Discover the Power of Writing Tenses: A 10-Step Guide

Verb Tenses are an important part of English grammar

Writing TensesFor every aspiring wordsmith, understanding the correct usage of “writing tenses” is a golden key that unlocks the door to a world of expressive storytelling. Mastering tenses, whether it’s in dialogue or narrative, is not only essential but also transformative for your writing craft. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into a meticulous exploration of the 12 primary tenses in English.

Each accompanied by practical examples, this linguistic tour-de-force is sure to become an indispensable resource for writers of all skill levels. By delving into this, we will unravel the magical potential that the accurate usage of tenses holds – right from crafting gripping narratives to narrating simple, everyday anecdotes. Buckle up for an enlightening linguistic adventure that promises to elevate your writing prowess.

How many verb tenses are there in English? - Anna Ananichuk

Wondering how many verb tenses there are in English? This video describes how this works.

Why Tense Is Important

Understanding tenses is paramount in establishing the temporal framework of your narrative. It dictates whether the action takes place in the past, present, or future, thereby forming the backbone of your storytelling. Proper use of tenses allows for clear communication and ensures that your audience can follow the timeline of events accurately.

Moreover, it adds depth, allows for sophisticated story structures like flashbacks and foreshadowing, and helps in creating mood and suspense.

The Tenses Explained

Mastering English tenses is a foundational step towards achieving fluency and expressiveness in writing. From recounting a simple event to weaving an intricate narrative, tenses offer us the tools to frame our stories within the bounds of time. In this section, we will delve deeper into the mechanics of the 12 primary English tenses. Each one will be meticulously explained, to ensure you’re fully equipped to use them correctly and effectively in your writing.

Let’s embark on this journey, starting from the “simple present” tense, progressing through the realms of past, present, and future, and culminating with the more nuanced perfect and progressive tenses. Along the way, we’ll also explore the different conditionals and the subjunctive mood, enhancing our understanding of hypothetical situations and emotional states.

By the end of this expedition, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and the confidence to harness the full power of English tenses in your writing. So, let’s get started!

Simple Present Tense

The simple present tense, a foundational pillar in English writing, narrates actions that are habitual or generally true. Examples of its application include:

  • “She writes every day.”
  • “They visit the library weekly.”
  • “It rains a lot in Seattle.”
  • “He doesn’t like broccoli.”
  • “We live in a digital age.”

Understanding its usage can help writers accurately convey information, thus establishing a strong basis for their work.

Present Progressive Tense

The present progressive tense—perfect for illustrating an ongoing activity—imbues your writing with a sense of immediacy and continuity. Examples of this dynamic tense include:

  • “She is writing right now.”
  • “We are studying for the finals.”
  • “They are building a new mall downtown.”
  • “He is cooking dinner.”
  • “I am reading a fascinating book.”

By deploying this tense correctly, writers can effectively bring their narratives to life.

Simple Past Tense

The simple past tense is a crucial element in any narrative, lending depth and perspective to your stories. This tense allows us to recount events that have already taken place. Here are some instances of simple past tense:

  • “She wrote last night.”
  • “They vacationed in France last summer.”
  • “He discovered a hidden treasure.”
  • “We attended a magnificent concert.”
  • “I painted a picture.”

Learning to use this tense effectively can bring the past alive in your readers’ minds.

Past Progressive Tense

The past progressive tense, capable of painting a vivid picture of the past, describes an ongoing action that was interrupted by another event. Examples of the past progressive tense include:

  • “She was writing when he called.”
  • “They were eating dinner when the power went out.”
  • “We were studying when she arrived.”
  • “He was swimming when it started to rain.”
  • “I was reading when the phone rang.”

With this tense, you can create suspense and draw your readers into the action.

Simple Future Tense

The simple future tense is an essential tool for projecting actions that are yet to happen, allowing your narrative to leap forward in time. This creates anticipation and intrigue for your readers. Here are some instances of the simple future tense:

  • “She will write tomorrow.”
  • “We will attend the conference next week.”
  • “They will complete the project by Friday.”
  • “He will visit his grandparents during the holidays.”
  • “I will start a new book soon.”

Effective use of this tense can give your narrative a sense of direction and purpose.

Future Progressive Tense

The future progressive tense expresses ongoing or continuous actions that will occur in the future. It adds depth to your writing by providing a sense of continuity in future events. Here are some examples:

  • “She will be writing when you arrive.”
  • “We will be flying to Paris this time tomorrow.”
  • “They will be dancing at the party tonight.”
  • “He will be working all day.”
  • “I will be reading a new novel on my commute.”

This tense can help you paint vivid and detailed future scenarios in your narrative.

Present Perfect Tense

Present perfect tense describes actions that happened at an unspecified time before now or actions that started in the past and continue to the present. It provides a bridge between the past and the present. Here are some examples:

  • “She has written Chapter 1.”
  • “I have seen that movie seven times.”
  • “They have gone to the annual concert every year since 2015.”
  • “He has broken his leg.”
  • “We have been to Thailand.”

Appropriately using this tense provides a sense of completion of an action relative to the present.

Present Perfect Progressive Tense

Present perfect progressive tense is used for actions that began in the past and continue to the present or actions that have recently stopped but still have an effect on the present. Here are some examples:

  • “She has been writing for 2 hours.”
  • “I have been studying all night for the test.”
  • “They have been travelling since last November.”
  • “He has been feeling a little depressed these days.”
  • “We have been waiting here for over half an hour.”

Implementing this tense can evoke the continuity of an action with relevance to the present time.

Past Perfect Tense

The past perfect tense describes an action that was completed before another action took place in the past. It’s a great tool for recounting events in a non-linear narrative. Here are some examples:

  • “She had written Chapter 3 before she started Chapter 4.”
  • “I had studied French before I moved to France.”
  • “They had eaten dinner before they went to the movies.”
  • “He had worked there for several years before he was promoted.”
  • “We had walked about five miles before we realized we were lost.”

Using this tense can add complexity and richness to your writing by linking past actions.

Past Perfect Progressive Tense

The past perfect progressive tense is used to indicate a continuing action that was completed at some point in the past. It adds a sense of duration to past events. Here are some examples:

  • “She had been writing for 2 hours before her friends arrived.”
  • “I had been studying for several hours before I took a break.”
  • “They had been travelling for a week before they reached their destination.”
  • “He had been waiting for 30 minutes before the bus arrived.”
  • “We had been living in New York for ten years before we moved to California.”

This tense can add depth and specificity to your descriptions of past actions.

Variants on Tenses: A Universe of 24

English is an intricate language, offering more than just the 12 primary tenses to express ourselves. By adding conditional sentences and the subjunctive mood to our toolbox, we expand our tense repertoire to an impressive total of 24 variants. Let’s delve into these additional tenses and explore the richness they add to our linguistic palette.

The four conditionals – zero, first, second, and third – introduce a spectrum of hypothetical and potential situations. They help us express general truths, possible future actions, unlikely or unreal present situations, and unreal past situations, respectively. For example, “If I had worked harder, I would have passed the exam” uses the third conditional to express a regret about the past.

The subjunctive mood, although less frequently used in modern English, provides another layer of expressivity. Used after certain verbs and adjectives, or to express wishes, hypothetical situations, or advice, the subjunctive retains the base form of the verb, without regard for the subject of the sentence. For instance, “It’s essential that she be informed of the changes” uses the subjunctive mood to express a necessity.

Lastly, we mustn’t forget the imperative mood, which, although not a tense, is used to issue commands or make requests. It is this ability of English to offer such a varied array of tenses and moods that makes it an exceptionally expressive language. By mastering these 24 variants, you can ensure your writing is dynamic, nuanced, and precise, no matter the situation you wish to portray.

Here are some examples of each one.

Zero Conditional (general truths/general habits)

  • If you heat ice, it melts.

First Conditional (possible or likely things in the future)

  • If it rains, we will stay at home.

Second Conditional (impossible things in the present/unlikely in the future)

  • If I had a million dollars, I would buy a house.

Third Conditional (things that did not happen in the past and their imaginary results)

  • If I had studied harder, I would have passed the exam.

Subjunctive (used in that-clauses that are the object of certain verbs or follow certain adjectives)

  • The doctor recommended that she rest for a few days.
  • It’s crucial that we be there on time.

Imperative (used to issue commands or make requests)

  • Open the door.
  • Please finish your homework before dinner.

Unlocking the Potential of English Tenses

With the exploration of our 24 variants of tenses and moods, we’ve only just scratched the surface of the full potential of the English language. These tools aren’t just grammatical structures; they’re the paintbrushes with which we paint vivid narratives, evoke deep emotions, and express complex thoughts. And like any great artist, a writer should know and understand their tools intimately.

Imagine trying to write a thriller novel without knowing how to use the past perfect progressive tense. How would you express the tension and anticipation of an action that had been ongoing up until another action occurred? Or consider writing a speech without the subjunctive mood. How would you express hypothetical situations or emphasize the importance of a certain course of action?

Moreover, learning to switch effortlessly between tenses allows us to move through time within our narratives, create compelling dialogue, and build suspense or anticipation. From describing a character’s backstory in the past perfect to envisioning future consequences in the future perfect progressive, tenses are our time-travel devices in writing.

In the end, every tense has its place and function in our writing arsenal. Understanding and mastering each one is not just about proper grammar; it’s about enriching our storytelling, enhancing our descriptive power, and ultimately connecting more deeply with our readers.

Because the more accurately and vividly we can depict time, the more captivating our stories will be. So, keep practicing, keep writing, and keep exploring the vast landscape of English tenses.

Humorous Science Fiction Time Travel Tenses

Time travel is a fascinating concept that, when brought into the realm of literature, can twist our understanding of tenses into entertaining pretzels of complexity. From H.G. Wells to Doctor Who, time-travel narratives have charmed us, puzzled us, and made us consider English grammar in entirely new ways.

Imagine, for instance, a tense for actions in the past that will have occurred in the future relative to the present: a “future past perfect” tense. In this fantastical tense, you could say, “She will have had written a bestselling novel before she was abducted by aliens.” This sentence gives the reader a fun mental exercise as they decipher the labyrinth of timelines.

Now, let’s venture further into the rabbit hole of time travel tenses. What if we considered a “past future progressive” tense? An example might be, “He was going to be eating his breakfast when the time portal appeared.” This tense humorously confuses our sense of when the action is taking place – is it the past, the future, or some strange fusion of the two?

If we stretch this to an even more humorous extreme, we could have a “future past future perfect” tense. In this peculiar tense, one could say, “She will have had been going to have written a novel before she was abducted by aliens.” While such tenses may twist our brains and make English teachers cringe, they certainly add a layer of amusement and intrigue to our narratives.

While these humorous, tongue-twisting tenses are not part of English grammar, they do serve to highlight the complexity – and the importance – of tense in telling a compelling story. Whether you’re an author crafting a complex time-travel narrative or a student trying to master English grammar, tenses are your golden ticket to expressivity, clarity, and precision. Even when they’re as hilariously complex as our fictional time travel tenses!


Our journey through the realm of “writing tenses” brings us to the understanding that tenses are not merely grammatical structures, but powerful storytelling tools. They provide the temporal framework within which our narratives unfold, lending depth, nuance, and vibrancy to our writing.

By mastering these tenses, from the simple to the perfect progressive, and from the conditionals to the subjunctive mood, we unlock the full expressive potential of the English language. As writers, this mastery allows us to paint more vivid pictures, tell more compelling stories, and ultimately connect more profoundly with our readers.

So here’s to the art and craft of writing, and the wonderful tools of tenses that make it all possible!

Writing Tenses faq

What are the 12 tenses in grammar?

The 12 primary tenses in English grammar are: Simple Present, Present Progressive, Simple Past, Past Progressive, Simple Future, Future Progressive, Present Perfect, Present Perfect Progressive, Past Perfect, Past Perfect Progressive, Future Perfect, and Future Perfect Progressive. Each of these tenses allows us to express actions or states occurring in different time frames—past, present, and future.

What are the 26 tenses?

The 26 tenses often refer to the 12 primary tenses in English along with variants of conditionals and the subjunctive mood. The conditionals include Zero, First, Second, and Third conditional, while the subjunctive mood is used in specific situations following certain verbs and adjectives. These, combined with the 12 primary tenses, help create a rich and versatile landscape for expressing time and mood in English.

What is the easiest tense to write in?

The easiest tense to write in is often considered to be the simple present tense. This is because it's the most straightforward, dealing with habits, facts, and general truths. However, the ease of writing in a specific tense can be subjective and depends on the writer's comfort and familiarity with English grammar.

Are there 12 types of tenses?

Yes, there are 12 primary tenses in English grammar. These are further divided into three main categories - past, present, and future - and four aspects - simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. This framework allows for a variety of expressions in different time frames, making English a rich and versatile language.

Richard Lowe
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Gervin Khan

This is an amazing article! I learned about the importance of understanding tenses and how to properly use them. Yes, we already learned it from school but through this, I can recall everything that I studied 2 decades ago. Thank you!

Sonia Seivwright

This is brilliant. If you were my English teacher in school, I would have passed everything with flying colours.

Luna S

Fantastic advice & tips! I like how you broke everything down with examples, I enjoyed reading this. Thank you.


I can recall having a great English teacher and we had a lot of fun with verbs and their tenses.


I’m bookmarking this for later. Tenses always seem so simple to me, but then I get my writing proofed, and I’m all over the place. LOL


This is such a fantastic resource, like so many of your other posts. I’ve always had a terrible time with tenses when I write.

Your post on writing tenses is a valuable resource for writers seeking to improve their understanding of grammatical tenses in writing. The explanations and examples you provide for various tenses and their usage are clear and informative. Thanks for sharing this educational piece – it’s a helpful guide for writers looking to enhance their writing skills and create more precise and engaging content. Keep up the great work! 📝🌟