Comparing Tenses

We always start by teaching each tense individually. The first time we teach a tense, we start by introducing the structure. We make sure to explain the structure, how to form the question and also the negative. Once we have drilled the structure we teach the usages of the tense.

At a later date, we may decide to return to the tense and teach it in comparison with another tense. Usually, the tense we compare it to is the most similar in use or the one that students confuse the use with.

Without question one of the best ways to help your students really start to use and understand how to use English tenses is to teach them in comparison to other tenses. This really helps the students to see the difference in a practical sense and they start to be able to use the tenses correctly because they know the direct differences.

We will show you a list of some of the more helpful comparisons. It is important to remember that a lot of tenses have more than one use, but not every usage needs to be compared to another tense for better understanding.

To start with we revise the structure of each tense, making sure that students have a firm understanding of how questions and negative sentences are formed. Now, when revising the usages, you are able to explain the specific usage in comparison to each other. Once you have compared the usages, you then practise. The most common form of practice is to use a gap fill exercise. Here is an example of a gap fill exercise for Present Simple vs Present Continuous:

Gap fill

Using the words in the brackets please complete the sentences below using the correct tense

  1. Every Monday I ___________________ (go) to the gym with Susie.
  2. Usually Susie ______________________ (work) in Leeds, but at the moment she ______________ (work) in Manchester.
  3. Brian _____________________ (put) on a coat because _________________________ (rain).
  4. I __________________(read) a great book, I can’t wait until the end, it’s so exciting!
  5. Brian _______________(wash) the car once a month, normally on Saturday mornings.
  6. Normally I ________________ (drive) Susie to work but today my car is at the garage so Susie ____________________ (drive) me to work.

Common Tense Comapirsons

We always start by teaching each tense individually. The first time we teach a tense, we start by introducing the structure. We make sure to explain the structure, how to form the question and also the negative. Once we have drilled the structure we teach the usages of the tense.

At a later date, we may decide to return to the tense and teach it in comparison with another tense. Usually, the tense we compare it to is the most similar in use or the one that students confuse the use with.

Without question one of the best ways to help your students really start to use and understand how to use English tenses is to teach them in comparison to other tenses. This really helps the students to see the difference in a practical sense and they start to be able to use the tenses correctly because they know the direct differences.

We will show you a list of some of the more helpful comparisons. It is important to remember that a lot of tenses have more than one use, but not every usage needs to be compared to another tense for better understanding.

To start with we revise the structure of each tense, making sure that students have a firm understanding of how questions and negative sentences are formed. Now, when revising the usages, you are able to explain the specific usage in comparison to each other. Once you have compared the usages, you then practise. The most common form of practice is to use a gap fill exercise. Here is an example of a gap fill exercise for Present Simple vs Present Continuous:

Gap fill

Using the words in the brackets please complete the sentences below using the correct tense

  1. Every Monday I ___________________ (go) to the gym with Susie.
  2. Usually Susie ______________________ (work) in Leeds, but at the moment she ______________ (work) in Manchester.
  3. Brian _____________________ (put) on a coat because _________________________ (rain).
  4. I __________________(read) a great book, I can’t wait until the end, it’s so exciting!
  5. Brian _______________(wash) the car once a month, normally on Saturday mornings.
  6. Normally I ________________ (drive) Susie to work but today my car is at the garage so Susie ____________________ (drive) me to work.

Common Tense Comparisons

Past Continuous vs Past Simple

Past Continuous: We use Past Continuous to explain when an action was happening in the past and was interrupted by a second action.

Example: I was eating dinner when he arrived. ( I was in the middle of eating dinner)

Past Simple: We use Past Simple when we talk about an action which happened in the past and then a second action happened after the first.

Example: I ate dinner and then he arrived. (he arrived after I had finished my dinner)

Past Perfect vs Past Simple

Past Perfect: We use Past Perfect when we are telling a story in the past and we want to talk about something that happened before that time in the story.

Example: I arrived at the cinema but the film had already started. (I missed the beginning)

Past Simple: We use Past Simple when we are telling a story and we want to talk about what happened next in the story.

Example: I arrived at the cinema, and then the film started. (the film started 10 minutes after they arrived)

Past Perfect vs Past Perfect Continuous

Past Perfect: We use Past Perfect to explain something that happened before a specific time in the past and we concentrated on the result.

Example: I arrived at the cinema but the film had already started. (I missed the beginning)

Past Perfect Continuous: We use Past Perfect Continuous to explain something that happened before a specific time in the past and we concentrate on the activity of the duration, how long it has been in progress.

Example: I arrived at the cinema but the film had already been playing for 10 minutes. (I missed the first 10 minutes)

Present Perfect vs Present Perfect Continuous

Present PerfectWe use Present Perfect to explain an action that started in the past but is in progress at the time of speaking. We specifically want to focus on the result.

Example: I have painted my room today and now it’s a lovely blue colour.

Present Perfect Continuous: We use Present Perfect Continuous to explain an action that started in the past but is in progress at the time of speaking. We specifically want to focus on the action and the time taken.

Example: I have been painting my room for 6 hours and now I am exhausted.

Note: In many ways Present Perfect and Present Perfect Continuous are very similar and can overlap. You need to explain that to your students because it is almost impossible to ignore it.