Tense is that form of a verb which shows the time and state of an action or event. [Tense comes from Latin tempus, meaning time.]
Let us take three sentences.
1. I sing this song to please you.
2. I sang the song in her very presence.
3. I shall sing another song for her tomorrow.
In the first sentence, the verb sing refers to present time.
In the second sentence, the verb sang refers to past time.
In the third sentence, the verb shall sing refers to future time.
Thus, a verb may refer to :
(i) Present time
(ii) Past time
(iii) Future time
(i) a verb that refers to present time is said to be in the present tense.
I go I run I sleep I write I walk
(ii) a verb that refers to past time is said to be in the past tense.
I went I ran I slept I wrote I walked
(iii) a verb that refers to future time is said to be in the future tense.
I shall go
I shall run
I shall sleep
I shall write
I shall walk
There are three main tenses :
(1) The Present Tense.
(2) The Past Tense.
(3) The Future Tense.
Uses of Tenses
The Present Tense
(1) Present Indefinite Tense
The Present Indefinite or Simple Present Tense is used :
(i) To express a habitual action.
The cock crows every morning.
I get up everyday at 6.o' clock.
He goes to school everyday.
(ii) To express general truths.
The earth is round.
Slow and steady wins the race.
The sun sets in the west.
(iii) In exclamatory sentences beginning with here and there to express what is actually taking place in the present.
Here comes the tram!
There goes the ball!
There he goes!
(iv) In vivid narrative, as substitute for the simple past.
The officer now comes forward and tells the staff to complete all the work by 6 pm.
Immediately the minister hurries to the capital.
Sachin now makes quick runs to save the follow on.
(v) To indicate a future event that is part of a plan or arrangement.
We leave for Delhi next Wednesday.
We go to Bangkok next week.
When does the school reopen?
Simple Past is also used to introduce quotations.
Rousseau says, "Every man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains today."
Simple Past is used instead of the Simple Future Tense, in clauses of time and of condition.
I shall sing till you sleep.
If it rings, I shall pick up the receiver.
(2) Present Continuous Tense
The Present Continuous Tense is used :
(i) For an action going on at the time of speaking.
He is reading.
The boys are playing cricket.
(ii) For a temporary action which may not be actually happening at the time of speaking.
I am reading 'Romeo Juliet'.
He is reading 'Illyus and the Oddyssey'.
[in both the cases, none is reading at this moment].
(iii) For an action that is planned or arranged to take place in the near future.
I am going to the party tonight.
My father is arriving day after tomorrow.
Exception : The following verbs are not used in the continuous form.
(a) Verbs of Perception, like : see, hear, smell, notice, recognize.
(b) Verbs of Appearance, like : appear, look, seem.
(c) Verbs of Emotion, like : want, wish, desire, feel, like, love, hate, hope, refuse, prefer.
(d) Verbs of Thinking, like : think, suppose, believe, agree, consider, trust, remember, forget, know, understand, imagine, mean, mind.
(e) have, own, possess, belong to, contain, consist of, be etc.
(3) Present Perfect Tense
The Present Perfect Tense is used :
(i) To indicate complete activities in the immediate past.
He has just finished the work.
The train has just started.
(ii) To express past actions whose time is not given and not definite.
I have never known him to be pessimistic.
Mr. John has been to Europe.
(iii) To describe past events when we think more of their effect in the present than of the action itself.
I have finished my homework.
Mohan has drank all the milk.
(iv) To denote an action beginning at some time in the past and continuing upto the present moment.
I have known him for a long time.
He has been ill since last week.
We have lived here for five years.
(4) Present Perfect Continuous Tense
The Present Perfect Continuous Tense is used for an action which began at some time in the past and is still continuing.
I have been watering the plants since 5 o' clock.
He has been fishing for two hours.
They have been playing for several hours.