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Teaching Multiple Tenses: The Past, Present, and Future Tenses

Teaching Multiple Tenses: The Past, Present, and Future Tenses | ITTT | TEFL Blog

In English, varying tense forms will change the structure of a sentence and verb conjugation. When studying English grammar, learning different tenses can present a great challenge to learners as well as teachers. English language learners may have to adjust to a greater number of tenses in English than in their native tongue. According to ITTT course materials, experts will state there are twelve tenses in the English language. The changes informing English verbs which mark past, present and future tenses are a key concept for learners to grasp to communicate effectively.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Corey B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Peculiarities of the English Language

Within the three divisions of time (past, present, and future) there are four differing aspects. As English language learners develop a more complex and nuanced understanding of the English language, these are new tenses to study that will convey a more precise meaning. These tenses are useful when expressing a more exact period or when discussing a purposefully abstract period. These four aspects, simple, continuous, perfect and perfect continuous, should be elaborated on further after first reviewing the three basic divisions of time.

For beginning English language learners, there are three main tenses to study: the simple forms of each time division of past, present, and future. Teachers of the English language should incorporate lessons on positive and negative tense forms and the relative grammar points, as well as question and statement forms, and finally pronoun agreement with special attention paid to the third person singular form (also known as he, she, it verb tense agreement) when teaching the simple forms of the three main divisions of time. Beginning language learners can focus on the present tense, past tense and future tense, especially the simple forms, as a way to begin differentiating different time markers in English expressions.

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Present Tense

Students will begin by learning the present tense, and the most intuitive and simple verb form to learn will be the simple present tense. This is the basic form of verbs, such as “I love,” “we play” or “they sleep.” We use the simple present tense to express a habitual action, a permanent fact, directions instructions or commentaries, or present stories. There are many examples, but one such is the verb in this sentence: “There are many examples of the simple present tense.”

One possible difficulty for English as second language learners will be the third person singular in the present tense. Simple present verbs must agree with pronouns of he, she and it, usually by adding an “s” to the base form of the verb. To follow on the previous examples, “I love” becomes “he loves.” “We play” becomes “she plays,” and “they sleep” becomes “it sleeps.” There are also irregular forms for the third person singular, and as previously mentioned, special attention can be paid to practicing these.

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Past Tense

Teaching English learners the past tense after the present tense is a logical next step. Conjugating past tense verbs are more complex than the simple present, yet not as complex as other tenses. The past tense is used to express actions that have already finished happening, actions that were at a definite time or happened within a clear period. To conjugate the past tense, learners must add “ed” or “d” to the base form of the verb. For example, “I wish” becomes “I wished,” and “they love” becomes “they loved.”

Learning to communicate in the past tense will be a helpful step for English language learners, but they will be challenged by the irregular past tense forms of verbs such as see, saw; think, though; know, knew; find, found, etc. There are no simple rules to teach learners about which verbs are irregular verbs and how they are formed. Learners must rely on exposure and memorization.

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Future Tense

Last, but not least, beginning learners can cover the future tense. The English language is complex and uses varied tenses and ideas to convey future meaning. When speaking about the future, students will start with the simple form of future verbs. This can help learners recognize future meaning in basic English sentences. The simple future tense is used to express promises, future facts or certainties, assumptions, and predictions. English speakers use will or shall in addition to the base verb form, for example, “I will know,” or “we shall start.”

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Shall is usually used in invitations or formal suggestions. Will is used to showing intention, determination or coercion; it is a stronger meaning than shall. Learners may feel confusion between the simple future tense form “will/shall + infinitive verb form,” and other future tenses such as “be going + infinitive verb form.” Learners may mistakenly say something like, “Tomorrow she will going to play.” However, clearly showing the two verb tense forms as different sentence structures should help learners differentiate and avoid these mistakes.

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