How many tenses are there in English?

How many tenses are there in English?

Many. So many. Joke. 

For beginners in learning foreign languages, the number of tenses in English is a real shock. People who are accustomed to the simple past, future and present are perplexed about what is the present perfect, or the past continuous. Let's figure it out together. 


So how many tenses? 

In fact, there are only three tenses. But there are subgroups in each of them. At first glance, this is undoubtedly intimidating, but then everything becomes a little easier.  


To begin with, let's take a closer look at the present tense group. 

Present simple 

The simplest and most real. Used to describe the state of a person or the environment. Also, to describe habits and regularly repeated actions. It has a simple design, but a lot of marker words, which can be confused at first. 

  • He makes songs in his studio every night 
  • I like peaches 
  • The house has five rooms 

Present Continuous 

Its main function is to describe the action that is taking place at the time of speech. In this case, the emphasis will be placed on the duration of the action, and not on time. 

  • Chris is watching a movie at the moment 
  • They are performing their new dance now 

Present Perfect 

One of the most ambiguous times to understand. The easiest way to remember it is to learn the equality “perfect = result of an action”. In other words, the present perfect speaks of the result of an action without naming it. The action, at the same time, ended right before the beginning of the speech, and the result has a connection with the present. 

  • She has forgotten her keys at work 
  • We have done all this work already 

Present Perfect Continuous 

This is either easier or harder. The action expressed by this time began in the past and continues at the moment of speech, without stopping. At the same time, we know only the time during which it occurred, not knowing the point of its beginning in the past. It is, in general, not important in this case. 

  • It has been raining since morning 
  • You have been talking about that new group for two hours already 


The same four categories belong to the past tense group: 

Past simple 

Of the past, really the simplest. Expresses an action that happened at a certain point in the past (yesterday, two days ago, last year). Also used when past actions were performed one after the other, or describes past habits. 

  • He wrote this song two years ago 
  • Lucy changed her ringtone yesterday 

Past Continuous 

The emphasis is on the duration of the action. That is, tense is used to express an action that started, lasted, and ended in the past. We know this period of time and we are talking about it. 

  • Kids were doing their homework for three hours 
  • You were ignoring me all they yesterday 

past perfect 

Used to express an action that happened before a specific action or point in the past. For ease of remembering, you can call it pre-past (a small life hack), because it is done before the action in Past Simple. 

  • Peter had done his task before his friend came 
  • The group of students had already arrived to the hotel when the fire alarm started 

Past Perfect Continuous 

Describes a long-term action that began earlier than another in the past. It can be interrupted by this action in the past (Past Simple), or continue for some time. 

  • We had been living in this area for five years, when they decided to rebuild it 
  • My best friend had been studying abroad when his father told him to go back 


The future tense is also divided into four options. 

Future Simple 

Used when we want to say something that will happen at a specific time in the future. In this case, the time is conjectural in nature, and the described action may not occur. To say what we are sure will happen, a different grammatical construction will be used. 

  • He will visit us next Friday 
  • We will go for a picnic by the river tomorrow 

Future Continuous 

It is used when we want to emphasize that the action being taken will last for some time in the future. 

  • They will be painting pictures tomorrow 
  • I will be doing my home tasks 

Future Perfect 

Describes an action that will take place before a specific action or point in the future. 

  • He will have written his article by Monday 
  • The dog will have recovered by next week 

Future Perfect Continuous 

Describes an action that will begin up to a certain point in the future and will continue until this very moment. That is, they can be interrupted. In this case, the entire period of the action is indicated. 

  • The show will have been going before we come 
  • He will have been cooking by the time she arrives home 


In fact, if we consider the allocation of tenses in English from a research point of view, then we can call it the most detailed that exists in this language group. Yes, these details in the form of subgroups are not required, but their presence makes the study easier, and the description of the action or state is more accurate.