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General Tenses

  In this video, I talk about the main ways that we have in English of talking about time: past, present, future, simple, continuous, and perfect (or complex).

William Christison
William Christison
Nov. 23: Disponible para clases particulares en Madrid.
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Things that are always or sometimes true.

Verb “To Be”
characteristics, states – “It’s hot.” “I’m tall.” She’s a student.”
Present Simple
general truths and characteristics – “I have brown hair.”
states – “I want a new car.” “I like the Beatles.”
habits – “I go to work every day.”
Differences between verb “to be” and present simple – Verb “to be” is not for “habits,” and structure is different. Present simple uses auxiliary “do.” – “Do you like the Beatles?” “I don’t have red hair.”

Things that occurred in the past, are not connected to the present and are finished.

Past Simple – “I walked in the park.” “I swam in the lake.”
Differences between present simple and past simple: Both use the same basic structure, but different auxiliary “did” and different form of the verb: regular vs. irregular verbs. Compare “Do you like the Beatles?” with “Did you like the Beatles?” Also, compare “I swim . . . ” with “I swam . . . ”

Things that are happening at or around a particular moment in time, or that indicate that something is temporary (also changing situations)

Present Continuous
“I’m studying for an exam.” “It’s getting late.” “I’m currently living in a caravan.”
Past Continuous (sometimes with interruptions)
“I was studying for an exam, when the phone rang.”
Future Continuous
“I will be studying for an exam tomorrow at 19:00.”
Differences between Present Continuous and Present Simple: Apart from the structural differences – present continuous has verb “to be” as auxiliary and present participle or a main verb plus –ing, (for example: “I am studying.”) the present continuous sounds more temporary while the present simple sounds more permanent. Compare “I live in a caravan” to “I’m living in a caravan.”

Things that will happen in the future

Apart from Future Continuous . . .
Present Continuous (agenda / diary)
“I’m having lunch tomorrow with the boss.”
Going to (Intentions)
“I’m going to take a month’s vacation next summer.”
Future Simple with Will (Spontaneous decisions)
“I’ll probably stay in a rural house near here.”
Present Simple (timetables)
“Flight 256 departs Barajas at 14:00.”
Differences: If you use the present continuous, it sometimes sounds like you have much less control over a decision because it’s in writing on the agenda. Compare: Mario says: “Pablo, could we have lunch together tomorrow and talk about this problem?” Pablo says: “I can’t. I’m having lunch tomorrow with the boss.” If Pablo says “Sorry, I’ll have lunch with Mary,” you could think he’s a little disrespectful. On the other hand, if you say: “I’m going to take a month’s vacation next summer” it sounds less firm than “I’m taking a month’s vacation next summer.” The distinctions between these futures are usually subtle and personal in nature, so when students use these tenses in a conversation, I’ll often ask them questions to clarify exactly which tense they meant to use.

Going to (Predictions based on evidence)
“It looks like it’s going to rain.”
Future Simple (Predictions based on little evidence)
“I think the cost of living will probably rise in the immediate future.”

Things that are connected by two different times

Present Perfect – connects present and past
experiences – “I’ve been to New York.”
something that started in the past and continues in the present – “I’ve lived in Madrid for 13 years.”
something that happened in the past that has consequences in the present. – “I’ve broken my leg.”
Past Perfect – connects past with another previous past. – “I last visited New York in 1991, but I had visited it several times before that.”
Future Perfect – connects future with another time, present, past or future. – “On the 30th of November, I will have been here for 6 months.” (We’re not sure when this period of time starts.)
Differences: The main difference is the structure using the auxiliary “have,” “had,” or “will have” with the past participle form of regular or irregular verbs. Another important difference is that you often need two simple sentences to communicate the same idea as a present, past or future perfect sentence. For example, “I’ve been to New York” – “I went to New York. Now, I have experience.” “I’ve lived in Madrid for 13 years” – “I came to Madrid 13 years ago. And I still live here today.” “I’ve broken my leg” – “I broke my leg. I can’t walk.” The problem here is that it’s easier for students to say the two simple sentences rather than the one complex sentence, so it can be a challenge to move them on to the more complex sentences if they’re slow.
These perfect tenses are also used with a focus on the activity in progress leading up to a particular moment in time, or on the temporary nature of something leading up to a particular moment in time.
Present Perfect Continuous:
“I’ve been living in Spain for 13 years.”
“I’ve been rushing around all morning so I’m exhausted now.”
Differences: Compare “I’ve been living in Spain for 13 years,” which sounds more temporary, with “I have lived in Spain for 13 years,” which sounds more permanent. Or try to say “I’ve rushed around all morning,” which doesn’t express the activity in “rushing” well enough.

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