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The Function of Verb Tenses

The Simple Present Tense

The simple present is used to describe an action, an event, or condition that is occurring in the present, at the moment of speaking or writing. The simple present is used when the precise beginning or ending of a present action, event, or condition is unknown or is unimportant to the meaning of the sentence.

The simple present is used to express general truths such as scientific fact, as in the following sentences:
  • Rectangles have four sides. 
  • Canada Day takes place on July 1, the anniversary of the signing of the British North America Act. 
  • The moon circles the earth once every 28 days. 
  • Calcium is important to the formation of strong bones. 
  • Menarche and menopause mark the beginning and the ending of a woman's reproductive history. 

The simple present is used to indicate a habitual action, event, or condition, as in the following sentences:
  • Leonard goes to The Jumping Horse Tavern every Thursday evening. 
  • My grandmother sends me new mittens each spring. 
  • In fairy tales, things happen in threes. 
  • We never finish jigsaw puzzles because the cat always eats some of the pieces. 

The Simple Past Tense

The simple past is used to describe an action, an event, or condition that occurred in the past, sometime before the moment of speaking or writing.

Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the simple past tense and each sentence describes an action taking place at some point in past.
  • A flea jumped from the dog to the cat. 
  • Phoebe gripped the hammer tightly and nailed the boards together. 
  • The gem-stones sparkled in a velvet lined display case. 
  • Artemisia Gentilsechi probably died in 1652. 
  • The storyteller began every story by saying "A long time ago when the earth was green." 

The Simple Future Tense

The simple future is used to refer to actions that will take place after the act of speaking or writing. Each of the highlighted verbs in the following sentences is in the simple future tense.
  • They will meet us at the newest café in the market. 
  • Will you walk the dog tonight? 
  • At the feast, we will eat heartily. 
  • Bobbie will call you tomorrow with details about the agenda. 
  • The Smiths say that they will not move their chicken coop. 

Practice Test - Give it a try!

1. When I arrived, Anthony __________ with his Nintendo.
A. was playing
B. has been playing
C. had been played

2. The train wasn't there. It __________ already.
A. had been left
B. had left
C. has left

3. Miguel is exhausted. He __________.
A. has been running
B. had been running
C. has running

4. How long __________ each other when they got married?
A. have they known
B. had they known
C. would they know

5. I didn't have much to eat at lunch because __________ a lot at breakfast.
A. I would have eaten
B. I was eating
C. I'd eaten

6. I __________ long when the alarm went off.
A. had been sleeping
B. hadn't been sleeping
C. will have been sleeping

7. She __________ to speak English before she arrived in America.
A. had learned already
B. will have already learned
C. had already learned

8. Ram __________ good French because he had been studying for several years.
A. spoke
B. had spoken
C. has spoken

9. Shakespeare would be famous even if he __________ "To be or not to be..."
A. had not written
B. had not been writing
C. has not written

10. I __________ from him for ten years when I received his last letter.
A. didn't hear
B. hadn't been hearing
C. hadn't heard

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