / Progressive

Use when:

  • an action began at a certain time in the past and continued up until another specific time in the past
  • showing cause of an action (using ‘because’)
  • using reported speech
  • (using if)

Form: had been + present participle

Example: I had been buying books in the book store when I discovered online stores.

Example: She had been working all night because she didn’t work enough hours before.

Example: I had been reading my book before I looked up to see him standing there.

Example: (If he had been paying attention, he would have gotten there faster.)

Signal or Key words:

For Since

Next week, I’ll be discussing the present tense.

Tenses_Graph

Tenses – An Overview

In the weeks to come, I will address tenses as part of my grammar blog on Fridays. To most English-bred writers, tenses come naturally, but not to writers to whom English is a foreign language.

A few writers write in the present tense, but most prefer the past tense as it gives more options to describe what is happening. I myself prefer the past tense. Sometimes, however, I find that a simple present tense sneakily slips in. Hence, I love my beta-readers, and I edit and edit and edit…

Overview

Tenses in language are used for time reference. There are many different constructions for time reference and not all languages use the same one. Basic tenses have a past, a present, and a future. Some languages have a past and a non-past (which is both the present and the future), while other languages have a future and non-future (which is the past and the present). Some languages don’t weave time into their verbs at all. Some languages differentiate near and remote pasts or near and remote futures.

The TAM system

The English language uses the ‘TAM’ system; the Tense-Aspect-Mood system.

Verbs mark in what tense the action is happening: the past, present, or future (the tense proper).

The aspect shows if the action is happening (continuous), is completed before another action (perfect), is an action that had been ongoing but is completed at a certain point (perfect continuous), or is an action that is just stated (simple).

The four moods are:

  • indicative (assertion, denial, question of actuality, or strong probability)
  • imperative (request, direct order, permission, and strong suggestion)
  • conditional (if sentences, hypothetical results, reporting dialogue, polite speech)
  • subjunctive (desires, wishes, assumptions).

The indicative is the most used mood form in the English language.

English is a Germanic language that has a past and a present (non-past) and these tenses are formed morphologically (the tense is created with the verb only). The future tense is made with auxiliaries, i.e. it is made of the same non-past tense with a supplementary supporting word (will or shall).

The table below may help you understand.

Tenses
Morphological With auxiliaries
Present Past Future
 

 

 

Aspects

 

Simple

 

I work I worked I will work
 

Continuous

 

I am working I was working I will be working
 

Perfect

 

I have worked I had worked I will have worked
 

Perfect continuous

 

I have been working I had been working I will have been working

Tenses in verbs are a large subject in the English language. Therefore I will limit the forms in the posts to come to regular verbs and the examples to positive sentence structures (no negatives or questions). I won’t go into abbreviations either.

For the following explanation of the tenses, please note that the root of a verb is the base form of a verb (= whole verb minus –ing).

Example: working – verb root = work

An overview of posts to come

Past

  • Simple Past
  • Past Continuous
  • Past Perfect
  • Past Perfect Continuous

Present

  • Simple Present
  • Present Continuous
  • Present Perfect
  • Present Perfect Continuous

Future

  • Simple Future
  • Future Continuous
  • Future Perfect
  • Future Perfect Continuous

 

Timeline Graph

Tenses_Graph

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense#English

http://www.whitesmoke.com/tense-aspect-mood/

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/simple-present/

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/verbtenseintro.html

http://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/

https://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar

http://www.whitesmoke.com/tense-aspect-mood

http://www.ef.com/english-resources/english-grammar/verbs/