Friday, July 4, 2008

English Time Tenses

Last night while I was teaching at Seneca College, one of my students did a presentation on how she met her husband. It was a very interesting story, but at times it was hard to follow because of problems with her English. One of the most common mistakes she made was using present tense to describe something that happened 10 years ago. For example, she said, "We meet or call each other everyday before we were married."

At the end of the class I suggested she attend the workshop on time tenses the Canadian Academic Success School is holding this Sunday evening. Here's a sample of what we'll be doing:


Simple Past
Completed Action: We visted the museum yesterday.
2. Completed Condition: The weather was rainy last week.

Past Progressive
1. Past Action that took place over a period of time:
They were climbing for twenty-seven days.
2. Past Action interrupted by another: I was sleeping when the telephone rang.
3. Past Background Action: We were eating dinner when she told me.

1. Plans:
I'm going to see a movie tomorrow.
2. Predictions: It’s going to rain. / It will rain.
3. Promises/Assurances: We’ll be fine.
4. Immediate Future: I’ll answer the phone.
Note: Modals are also used to express future situations: I can/may/should/must leave soon.

Future Progressive
1. Future Action over a period of time:
I’ll be working on the report tomorrow night.
2. Future Action at a specific time: We’ll be camping on August 11.

Present Perfect
1. From the Past to the Present:
He has lived here for many years.
2. Experiences: Have you ever been to Tokyo before?
3. To describe a Past Action leading to a Present State: I’ve finished all my homework.

Present Perfect Progressive
1. To express duration of an action that began in the Past, has continued into the Present, and may continue into the Future:
David has been working for two hours, and he hasn't finished yet.

Past Perfect
1. A Past Action or Condition completed before another Past Time:
When I arrived home, he had already called.

Past Perfect Progressive
1. To express a Past Action
which continued until a specified time in the Past: By the time she arrived, I had been waiting for over 20 minutes.

Future Perfect
1. Action that will be completed by or before a specified time in the future:
By next month we will have finished this job.

Future Perfect Progressive
1. To express duration of an action until a specified time in the Future:
By the time I retire, I will have been working for over 50 years.

Match the Main Clauses with the Times listed below:

1. I was sleeping
2. I’ll be working on the report
3. We’ll have solved the problem
4. I’m working for a bank
5. I’ve been studying English
6. I’d been saving money for years
7. I went to Montreal
8. I’ll have been working for nearly 50 years
9. I will return your book
10.I’ve been to Niagara Falls twice
11.I’m going to run my own business
12.Everyone had already left
13.I go to work

A. everyday
B. at the moment
C. last weekend
D. when he called
E. one day
F. tomorrow
G. tonight
H. so far
I. since I came to Canada
J. by the time he finished
K. when I came to Canada
L. by the time he notices
M. when I retire

Of course, when we do this exercise in the workshop, I'll have each clause and each time printed on a separate slip of paper. These slips will be distributed among the participants, who will have to find the matching Clause/Time. Then, when we discuss each tense, the matched sentences will become another example for discussion.

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