Tenses can be confusing for students just learning a language, and English tenses can be especially tricky as the language has countless irregular verbs.
The word “tense” means “time:” time shown by the verb. Whether a writer needs to describe something happening today, something happening tomorrow, or something that has already happened, the changing of a word’s tense provides writers with every “time” situation that they need
Today, I want to talk about five different uses of the English present tense.
To indicate a regular occurrence, habitual action
The first use of the present tense is to indicate actions that are factual or habitual. These are things that occur in the present but are not necessarily happening right now. This form is commonly called the “simple present tense.”
Simple present examples,
– It rains a lot in Seattle.
– I walk to work every day.
– I sing in the rain.
As you can see, none of these things are happening right now, but they are still in the present tense.
To indicate a continuing action, something happening now
Another use of the presence tense is to indicate an action that is happening right now. This tense is called the “present progressive tense.”
Present progressive examples,
– It is raining in Seattle.
– I am walking to work.
– I am singing in the rain.
The difference between simple present and present progressive can be seen in the above examples. The first is a timeless statement of fact, “It rains a lot in Seattle.” The second is a statement about the weather right now.
To indicate a future event
As strange as it may sound, the present tense can actually be used to indicate future and past events.
– My train arrives tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.
– My train is arriving tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.
The above examples are in simple present and present progressive, respectively, but they are both referring to a future event. They refer to a train that hasn’t yet come to the station.
To indicate a past event
As I mentioned above, the present tense can actually be used to suggest a past event.
– Joe tells me that you fixed the car.
– Joe says that you weren’t at the party.
Both tells and says are in the present tense but indicate a past event.
To indicate a fictional present
The present tense can also be used to suggest a sort of fictional present, also called the historical present. This is commonly used in essays or short stories to narrate past events to the reader. Here is an example of the historical present as used in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield.
If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better. The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone’s dress, and our black clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room, and comes to speak to me.
‘And how is Master David?’ he says, kindly.
I cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in his. (Chapter IX)
As you see Dickens shift from the past tense to the historical present, the prose becomes more engaging, which is why the historical present is so popular.
This list, of course, is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good start to get acquitted with one of our favorite tenses.
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