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Tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, that indicates when the situation takes place. In languages which have tense (such as English), it is usually indicated by a verb or modal, often combined with categories such as aspect, mood, and voice.

Past tense

Past tense is a grammatical tense that places an action or situation in the past of the current moment (in an absolute tense system), or prior to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future (in a relative tense system)

Simple past is formed for regular verbs by adding -d or –ed to the root of a word. Examples: He walked to the store, or They danced all night. A negation is produced by adding did not and the verb in its infinitive form. Example: He did not walk to the store. Question sentences are started with did as in Did he walk to the store?

Past progressive is formed by using the adequate form of to be and the verb’s present participle: He was going to church. By inserting not before the main verb a negation is achieved. Example: He was not going to church. A question is formed by prefixing the adequate form of to be as in Was he going?

Present tense

Present tense is a grammatical tense that locates a situation or event in present time. In English, the present may be used to express action in the present, a current state of being, an occurrence in the future, or an action that started in the past and continues.

In the present simple, English uses the verb without an ending (I get the lunch ready at one o'clock, usually) except that in the third person singular, (after he, she, it, your friend etc.) the suffix -s or -es is appended to the verb (It gets busy on the weekends. Sarah catches the early train.)

Emphatic present: Used to express emphasis by using the auxiliary verb do and the uninflected main verb, (I do walk. He does walk).

Present progressive or present continuous: Used to describe events happening now, e.g. I am reading this wiki article, and I am thinking about editing it. This tense is formed by combining the present form of the verb "to be" with a present participle.

Present perfect: Used to show retrospective aspect (I have visited Paris several times describes a present state of being based on past action; I have listened to you for five minutes now).

Present perfect progressive: Used to describe events or actions that have begun at some point in the past and continue through the present, e.g. I have been reading this article for some time now.

Future tense

Future tense is a verb form that marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future (in an absolute tense system), or to happen subsequent to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future (in a relative tense system).

The most common auxiliary verbs used to express futurity are will and shall. Prescriptive grammarians distinguish between these, preferring to express the simple future as will in the second and third persons and shall in the first person, and preferring to express obligation or determination in the opposite cases. However, in modern English worldwide, shall and will are generally used interchangeably, with will being more common.

English also uses must, should, can, may and might in a similar way:

  • Must expresses the highest degree of obligation and commitment (I / you must go) and is temporally nearest to present time in its expression of futurity ("I must go now.")
  • Should (the subjunctive form of shall in this context) implies obligation or commitment to the action contemplated. (I should go.)
  • Can implies the ability to commit the action but does not presuppose obligation or firm commitment to the action. (I can go.)
  • May expresses a relatively low sense of commitment (I may go) and is the most permissive (You may go); it can also suggest conditionality (I may go [if I have time]).
  • Might expresses a very low sense of commitment or obligation (I / you might go if I / you feel like it).