How Many Tenses Are There In English?

English Tenses

How many tenses are there in English?

How many tenses are there in English? Some students may get confused because some grammar textbooks mention that English has 12 verb forms while others list 16 tense forms. This page will try to answer this question. Tense formulas and examples will be also provided

For more detailed explanations, you may visit the Grammar Study Pages and study the different tenses.

Are there 12 or 16 tenses in English?

You might be surprised to know that in linguistic analysis, only two tenses are identified in English

  • The present tense.
  • The past tense.

The future is not considered a tense because to form it, we need a helping verb, namely, the modal "will" or "shall".

However, for pedagogical reasons, teachers prefer to focus on three major tenses in English: the present, past, and future. These three tenses may be used in combination with four different aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive.

NOTE: while tense refers to the time when actions occur (i.e. past, present, or future), aspect indicates time features such as the completion, duration, or repetition of an action.

The tense/aspect combinations produce 12 verb tenses:

1. present simple 2. present progressive (continuous) 3. present perfect 4. present perfect progressive (continuous) 5. past simple 6. past progressive (continuous) 7. past perfect 8. past perfect progressive (continuous) 9. future simple 10. future progressive (continuous) 11. future perfect 12. future perfect progressive (continuous)

Some grammar textbooks may add 4 other verb tenses to the list. They are related to the conditional mood.

NOTE: the conditional mood is used for events whose realization is dependent upon another condition. Generally speaking, the conditional mood is formed using the modal verb would in combination with the bare infinitive.

The tense combinations with the conditional mood include:

13. conditional simple 14. conditional progressive (continuous) 15. conditional perfect 16. conditional perfect progressive (continuous).

What are the 16 tenses in English?

The following table summarizes the 16 tenses in English:

  Present Past Future Conditional
Simple I walk I walked I will walk I would walk
Progressive I am walking I was walking I will be walking I would be walking
Perfect I have walked I had walked I will have walked I would have walked
Perfect Progressive I have been walking I had been walking I will have been walking I would have been walking

What is the formula of all tenses?

Here are the 16 verb tenses in English. Verb forms and examples are provided:

Tense Formula Examples
1. Present Simple VERB/ VERB +S I/you/we/they play
He/she/it plays
2. Present Progressive (Continuous) AM/IS/ARE + VERB + ING I/you/we/they am playing
He/she/it is playing
3. Present Perfect HAVE/HAS + PAST PARTICIPLE I/you/we/they have played
He/she/it has played
4. Present Perfect Progressive (Continuous) HAVE/HAS + BEEN + VERB + ING I have been playing
He/she/it has been playing
5. Past Simple. VERB + ED (except irregular verbs) I played.
I wrote (irregular)
6. Past Progressive (Continuous) WAS/WERE + VERB + ING I/he/she was playing
you/we/they were playing
7. Past Perfect HAD + PAST PARTICIPLE I had played
8. Past Perfect Progressive (Continuous) HAD + BEEN + VERB + ING I had been playing
9. Future Simple WILL + VERB I will play
10. Future Progressive (Continuous) WILL + BE + VERB +ING I will be playing
11. Future Perfect WILL + HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE I will have played
12. Future Perfect Progressive (Continuous) WILL + HAVE + BEEN + VERB + ING I will have been playing
13. Conditional Simple WOULD + VERB I would play
14. Conditional Progressive (Continuous) WOULD BE + VERB + ING I would be playing
15. Conditional Perfect WOULD + HAVE + PAST PARTICIPLE I would have played
16. Conditional Perfect Progressive (Continuous) WOULD + HAVE + BEEN + VERB + ING I would have been playing

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