Archive | Verb Tenses

Past Continuous (Past Progressive)

Subject + was/ were + ing

Examples: I was walking They were running
You were killing He/ she/ it was crying*
We were eating




Past progressive is used for:

 1.  Explaining two or more actions that happened at the same time.

–  Sorry I couldn’t answer the phone. I was making dinner when you called.


2.  Remembering how someone typically acted.

–  Yeah, I remember little Timmy; that kid was always coming in late to class.



Present Perfect Continuous (Present Perfect Progressive)

Subject + have/ has + been + ing

Examples: I have been walking They have been running
You have been killing He/ she/ it has been waiting
We have been eating




Use present perfect continuous for things that have been occurring recently, especially when you want to mention how long it has been going on.

–  I have been studying (for many hours).

–  My tummy has been bothering me (since I skipped dinner to finish writing this grammar point).


Note: adding ‘for’ or ‘since’ to present perfect or present perfect progressive sentences can give them the same function. For example:

–  My wife has wanted to leave me for years  

is the same as

–  My wife has been wanting to leave me for years.


Notice the difference


Present perfect vs present perfect continuous

Present perfect just says something has happened in the past. “I have hit my brother” indicates that it happened, but when isn’t important and it probably wasn’t recently.

Present perfect continuous implies the action happened recently and repeatedly. “I have been hitting my brother” suggests you were doing it recently and over a period of time. Maybe you were attacking your poor brother when I called you on the phone.

Present Continuous (Present Progressive)

Subject + am/ is/ are + ing

Examples: I am walking They are running
You are killing He/ she/ it is waiting
We are eating




Use present continuous for:

1.  Actions happening now.

–  You are reading this.


2.  Activities you have been doing and will keep doing temporarily, even if not this moment.

–  I am looking for another job; writing about grammar isn’t doing it for me.

Simple Past

Subject + past tense (-ed except irregular verbs)

Examples: I walked They ran
You killed He/ she/ it cried*
We ate *Note: if the verb ends in -y, change the -y to an -i and add -ed.




Use simple past for:

1. Telling a story or talking about something that happened to you at a specific time (usually, the time is either said or already known)

– Last Saturday, my new passport finally came in the mail.

– I went to a good university (when I was younger), but my dreams died shortly after.


2. Descriptions of people, things, and situations in the past

– Sammy was the fattest little dog in my neighborhood, and his owner always smelled like garlic and cheese.

– It was a dark alley, but I needed to pee, so I pressed on.


3. Things that don’t happen anymore or facts that are no longer held true

– People often rented movies before the internet became popular.

– The Earth was thought to be flat for many centuries.


4. Habits that you’ve outgrown

– I used to bite my nails a lot, especially while I wrote exams.

– She often picked her nose in class.


5. Feelings

– It was great to go to the game last weekend. I really needed a break from work.

Note: When we use simple past for feelings, we often change to present tense to explain those feelings.

– It was nice to have lunch with you yesterday. I always enjoy spending time with good people.


6. Use ‘did’ plus the base verb to emphasize a point.

– He really did want to see you last night; He was just sick.

– I did like your mother’s cooking; please believe me!


Notice the difference


The main differences between simple past (I went) and present perfect (I have been) are:

1. Simple past allows you to indicate time.

2. Simple past can tell you you used to do something regularly, not just once at some point in the past.

– I played hockey when I was younger (it was something I used to do)

– I have played hockey (it has happened once or twice)

3. The action for simple past has ended and perhaps won’t be done again.

– I went to university (assume I graduated).

– I have been to university (maybe I didn’t graduate or didn’t think it was important)