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Swim, Swam, Swum: A Primer on Verb Tenses

Swim, Swam, Swum: Verbal Tenses
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Studying verb tenses is a common experience for people learning a second language, however, I find English speakers and writers don’t talk about verb tenses as much as we should. In my experience, it took a couple of days of a high school language arts class to learn verb tenses, after which I thought I knew everything I needed to know. Verbs are an integral part of any sentence or writing structure, so it’s important to understand how to use them. So for those of us who might need a refresher, let’s break down the English verb tenses.

A verb is an action that takes place, and that verb’s tense describes when that action took place. The English language has three primary tenses: present, past, and future. Each of these can be broken into four sub-tenses: simple, continuous, perfect, and perfect continuous.

present tense

Present Tense

Simple Present

Simple present tense describes things happening right now or happens regularly.

Example: I swim on a daily basis.

Present Continuous

This tense describes an action that is happening currently and uses a “to be” verb and the present participle of another verb.

Example: I am swimming in the pool.

Present Perfect

Present perfect tense describes an action that occurred at an undetermined time in the past or started and is continuing into the present.

Example: I have swum every day for the past month.

Present Perfect Continuous

This describes something that started in the past and is continuing in the present.

 Example: I have been swimming for two hours.

past tense

Past Tense

Simple Past

This tense describes an action that happened in the past.

Example: I swam at the lake yesterday.

Past Continuous

Like the present continuous, this tense describes an ongoing action, but one that happened in the past.

 Example: I was swimming when it started to rain.

Past Perfect

Also called pluperfect, this tense describes an action that happened before a point in the past.

  Example: I had swum for only 15 minutes before it started to rain.

Past Perfect Continuous

This describes an ongoing action that started in the past and continued until another point in the past.

Example: I had been swimming for five years before I joined a local swim team.

future tense

Future Tense

Simple Future

Simple future tense describes an action that will happen at a point in the future.

Example: I will swim at six a.m. tomorrow.

Future Continuous

This tense describes an action that will occur in the future and continue for a period of time.

Example: I will be swimming in several events at the meet on Saturday.

Future Perfect

Future perfect tense describes an action that will be completed before a point in the future.

Example: I will have swum a mile by the time I finish my practice.

Future Perfect Continuous

As other perfect continuous tenses do, this tense describes an ongoing action. In this case, that action will continue to a point in the future.

Example: As of next month, I will have been swimming on this team for five years.

I swim, I swam, I have swum... verb conjugation can get in'tense', but there's no reason to let these 12 tenses get you down. Click To Tweet

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About the author

Cassie LaJeunesse

Cassie LaJeunesse is doing everything in her power to prove wrong the people who scoffed at her English degree. A former college newspaper editor, she now writes and edits content for a regional magazine. She also finds time to freelance for her alma mater and other publications, writing and editing in a variety of styles and subjects. Now that she has completed her degree, she uses her free time to read as much as possible, sing in a choir, and hang out with her cat, Gilbert.