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Grammar Lessons – Why Are English Tenses Important?

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Ever found yourself puzzled when someone says, “I was reading” versus “I have been reading”? Or scratched your head at “She writes” versus “She wrote”? If you agree with this, you’re not alone. That’s the play of English tenses, and we are here to help you learn English in more detail. Once you grasp the essence of this grammar concept through effective language classes in London, they’re like stepping stones to having clear conversations.

What Are Tenses?

Let’s begin with a fun example. If you told someone, “Tomorrow, I eat a huge cake”, they might give you a confused look. That’s because the tense of the sentence isn’t quite right. Tenses act as our language’s personal time machine, guiding our listeners through the past, present, and future of our stories.
At their heart, tenses reveal when something happened. Whether it’s the past, the present, or the exciting future, they’re the tiny (but mighty) time markers we attach to verbs. They’re like the timestamps in a YouTube video, helping us navigate to the exact moment we want.

Why Are Tenses Important?

1. Clarity: Tenses clear up ambiguity. Without them, we wouldn’t know if an action is a daily routine, a memory, or a plan.

2. Context: They provide a rich backdrop. For instance, “I was watching TV when she called” lets us visualise someone watching a show, interrupted by a call.

3. Subtle Nuances: “I used to dance” implies a past hobby, while “I dance” suggests you might still groove to the beats.

4. Expressing Mood: Think of the difference between “If I were rich, I’d travel” (a hypothetical dream) and “When I get rich, I’ll travel” (an optimistic plan).

Unravelling English Tenses

1. Simple Tenses: These are straightforward.

– Present Simple (She reads): Regular routines or universal truths.
E.g. I study English in London.

– Past Simple (She read): Actions that happened and ended in the past.
E.g. I visited Paris last summer.

– Future Simple (She will read): Predictions or future decisions.
E.g. I will start my diet on Monday (we’ve all been there!).

2. Continuous Tenses: These emphasise duration.

– Present Continuous (She is reading): Actions happening now or near-future plans. E.g.,
We’re attending a wedding next week.

– Past Continuous (She was reading): Past actions that were ongoing when interrupted or set the scene.
E.g. It was raining when I left.

– Future Continuous (She will be reading): Ongoing future actions at a specific time.
E.g. This time tomorrow, I’ll be flying to Hawaii.

3. Perfect Tenses: These highlight the idea of completion.

– Present Perfect (She has read): Actions that started in the past and continue to the present or have relevance to now.
E.g. I’ve lived here for ten years.

– Past Perfect (She had read): One past action that happened before another.
E.g. I had just sat down when the phone rang.

– Future Perfect (She will have read): Actions that will be completed before another future event. E.g. By December, I’ll have finished this course.

4. Perfect Continuous Tenses: These combine duration and completion.

– Present Perfect Continuous (She has been reading): Actions that began in the past and are still continuing or recently stopped.
I’ve been working at this company for three years.

– Past Perfect Continuous (She had been reading): Describes the duration of a past activity leading up to another past event.
I had been waiting for an hour when he finally showed up.

– Future Perfect Continuous (She will have been reading): Indicates how long an action will have continued up to a certain point in the future.
E.g. By 5 p.m., I will have been studying for six hours.

Here’s a simple table using the four forms of a verb - give, gave, given, giving - to help you better understand tenses.
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English tenses, though seemingly complex, provide a wonderful palette to paint our stories with precision and colour. Each tense has its own unique shade that can make our conversation more clear. So embrace these tenses, practise them, and before you know it, they’ll roll off your tongue as effortlessly as your favourite song lyrics. Our English language courses in London can help you excel at these basic grammar concepts and much more.

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