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Writer’s Guide to Tense Pt. II

The Writer's Guide to Tense, Pt. II

Jan 28, 2013 - Posted to  Writing in General
Tenses definitely might confuse anyone and you need to be prepared to use them correctly. Learn useful rules from The Writer's Guide to Tense, Pt. I that will help you to master your skills and expand your knowledge in English grammar.
In Part I we went over the three basic tenses, but now things are going to get more complicated. These tenses describe events that occur in a particular sequence or that overlap in the past or the future. There are dozens of tenses describing all sorts of scenarios, but we're going to focus a few of the most common.
Note: You can refer back to Part I for definitions and help with the timeline diagrams.

Continuous present

The continuous present is used to show that an action is taking place over a period of time that includes this exact moment. It's formed by adding am/is/are to the present participle.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I am jumping I am thinking I am dropping
Second you are jumping you are thinking you are dropping
Third (singular) he is jumping he is thinking he is dropping
Third (plural) they are jumping they are thinking they are dropping

Continuous past

The continuous past describes a continuous action that started in the past and was interrupted. It's formed by adding was/were to the present participle. For example, in the sentence "I was playing the piano when he came in the door," the ongoing action of playing the piano (in continuous past tense) was interrupted by someone coming in the door (in the simple past).
Person to jump to think to drop
First I was jumping I was thinking I was dropping
Second you were jumping you were thinking you were dropping
Third (singular) he was jumping he was thinking he was dropping
Third (plural) they were jumping they were thinking they were dropping

Continuous future

The continuous future tense is used to describe a continuous action that will be happening in the future and that will be interrupted by another event in the shorter future. It's formed by adding will be to the present participle. When I say "I will be eating dinner when the show starts," there are two events both happening in the future. Eating dinner, which is in the continuous future, is an ongoing event that will continue after the show starts. Note that the event in the short future is conjugated in the present tense.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I will be jumping I will be thinking I will be dropping
Second you will be jumping you will be thinking you will be dropping
Third (singular) he will be jumping he will be thinking he will be dropping
Third (plural) they will be jumping they will be thinking they will be dropping

Simple past perfect

Simple past perfect describes an event that happened later in the past than another event. It's formed by adding had to the past participle of the verb. For example, if I say "The store had closed by the time I got there," I'm describing two events that both occurred in the past, but the action in the past perfect occurred further back in the past.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I had jumped I had thought I had dropped
Second you had jumped you had thought you had dropped
Third (singular) he had jumped he had thought he had dropped
Third (plural) they had jumped they had thought they had dropped

Continuous past perfect

The continuous past perfect describes an action that started in the past and which continued up until a point in the more recent past. It's formed by adding had been to the present participle.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I had been jumping I had been thinking I had been dropping
Second you had been jumping you had been thinking you had been dropping
Third (singular) he had been jumping he had been thinking he had been dropping
Third (plural) they had been jumping they had been thinking they had been dropping

Simple present perfect

The name of the present perfect is somewhat confusing because it's actually used to describe events that occurred sometime in the recent past. It's used when the event happened recently, although it's not clear exactly when (so you'd never use it with word that convey an exact time such as yesterday or last week). The present perfect is formed by adding have/has to the past participle.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I have jumped I have thought I have dropped
Second you have jumped you have thought you have dropped
Third (singular) he has jumped he has thought he has dropped
Third (plural) they have jumped they have thought they have dropped

Continuous present perfect

The continuous form of the present perfect is formed by adding have/has been to the present participle. It's used to discuss actions that started in the past and have continued into the present.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I have been jumping I have been thinking I have been dropping
Second you have been jumping you have been thinking you have been dropping
Third (singular) he has been jumping he has been thinking he has been dropping
Third (plural) they have been jumping they have been thinking they have been dropping

Simple future perfect

The simple future perfect describes an event that will happen before another event in the future. It's formed by adding will have or am/is/are going to have to the present participle. If I say "I will have finished the dinner by the time you get home from work," I'm describing two events that will take place in the future, and finished dinner (future perfect) is the earlier one while get home is the event that will occur later. I could also write "I am going to have finished dinner by the time you get home from work."
Person to jump to think to drop
First I will have jumped I will have thought I will have dropped
Second you will have jumped you will have thought you will have dropped
Third (singular) he will have jumped he will have thought he will have dropped
Third (plural) they will have jumped they will have thought they will have dropped

Continuous future perfect

The continuous future perfect describes an action that started and the past and will continue up to a specific point in the future. It can be formed either by adding will have been to the present participle or using the construction am/is/are going to have been plus the present participle. For example you can write "I will have been waiting for six hours by the time she gets here" or "I am going to have been waiting for six hours by the time she gets here." Both forms can be used interchangeably.
Person to jump to think to drop
First I will have been jumping I will have been thinking I will have been dropping
Second you will have been jumping you will have been thinking you will have been dropping
Third (singular) he will have been jumping he will have been thinking he will have been dropping
Third (plural) they will have been jumping they will have been thinking they will have been dropping

Other verb constructions

In addition to these twelve, there are several other verb phrases that are used to indicate when an event took place. The following examples are constructed slightly differently than the main tenses, and also have more subtle meanings.

Used to

Adding the phrase used to to the infinitive form of a verb indicates that an action was performed continuously or repeatedly in the past but is no longer performed in the present. For example, in the sentence "I used to drive to work, but now I take the bus," the action drive to work was done in the past, but is no longer done in the present. While the simple past can also be used to discuss actions that were repeated in the past, the phrase used to is preferred when you want to show a pattern of individual actions or something that was done repeatedly. It shouldn't be confused with the continuous past, which is used to indicate a continuous past action that was interrupted.
The construction can also be used to discuss facts or generalizations that are no longer true, for example, "New York used to be my favorite city."

Would always

The phrase would always works similarly to used to when added to the infinitive. It indicates an action that was repeated frequently in the past, but now no longer occurs. It has the connotation that the action was extreme, annoying, or amusing. For example, if I say "You would always ask to stop for breakfast no matter how late we were," the verb construction implies that you used to always ask to stop and that I found it annoying or silly.

Are going to

The phrase are going to is used to show that you intend to perform an action in the future when it's combined with an infinitive. When I say "We are going to eat dessert after dinner," I'm indicating that I plan to perform an action (eating dessert) at some point in the future. This construction is only used to describe an action you intend to complete, not to describe something that may or may not happen.
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