One of the most difficult things faced in learning English is how to remember which tense forms and when to use which tense. In fact, tenses are not difficult to remember (both form / formula and when they are used) if you learn them correctly.
The following is one of the methods offered to make it easier to learn and remember tenses. This method consists of two parts. The first part deals with how to easily remember the form / tense formula, and the second part deals with how young people remember when tenses are used.
The first part: form / formula
Here we need to ‘simplify’ by making reference to the time and condition of the action / state.
1. We need to divide the reference time into three main time references, namely: present (present), past (past), and future (future).
2. All actions and circumstances can occur at any given moment which we call simple. Meanwhile, some actions and circumstances can have a duration in time and we call them continuous or progressive. And some actions and states can be completed (have an end) by referring to the time reference and we call it perfect, which means it has been completed (perfected).
Continuous tenses use verbs that end in -ing, for example: playing, reading, drinking, cooking.
The perfect tense uses the 3rd verb, some are regular (plus the suffix -ed, for example: played, kicked, studied) and some are irregular (eg swum, read, eaten).
- Actions and circumstances are not always simple, continuous, or perfect. Actions and circumstances can even be both: perfect and continuous, so we call it perfect continous. It means that the action or state is already in progress and has reached an end. The auxiliary verb matches the time reference.
Now we have three time references (present, past, and future) and four conditions for the action / event to occur (simple, continuous, perfect, perfect continuous). The combination of these three time references and four conditions will result in all tenses.
Present simple I walk
Present continuous I am walking
Present perfect I have walked
Pr. perfect cont. I have been walking
Past simple I walked
Past continuous I was walking
Past perfect I had walked
Past perfect cont. I’ve been walking
Future simple I will walk
Future continuous I will be walking
Future perfect I will have walked
Future perfect cont. I will have been walking
Part Two: When to use the tenses
The above are just the forms. Now, how about an easy way to know when a tense is used? The story you are about to read contains all of the above tenses. Try to form a picture in your mind of the whole story below and match it to each tense, so that it will be easier for you to remember when to use each tense. (The translation on the right is for auxiliary only).
Jane is (present simple) a hairdresser.
At the moment she is styling (present continuous) for a famous rock star. The first time she did this she was so nervous that she dropped (past simple) her scissors.
She was cutting (past continuous) hair for a well known singer .. Jane had thought (past perfect simple) that she was not good enough to do this.
She had been browsing (past perfect continuous) magazines for ideas.
Everyone says she will become (future simple) a top stylist.
She will be teaching (future continuous) her own students one day.
She has written (present perfect simple) several articles on hair styling.
She has been improving (present perfect continuous) her cutting skills continuously.
By next week she will have mastered (future perfect simple) several new techniques.
Soon she will have been working (future perfect continuous) as a hairdresser for five years.
Jane is a hairstylist.
Currently she is styling the hair of a famous rock singer. The first time he did this job he was so nervous he dropped his scissors.
At that time he was cutting the hair of a famous singer.
Jane had thought by then that she wasn’t good enough at this job.
He has read magazines for ideas.
Everyone said she would become a famous hairstylist.
He will teach his own students one day.
She has written several articles on styling.
She has been developing her hair cutting skills continuously.
In the following weeks he will have mastered several new techniques.
Not long after that she will have been working as a hairdresser for five years.
Try to memorize this story (in English) and make a picture of the times in your mind. Whenever you have trouble with when to use what tense, associate it with this story. What do you think? Please stay in the comments below!