How To Learn Tenses In English Grammar

How to learn tenses in English grammar
How to learn tenses in English grammar. Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst.

Some ESL students find learning English tenses confusing. So many to choose from! Present perfect, past perfect, present perfect continuous, past perfect continuous. When do you use what? It is possible to learn all these more easily. In this blog, I will show you how to learn tenses in English grammar.

Learning tenses in English can be easy

Let me use the book Grammar In Use by Raymond Murphy to demonstrate. First, go to the back of the book and find the answers from the answer key. Then, write the answers in the exercises. So you are not trying to test yourself on how much you already know. Remember, you are learning at this point. So do not test yourself.

Example of learning present continuous tense

For example, in the first unit of Grammar In Use-a self study reference and practice book for intermediate students, Raymond demonstrates when to use present continuous. Here are some of the sentences on page 3. Remember, I have already filled in the answers from the answer key.

“I’m tired. I’m going (go) to bed now. Goodnight!”

“We can go out now. It isn’t raining (rain) anymore.”

“Angela has just started evening classes. She is learning (learn) German.”

Because there is a context, you know the situation in which to use the tense. The whole page has exercises to help you understand the circumstances in which you would use present continuous.

Observe patterns in grammar tenses

After you finish reading the exercises (because you were not trying to figure out the answers, but simply copied the answers from the key) then you can read the explanations. Following this order allows you to intuit when you use the tense. This kind of learning is powerful. It is natural learning. The way you learned your first language as a child. There was no grammar lesson. It’s simply observing how others speak. And you found the pattern. That’s what we are doing here.

I suggest that you try this method for a while. You might be surprised how easy it can be to learn tenses in English grammar.

If you are looking for good grammar books for different English level, here is an article on Best Grammar Books for English Learners.

And if you find this blog helpful, here is one on Make Your Own English Improvement Plan.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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