Uses of English verb forms

For full details of how these inflected forms of verbs are produced, see English verbs.

Perfect forms can also be used to refer to states or habitual actions, even if not complete, if the focus is on the time period before the point of reference (We had lived there for five years). If such a circumstance is temporary, the perfect is often combined with progressive aspect (see the following section).

For details of the formation and usage of subjunctive forms in English, see English subjunctive.

Passive voice can be expressed in combination together with tenses, aspects and moods, by means of appropriate marking of the auxiliary (which for this purpose is not a stative verb, i.e. it has progressive forms available). For example:

The uses of these various passive forms are analogous to those of the corresponding tense-aspect-mood combinations in the active voice.

For further details of passive constructions, see English passive voice.

The simple past is used for a single event in the past, for past habitual action, or for a past state:

The simple past is often close in meaning to the present perfect. The simple past is used when the event is conceived as occurring at a particular time in the past, or during a period that ended in the past (i.e. it does not last up until the present time). This time frame may be explicitly stated, or implicit in the context (for example the past tense is often used when describing a sequence of past events).

(Interrupted actions in the past can also sometimes be denoted using the past perfect progressive, as described below.)

The past progressive can also be used to refer to past action that occurred over a range of time and is viewed as an ongoing situation:

That could also be expressed using the simple past, as I worked..., which implies that the action is viewed as a unitary event (although the effective meaning is not very different).

The time frame may also be understood implicitly from the previous or later context:

I was eating ... I had invited Jim to the meal but he was unable to attend. (i.e. I invited him before I started eating)
I had lost my way. (i.e. this happened prior to the time of the past events I am describing or am about to describe)

Uses of the past perfect progressive are analogous to those of the present perfect progressive, except that the point of reference is in the past. For example:

Among the witnesses was John Smith, who had been staying at the hotel since July 10.
I had been working on my novel when she entered the room to talk to me.

This implies that I stopped working when she came in (or had already stopped a short time before); the plain past progressive (I was working...) would not necessarily carry this implication.

The principal uses of the simple present are given below. More examples can be found in the article Simple present.

This contrasts with the present progressive, which is used for actions taking place at the present moment.

The present progressive can be used to refer to a planned future event:

It also appears with future reference in many condition and time clauses and other dependent clauses (see § Dependent clauses below):

It can also refer to something taking place not necessarily at the time of speaking, but at the time currently under consideration, in the case of a story or narrative being told in the present tense (as mentioned above under present simple):

For the possibility of a present subjunctive progressive, see English subjunctive.

The choice of present perfect or past tense depends on the frame of reference (period or point in time) in which the event is conceived as occurring. If the frame of reference extends to the present time, the present perfect is used. For example:

They have never traveled abroad. (if they are still alive and considered capable of traveling)
The weather has gotten cloudier. (implies that it is now more cloudy than previously)

The present perfect may refer to a habitual circumstance, or a circumstance being part of a theoretical or story narrative being given in the present tense (provided the circumstance is of an event's having taken place previously):

This construction is used for ongoing action in the past that continues right up to the present or has recently finished:

This construction can be used to indicate what the speaker views as facts about the future, including confident predictions:

It may be used to describe future circumstances that are subject to some condition (see also § Conditional sentences):

Compare I'm going to use..., which implies that the intention to do so has existed for some time.

I will pass this exam. (often expresses determination in addition to futurity)
He hasn't eaten all day; he will be hungry now. (confident speculation about the present)
He will be sitting in his study at this time. (confident speculation about the present)
He will have had his tea by now. (confident speculation about the present)
You will have completed this task by the time I return, is that understood? (giving instruction)

Uses of the future perfect progressive are analogous to those of the present perfect progressive, except that the point of reference is in the future. For example:

The same construction may occur when the auxiliary (usually will) has one of its other meanings, particularly expressing a confident assumption about the present:

If the opportunity were here, I could do the job. (= ... I would be able to do ... )
If the opportunity were here, I might do the job. (= ... maybe I would do ...)
We moved into the cottage in 1958. We would live there for the next forty years.
I would have set an extra place (but I didn't because someone said you weren't coming). (implicit condition)
I would have been sitting on that seat if I hadn't been late for the party.

Similar considerations and alternative forms and meanings apply as noted in the above sections on other conditional constructions.

My father has gone to Japan. (he is in Japan, or on his way there, now)
My father has gone to Japan five times. (he may or may not be there now)
My father has been to Japan. (he has visited Japan at some time in his life)
By the time I returned, John had gone to the shops three times. (he may or may not still be there)
When I returned, John had been to the shops. (the shopping was done, John was likely back home)
When I returned, John had been at the shops for three hours. (he was still there)
Sue has been to the beach. (as above; Sue went to the beach at some time before now)

As usual, this tense would be used if a specific past time frame is stated ("in 1995", "last week") or is implied by the context (e.g. the event is part of a past narrative, or my father is no longer alive or capable of traveling). Use of this form does not in itself determine whether or not the subject is still there.

A "mixed conditional" mixes the second and third patterns (for a past circumstance conditional on a not specifically past circumstance, or vice versa):

The "zero conditional" is a pattern independent of tense, simply expressing the dependence of the truth of one proposition on the truth of another:

Particular rules apply to the tenses and verb forms used after the verb wish and certain other expressions with similar meaning.

Do you wish you were playing in this match? (past progressive for present ongoing action)
I wish I had been in the room then. (past perfect for counterfactual past state)
I wish they had locked the door. (past perfect for counterfactual past action)

The same forms are generally used independently of the tense or form of the verb wish:

I wished you were there. (past tense for desired state at the time of wishing)

In this situation the following tense and aspect changes occur relative to the original words:

"They finished all the wine earlier." → He thought they had finished all the wine earlier.
"The match will end in a draw." → He predicted that the match would end in a draw.

Verb forms not covered by any of the above rules (verbs already in the past perfect, or formed with would or other modals not having a preterite equivalent) do not change. Application of the above rules is not compulsory; sometimes the original verb tense is retained, particularly when the statement (with the original tense) remains equally valid at the moment of reporting:

"The earth orbits the sun." → Copernicus stated that the earth orbits the sun.

The past tense can be used for hypothetical situations in some noun clauses too:

The main uses of to-infinitives, or infinitive phrases introduced by them, are as follows:

For them to be with us in this time of crisis is evidence of their friendship.
a subject about which to talk loudly (alternative to the above, somewhat more formal)
Looking out of the window, Mary saw a car go by. (it is understood to be Mary who was looking out of the window)
The meeting was adjourned, Sue and I objecting that there were still matters to discuss.
Instead of the writing on the object being changed, it should have disappeared.

Examples of nonfinite constructions marked for the various aspects are given below.

She might be revising. (progressive; refers to an ongoing action at this moment)
He must have been working hard. (perfect progressive; i.e. I assume he has been working hard)
He claims to have been working here for ten weeks. (perfect progressive)
Having been standing for several hours, they were beginning to feel tired. (perfect progressive)
We are not proud of having been drinking all night. (perfect progressive)