12 tenses in English

English is famous for its extensive system of tenses, including 12 main forms. Each has its own rules of formation and usage. Understanding these tenses helps you form grammatically correct sentences and clearly express temporal relationships.


Is it necessary to know all 12 tenses in English?

English tenses seem quite complicated at first glance. We are used to three standard tenses – past, present and future. How can there be more? However, the English manage to make life difficult for both themselves and others by using 12 (and some 16) English tenses. Is it necessary to master all of them? If so, how can one do so? And if not, which ones are necessary for fluent communication?


How many tenses need to be mastered?

It depends on whether you use English on a daily basis, or maybe just on a short vacation abroad? Or maybe you work for an international company? The number of tenses you should master depends on your purpose. For example, if you want to order something to eat or have a basic conversation, three tenses are enough. Knowing 5 will allow you to communicate fluently, and the more you know, the higher the level of conversation will be, becoming more and more understandable.

Of course, tenses are not everything, and let’s not forget vocabulary. We can know the construction and usage of all the tenses, but if we don’t know the words, we can’t use them.


Base tenses – what does that mean?

Basic tenses are the tenses needed to construct basic sentences and communicate about everyday topics.

The basic tenses include:

1. Present Simple: Used to express general facts, regular actions and events. It is formed by adding the ending “-s” to the verb for the third person singular.


  • I work in an office.
  • She plays the piano.

2. Present Continuous: Used to describe actions taking place at a given moment in time. It is formed by using the verb “to be” combined with the main verb and the ending “-ing.”


  • I am studying English.
  • They are watching a movie.

3. Past Simple: Used to describe events that occurred at a specific time in the past. It is formed by adding the ending “-ed” to the verb (in most cases).


  • He visited Paris last year.
  • She played tennis yesterday.

4. Future Simple: Used to express future events. It is formed using the modal verb “will” or the phrase “going to.”


  • I will call you tomorrow.
  • They will travel to Italy next summer.

These tenses form the basis of communication in English. But there are also many other tenses and their combinations, which are divided into several groups, and each group has its own peculiarities.

A general table of the 12 basic tenses forms:

Tense Formation Examples
Present Simple
Verb in base form (with -s/-es for third person)
I play tennis. / She plays the piano.
Present Continuous
Verb "to be" (am, is, are) + verb with ending -ing
I am studying English. / She is reading a book. / They are watching a movie.
Present Perfect
Verb "to have" (have/has) + verb in third form
I have seen that movie. / She has never eaten sushi.
Present Perfect Continuous
Verb "to have" (have/has) + been + verb with ending -ing
They have been waiting. / She has been working.
Past Simple
Verb + -ed (or special forms for irregular verbs)
I walked. / He visited London last summer. / She played tennis yesterday.
Past Continuous
Verb "to be" (was, were) + verb with -ing ending
I was reading a book when the phone rang. / They were watching TV when I arrived.
Past Perfect
Verb "to have" (had) + verb in third form
I had already eaten when you called. / By that time, they had finished their work.
Past Perfect Continuous
Verb "to have" (had) + been + verb with -ing ending
They had been waiting for hours when the concert finally started. / She had been studying for hours before she took a break.
Future Simple
Modal verb "will" + verb in base form
I will call you tomorrow. / They will travel to Italy next summer.
Future Continuous
Modal verb "will be" + verb with ending -ing
At this time tomorrow, I will be flying to New York. / They will be playing tennis when you arrive. / She will be cooking dinner at 7 PM.
Future Perfect
Modal verb "will have" + verb in third form
By next year, I will have learned French. / They will have finished their project by the end of the week.
Future Perfect Continuous
Will + have + been + verb with ending -ing
She will have been studying. / They will have been waiting for three hours by the time the show begins.

Remember that this is just a general table, and there are many nuances and rules for using tenses in English. These examples can help you get started learning English tenses, but for a deeper understanding it is recommended to study the corresponding lessons and learning materials.

How to effectively master the basic tenses of the English language

  • Goal Setting. Determine your goals and language level to focus on the necessary tenses.
  • Associations and Stories. Relate tenses to specific events or actions in your life to make associations. Make up short stories using time structures to make it easier to remember rules and context of use.
  • Color Coding. Use different colors to highlight different tense forms. For example, Past Simple is blue and Present Continuous is green. This visual differentiation can help in quickly identifying tenses in a sentence.

  • Task Cards. Create cards with example sentences on one side and tense rules on the other side. Review these cards regularly to reinforce knowledge.

  • Using Tables. Create tables for each tense with example sentences and key words associated with each tense. These tables can be used to compare and easily trace the differences between tenses.

  • Practice in Speech. Try to use the new time forms in everyday speech. This will reinforce your knowledge and make it more accessible.

  • Abbreviated Memorization. Create short phrases or abbreviations to help you remember the key points of each tense.

  • Grouping Times. Group tenses by similar rules to make it easier to compare them and identify key differences.

  • Resources. Use textbooks, online courses, and conversation groups to learn the tenses.
  • Don’t be afraid of mistakes. Mistakes are a normal part of the learning process. Don’t be afraid to make and correct them.


So, knowing all 12 tenses in English can be helpful but is not mandatory for everyone. Focus on the basic tenses at the beginning and gradually expand your knowledge as needed. Remember that effectively mastering the tenses in English requires not only theoretical study but also practical practice. The eTalk online school offers quality lessons where you can systematize your knowledge and practice under the guidance of experienced teachers.

Sign up for a lesson today and become more confident in using tenses in English!