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The Writers Guide to Tense, Pt. II
Writer’s Guide to Tense Pt. II

The Writer's Guide to Tense, Pt. II

Jan 28, 2013
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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI am jumpingI am thinkingI am dropping
Secondyou are jumpingyou are thinkingyou are dropping
Third (singular)he is jumpinghe is thinkinghe is dropping
Third (plural)they are jumpingthey are thinkingthey 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).
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI was jumpingI was thinkingI was dropping
Secondyou were jumpingyou were thinkingyou were dropping
Third (singular)he was jumpinghe was thinkinghe was dropping
Third (plural)they were jumpingthey were thinkingthey 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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI will be jumpingI will be thinkingI will be dropping
Secondyou will be jumpingyou will be thinkingyou will be dropping
Third (singular)he will be jumpinghe will be thinkinghe will be dropping
Third (plural)they will be jumpingthey will be thinkingthey 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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI had jumpedI had thoughtI had dropped
Secondyou had jumpedyou had thoughtyou had dropped
Third (singular)he had jumpedhe had thoughthe had dropped
Third (plural)they had jumpedthey had thoughtthey 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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI had been jumpingI had been thinkingI had been dropping
Secondyou had been jumpingyou had been thinkingyou had been dropping
Third (singular)he had been jumpinghe had been thinkinghe had been dropping
Third (plural)they had been jumpingthey had been thinkingthey 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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI have jumpedI have thoughtI have dropped
Secondyou have jumpedyou have thoughtyou have dropped
Third (singular)he has jumpedhe has thoughthe has dropped
Third (plural)they have jumpedthey have thoughtthey 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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI have been jumpingI have been thinkingI have been dropping
Secondyou have been jumpingyou have been thinkingyou have been dropping
Third (singular)he has been jumpinghe has been thinkinghe has been dropping
Third (plural)they have been jumpingthey have been thinkingthey 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."
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI will have jumpedI will have thoughtI will have dropped
Secondyou will have jumpedyou will have thoughtyou will have dropped
Third (singular)he will have jumpedhe will have thoughthe will have dropped
Third (plural)they will have jumpedthey will have thoughtthey 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.
Personto jumpto thinkto drop
FirstI will have been jumpingI will have been thinkingI will have been dropping
Secondyou will have been jumpingyou will have been thinkingyou will have been dropping
Third (singular)he will have been jumpinghe will have been thinkinghe will have been dropping
Third (plural)they will have been jumpingthey will have been thinkingthey 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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