An image of the flag of El Paso, TX. It is a star surrounded by the words City of El Paso, Texas.

Source: Flag United States Texas El Paso, erjkprunczyk, Flickr

A photograph of an older building in downtown El Paso, TX.

Source: Days Gone By, KCjoel, Flickr

El Paso, Texas, is in the Mountain Time Zone, while the rest of the state is in the Central Time Zone. Unless you’re straddling an imaginary line east of El Paso, you can’t be in two Texas time zones at once. Tenses are the time zones of writing.

Every English sentence has a verb that describes an action, state, or occurrence. These can happen in one of the three time zones in which we all exist—past, present, or future. In the past, something happened, in the present something happens, and in the future, something will happen. Consider the sentences below.


Last week on The Voice, the contestant performed a song from Lady Gaga, this week she performs a Beyoncé song, and next week she will perform a Katy Perry song.


You’re already experienced using these three simple tenses. You know that the simple past adds -ed to regular verbs, the present form adds an -s (when the third-person singular is being used), and the future uses will or shall.

However, in high school, you are expected to deliver more nuanced writing that makes subtle distinctions in time. You may need to use a perfect tense. The word perfect literally means “made complete” or “completely done.” The present perfect shows an already completed action. The past and future perfect show when something happened or will happen in relation to when something else happened or will happen.

Let’s look a little more closely at the more complex tenses in English, including the perfect. The following chart shows how the terms perfect and progressive combine to create the traditional names for our tenses. In the chart we use the word eat as our example.






eat, eats (simple present)

ate (simple past)

will eat (simple future)


am (is, are) eating (present progressive)

was (were) eating (past progressive)

will be eating (future progressive)


has (have) eaten (present perfect)

had eaten (past perfect)

will have eaten (future perfect)

Perfect Progressive

has (have) been eating (present perfect progressive)

had been eating (past perfect progressive)

will have been eating
(future perfect progressive)


Present Perfect

The present perfect consists of a past participle (usually -ed) with has or have. It designates action that began in the past but continues into the present.

  1. Beyoncé sang for ten years. (simple past)
  2. Beyoncé has sung for ten years. (present perfect)

The first sentence implies that Beyoncé isn’t singing anymore. The second, with the present perfect, implies that she is still singing.

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense designates action in the past just as the simple past does, but the action of the past perfect is action completed in the past before another action.

  1. John recorded his songs and later sold them. (past)
  2. John sold the songs that he had recorded. (past perfect)

The songs were recorded before they were sold.

  1. Renee finished the performance when George arrived. (simple past)
  2. Renee had finished the performance when George arrived. (past perfect)

Future Perfect

The future perfect tense designates action that will have been completed at a specified time in the future.

  1. Saturday I will finish my rehearsal. (simple future)
  2. By Saturday noon, I will have finished my rehearsal. (future perfect)

Now you will learn the progressive tenses, which concern ongoing action in the past, present, and future.

Present Progressive

The present progressive tense describes an ongoing action that is happening at the same time the statement is written or spoken. This tense is formed by using the word am, is, or are with the verb form ending in -ing.

The performer is singing the National Anthem.

Past Progressive

The past progressive tense describes a past action that was happening when another action occurred. This tense is formed by using the word was or were with the verb form ending in -ing.

The performer was singing the National Anthem when the applause started.

Future Progressive

The future progressive tense describes an ongoing or continuous action that will take place in the future. This tense is formed by using will be or shall be with the verb form ending in -ing.

Norah Jones will be performing daily during the festival next week.

Now that you understand present and progressive tenses, let’s do something a little more complicated and add the two together. We are going to create the perfect progressive tenses!

Present Perfect Progressive

This tense indicates a continuous action that has been finished at some point in the past or that was initiated in the past and continues to happen. The action is usually of limited duration and has some current relevance. For example, “She has been singing, and her heart is still beating fast.” The present perfect progressive is frequently used to describe an event of the recent past; it is often accompanied by the word just as in this usage: “It has just been raining.”

The present perfect progressive tense is formed with the modal word have or has (for third-person singular subjects) plus the word been plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending): “I have been working in the garden all morning.” “George has been painting that house for as long as I can remember.”

Past Perfect Progressive

Use the past perfect progressive tense to indicate a continuous action that was completed at some point in the past. This tense is formed with the modal word had plus the word been plus the present participle of the verb (with an -ing ending): “I had been rehearsing all morning.” “George had been rehearsing for weeks, and he finally felt prepared.”

Future Perfect Progressive

Use the future perfect progressive when you want to indicate a continuous action that will be completed at some point in the future. This tense is formed with the modal word will plus the modal word have plus the word been plus the present participle form of the verb (with an -ing ending). Here is an example: “Next Thursday, I will have been working on this project for three years.”

To get a better feel for the differences among the perfect and progressive tenses, answer a few questions. Read each sentence and choose the correct answer. Select the tense of the verb phrase that appears in bold text.

Interactive Icon

1. The first contestant has practiced piano since he was a boy of four.

Future perfect progressive
Try again.
Present perfect
Present perfect progressive
Try again.

2. When the police arrived at the hideout, the criminal regretted that he had stolen the painting.

Past perfect
Future perfect progressive
Try again.
Future perfect
Try again.

3. If the referee waits one more year to retire, he will have been calling games for 35 years.

Past perfect progressive
Try again.
Future perfect
Try again.
Future perfect progressive

4. By the time the season is over, our team will have played 35 games.

Future perfect progressive
Try again.
Future perfect
Past perfect
Try again.

5. The judges were consulting with one another while the musicians talked among themselves.

Past progressive
Future perfect
Try again.
Past perfect progressive
Try again.

Image of girl looking through magnifying glass.

Source: Don't Panic poster, Jim Linwood, Flickr

You will be relieved to know that it is not necessary to memorize the names of the more than thirty tenses like the present perfect progressive. What is important to know is that our language accommodates subtle differences in time and that you can incorporate these differences when you edit.


Principal Parts of Some Common Irregular Verbs

To take advantage of the more complex verb forms, you need to know the principal parts of verbs. Regular verbs add -ed for the past and past participle; irregular verbs change form entirely. Be is an irregular verb, and it changes to was, were, or been to relate to the past, depending on how you want to use it. Sometimes, as language evolves, an irregular word such as holp, once the past tense of help, evolves to the regular form. Now in English we have helped. In other cases, like the strange case of sneak, the regular past tense, sneaked, has been losing ground to a newly created irregular form: snuck.

However, using these more advanced tenses might be difficult if you find irregular verbs challenging. If you catch yourself writing “I have flew,” “I have rode,” or “I have went,” perhaps the lesson on past and participle forms of irregular verbs snuck by you.

Base Form

Past Simple

Past Participle





was, were
































Click on the link to open a PDF and review more examples of irregular verb forms. You can also use the graphic organizer as a reference to double-check your use of the past tense. When you’re finished looking over the graphic organizer, return to the lesson. Graphic Organizer Instructions