How to Master Present Tenses: Quick Guide

Among other peculiarities of the English language, we can single out present tenses. What is wrong with them? Well, using present tenses, you can refer to the present, the future and the past. But this is just the beginning! To master present tenses in English, you should rely on a comprehensive set of rules, substantiated by apt examples. Missing out any of it, you are most likely to get lost in grammar, as English has as many as 4 present tenses, each one with its own structure and usage. Royal Editing has created this article, which will help you understand in what cases you should use present tenses.

So, let’s start by outlining our plan. We will consecutively dwell on these 4 tenses:

  • present simple,
  • present continuous,
  • present perfect,
  • present perfect continuous.

Present simple is the cornerstone of the language. Introduction to English, as a rule, starts with it. So, what is peculiar about the Present Indefinite?

Present Simple

The most characteristic use of the Present Indefinite is with reference to repeated, customary actions. They can be introduced by such adverbs as every day, always, from time to time etc.:

  • Every year Mary indulges her passion for Venice by visiting the Carnival.

You should use this tense when giving characteristics of a person or a group of people:

  • My neighbor plays the piano awfully, but she is a nice dancer.
  • These children paint mysterious and beautiful canvases.

Present simple describes universal truths, including the laws of physics and nature:

  • Force of gravity is greater on our planet than on the Moon.

If an action is developing at the present moment, but the verb does not assume the continuous form, then you must employ the Present Indefinite:

  • I hear birds signing. Do you hear them?

Now we encounter one of the peculiarities: situations when the present tense actually means the future. It happens in adverbial clauses of time and condition. Look out for words like when, until, unless, as soon as, provided and so on in order not to mess up with tenses:

  • I will go out as soon as I finish straightening my hair.
  • Julia will be expelled from her prestigious school unless she improves her results.

When the future is presented as something fixed, the Present Indefinite is used, too. In this case you will find verbs of motion, such as to leave, to come, to go, to approach etc. The same rule can be applied to information backed up by timetables and schedules.

  • The electric train from Brussels arrives tomorrow at 9.

Present Continuous

The Present Continuous has several use cases, too, but the most characteristic of them is connected with an action, developing at the present moment. You can learn about it from adverbs (now, right now, at the present moment…) or from the context.

  • I can’t watch the western with you right now; I am cooking a cheesecake.
  • Jim is in the garage; he is fixing his car.

When you want to emphasize that a person does not behave himself in a way he usually does, use the continuous form, too. If you say so about undesirable behavior, such expressions sound reproachful:

  • You are being very annoying right now, please stop asking your numerous questions.

In complex sentences where one of the actions is habitual and the other is progressive, express the former with the Present Indefinite and the latter with the Present Continuous. And mind the punctuation in case the subordinate clause starts the sentence:

  • When I am working on my essays, I always turn off my phone.

The Present Continuous can denote the future, too. It happens when you are talking about your future arrangements:

  • Tomorrow Kitty is having dinner with her new boyfriend.
  • What are you doing this evening?

The Present Continuous has one more interesting meaning. It refers to an action that is seen as a continuous process, although it is not actually so. This usage can imply irony or reproach towards a certain behavior:

  • You are constantly crying! (Obviously, a person cannot cry all his life without intervals.)

Present Perfect

The Present Perfect describes an action that is already finished, but is somehow connected to the present.

  • Don’t sit down on this bench! I’ve just finished painting it.
  • I am so tired; I have weeded the whole garden.

The Present Perfect is no exception in terms of denoting the future. It once again occurs in adverbial clauses of time, by analogy with the Present Simple, but in this case to state an action completed before a designated moment in the future:

  • I’m not going to Austria with you until you’ve shared with me all your plans.
  • When I’ve submitted my paper, I will enjoy myself on the local beach.

Present Perfect Continuous

The Present Perfect Continuous applies to actions that started sometime in the past and are still going on without interruptions. Alternatively, they could have started in the past and have been going on until the present moment, but right now they are completed. Let’s look at this example:

  • I’ve been poring over this puzzle all day long. (The sentence can mean either that the person is still working on the puzzle or that he is not.)

The Present Perfect replaces The Present Perfect Continuous for the verbs devoid of the continuous form (the so-called non-terminative verbs):

  • I’ve lived in a suburban American village for 10 years.

Interesting facts

Present tenses in fiction. Present tenses usually give way to the past ones when it comes to works of fiction. But there are stories and novels written in present, which greatly influences the perception of the work, bringing you really closer to the characters. If you got interested in present tense books, we recommend The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

Present tenses in academic writing. In academic works, it is highly advised to use present tenses when you are referring to an already published work. Results of statistical analyses and calculations require the present, too, while your own research results must be given in the past tense.

Present tenses referring to the past. We have already mentioned several cases, in which present tenses actually imply the future, and now you will learn about situations when they refer to the past. It happens when you are telling a story that occurred previously or summarizing a book or movie. Present tenses make the narration more vivid and emotional.

We hope that this guide has unveiled the peculiarities of English present tenses for you. Generally, the choice of tense depends on the time when the action takes place. You should also decide if it is important to emphasize possible duration. These questions will help you choose between English tenses, and this choice eventually makes your language more correct. Do not forget that Royal Editing has the same goal. Together we can make your works free of mistakes.