How to Make English Language Tenses Easy to Remember

One of the most difficult things for students who are learning English Language is remembering verb tenses and how to use them. All the tenses used in English are demonstrated in the story below.

This is a very easy way to review all the tenses. Try to form a mental picture and match it to each tense as you will find it easier to remember them.

Mary 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..

Mary had thought (past perfect simple) that she wasn’t 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.

In some parts of Britain there are slight variations on the way tenses are used. One example that can be slightly confusing if you are not aware of it is the use of the word ‘shall’. This is sometimes used for the future tense. Most course books do not include this usage of the word.

‘Shall’ is sometimes used in the first person to make predictions, promises and offers. The word ‘will’ in these case, conveys a willingness to do something. Some examples will make this easier to understand.

We shall come home after our holiday.

The writer uses ‘shall’ to predict a future event.

I shan’t pass my exams next week.

Here the negative form of ‘shall’ is used (‘shall not’ is contracted to ‘shan’t). The writer is predicting that something will not happen.

Shall we go out to dinner?

Here the writer is making a suggestion, asking a question, rather than predicting an event.

Shall I get it for you?

This is an offer. The writer offers to do something.

You shall have a new hat.

This is a promise. It is not a prediction.
He shall die!

Here the writer uses ‘shall’ for emphasis, but it is also a promise and a threat.

In official sounding documents and notices the word ‘shall’ is sometimes used to make things sound more formal and authoritative. This kind of language is sometimes call ‘officialese’. For example:

The management and staff of this establishment shall not be responsible for any loss of personal property, life, etc.

Copyright: Louie Jerome 2008

Louie Jerome is a UK writer, editor and publisher. She is also a qualified TESOL/TEFL Teacher. Writer Soup is a monthly internet magazine for writers and readers. []

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