Here’s a very comprehensive English Grammar Tenses table with thorough explanations as to when each tense is used as well as sample sentences.
All is nice and well, and you may print it out, carry with you, and learn it off by heart if you’re really passionate about your English tenses (by the way, it’s exactly what I did at the start of my 5 year long journey to English fluency!)
As I said – all would be nice and well if not for a human being’s natural tendency to over-analyze and try to structure the knowledge when speaking which inevitably leads to English fluency problems.
The moment you open your mouth, you’ll start wondering if the action you’re about to talk about is going to happen for sure or just MIGHT happen… Or maybe it’s going to happen over a certain period of time in which case you should be using Future II Progressive tense – “I will have been…”
Basically the more you know about English tenses, the more confusing it may become, and in the end you’ll be constantly questioning and second-guessing yourself when trying to speak which is definitely something you DON’T want to happen because what good is your super-advanced English grammar knowledge if you can’t say a single sentence without hesitation and stopping to think about what tense to use?
Moreover, there isn’t consensus even among English grammar professionals as to how many English tenses actually are out there!
The more you read into it, the more confusing it will get.
Just read this forum thread and you’ll realize that opinions differ so wildly that a normal human being can’t even wrap his or her head around it all!
Some think there are only 2 tenses (which I personally thing is a total nonsense), and some extend the figure to 16, 24 or even 32 (which takes into account the existence of Passive Voice).
So what do you do?
Get totally bogged down on 32 tenses, learn all the conditions as to when exactly each of them is used, learn the respective sample sentences and then LOSE YOUR MIND when trying to speak with someone because of all the analysis happening in your brain while you’re speaking?
Instead, just FORGET the English Grammar tense table and approach the whole tense thing from a different angle!!!
Forget the little used grammar constructs such as “I will have been speaking…” that aren’t used in real life English conversations.
Forget the various Conditionals.
And stop thinking about the merits of Past Perfect Progressive vs Past Perfect Simple.
What I suggest you to do is this:
For Starters, Accept the Present Progressive Tense as the MAIN English Tense When Speaking About YOURSELF & OTHERS!
A good start would be to stop thinking about the timeline of different events you’re talking about (Now, Past, Future) and choosing the appropriate English tense depending on when the action happens because it’s going to make you overanalyze.
Instead, we can use the Present Progressive Tense – “I’m speaking” – to describe events involving OURSELVES and OTHERS regardless of when they are taking place – at the moment of speaking, in the past, or will take place in the future.
“I’m speaking in English very well!” – normally people would go by the grammar book and use the Simple Present instead (“I speak in English very well”), but it’s totally fine if you chose to use Present Progressive instead!
“And then I’m suddenly speaking with him… I’m finding it hard to believe!” – Present Progressive can also be used to describe past events.
“I’m speaking at an even tomorrow evening, and I’m so nervous…” – here Present Continuous (also called Progressive – same thing, really!) is used when referring to an event happening in the future.
So if you’re constantly struggling with English tenses and you don’t know what to make of them, please adopt this simple approach FOR NOW – use the Present Progressive Tense whenever starting a sentence with I, HE, SHE, WE and THEY. Why these particular personal pronouns? Well, because if you’re addressing another person and including the word YOU in it, it’s most likely not going to be you telling a story but rather asking questions and making suggestions!
Basically what I want you to do is the following.
Instead of the traditional approach whereby you have all the English Grammar Tenses listed from top to bottom, you have to think of the whole tenses thing as a circle with the Present Progressive Tense being in the center because most of our simple daily conversations involve speaking about others or ourselves,
So, if you’re speaking in English with someone and your head is in a total mess trying to figure out all the tenses, just focus on Present Progressive – and you really can’t go wrong with it.
Yes, it may sound a bit out of place on SOME occasions for a native speaker, but it will be way more effective for you to use this tense and use it WELL instead of hesitating, pausing, and trying to figure out which tense to use.
What you did yesterday, what’s happening now, what you normally do and what you’ll be doing tomorrow – all this can be expressed using Present Progressive and here are a few phrases that will prove just that:
“I’m entering the main order next and I’m not leaving it till tomorrow!” (Future)
“When I’m driving home, I’m always taking the highway.” (Routine activity)
“So I’m coming home and what am I seeing? My little sister still not doing her homework and just playing games on her Xbox!” (Past events)
I’m not telling you NOT to use other English tenses!
It goes without saying that if you try to force yourself to speak using the Present Progressive tense ONLY, you’ll be also doing loads of unnecessary analyzing, and it’s going to be totally counterproductive!
The point I’m making is the following:
Resort to the Present Progressive tense WHEN IN DOUBT which tense to use!
Try it, and let me know if the comment section below how it’s going for you!
P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!
P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!