Verb tenses are an attribute of verbs that tell us about time.
Remember that verbs are words that show actions or states of being.
There are only six tenses for English verbs! You can learn about six tenses! Three of them are called simple tenses, and three of them are called perfect tenses.
Simple Verb Tenses
There are three basic times when verbs can take place: past, present, and future. These are the easy ones to remember. In fact, they are called simple tenses.
1. Simple present tense verbs show actions that happen regularly or that are permanently happening.
We play football in the backyard.
My niece skips down the road.
2. Simple past tense verbs are verbs that show actions that took place in the past.
We played football in the backyard.
My niece skipped down the road
3. Simple future tense verbs are verbs that show actions that have not taken place yet, but that will take place in the future.
We will play football in the backyard.
My niece will skip down the road.
Perfect Verb Tenses
English verbs also have three perfect verb tenses: present perfect tense, past perfect tense, and future perfect tense. These tenses are pretty cool, I guess, but I'm not sure that I'd call them perfect. Whoever named these guys sure thought highly of them. At any rate, all of these perfect tenses are formed with the helping verbs have, has, had, will and shall and the past participles of the verb.
4. Present perfect tense verbs show actions that were finished recently or ones that were completed at an indefinite time in the past. These use has or have.
We have played football.
My niece has skipped down the road.
5. Past perfect tense verbs show actions that came directly before another action in the past. These use had.
We had played football.
My niece had skipped down the road before I came.
6. Future perfect tense verbs show actions that will happen before other future actions happen. These use will have and shall have.
By tomorrow, we will have played football.
By noon, my niece will have skipped down the road.
Both simple and perfect verb tenses can also be made into progressive verb forms. Sometimes they are also called continuous. That just means that they show an action that is in progress or that is continuing.
To form this type of verb, you add one of the forms of the verb be with the present participle of the verb. (The present participle ends in -ing.)
We are playing. (present progressive)
We were playing. (past progressive)
We will be playing. (future progressive)
We have been playing. (present perfect progressive)
We had been playing. (past perfect progressive)
We will have been playing. (future perfect progressive)
These aren't a different tense, but they're an important thing to learn. Verbs that add -d or -ed to their present form to form the past tense are regular verbs. Here are some sentences with regular verbs. Notice that they end in -d or -ed.
The dog jumped toward the squirrel.
We all noticed the stain on his shirt.
My grandmother knitted me this scarf.
Irregular verbs aren't a different tense, but they're also an important topic to study. The word irregular means not regular, so irregular verbs are those that have unpredictable forms in the past tense.
Verbs that don't add -d or -ed to their present form to form the past tense are irregular verbs. Here are some sentences with irregular verbs written in the past tense. Notice that they don't end in -d or -ed.
I ate my vegetables.
We swam across the lake.
My mother read me a bedtime story.