The Big Five Tenses!


Business English Kurse Sprachkurse für Firmen PS Sprachenservice

Some of you in school are busy learning lots of English tenses and some of you can look back at your school days and be happy that you don’t have to learn them anymore! I’m sure most of you can ‘rattle off’ drive-drove-driven, eat-ate-eaten and so on.

This is a quick guide to ‚The Big Five‘ tenses in English!

The special thing about the English language is that it uses many different tenses and aspects to describe exactly when an event takes place. Was it recent? Is it finished? Did it finish before another event in the past? Is it still carrying on? Will it happen in the future? Is it a plan or a fact?

So do you need to learn all of the many tenses/aspects? The good news is ‘no’. Please note that I’m talking about ‘everyday language’ in the work environment and of course it can be necessary to learn the other tenses depending on your use of the language. I’m sure that some school teachers may disagree with me and pupils will love me but in everyday language it is sufficient to have a good handle on the following ‘big five’.

Present Simple – I work at Mustermann.

We use the present simple to describe permanent states, facts and regular activities, e.g. where we live and what a company produces.

Present Continuous – I am working in the warehouse this week.

The present continuous is used to describe temporary actions or events which are either happening at the time of speaking or events of a longer term but still temporary nature, which are happening around now.

Past Simple – I went to Italy last year.

The past simple is used to describe fully completed events in the past. We often use a time indicator (e.g. yesterday, last month, in 2014 etc.) but we don’t always have to mention it – important is that the context must be about this past time.

Present Perfect Simple – I have been to London before.

  1. Past experiences where a time is not specified , e.g. I have been to London before.
  2. A recent event/action, e.g. I have just made a coffee.
  3. To connect a time in the past with the present. This is often in connection with the words “for” and “since”, e.g. I have worked here for four years (I still work here!)

Future – going to & will

We can roughly split the future into two parts, planned or unplanned.

Planned events – we use the going to future, e.g. I am going to visit a customer tomorrow.

Unplanned events – we use the ‘will’ future, e.g.  The phone rings and you say, “I’ll answer the phone”.