How to choose which tense to use in your sentence

Using the correct tense and verb form is important in English grammar. Which tense you use depends on how you see the event or action. Here are some simple rules to help you choose which tense to use:


1. Routine or permanent situation – use the simple form.


• I live in Jakarta.

(It tells you that “live” is true all the time and Jakarta is my home.)

• I lived in the village when I was a child.

(This was a long-term situation in the past.)


2. Temporary or continuing situations – use the continuous form.


• I’m working as a delivery man at the moment.

(The job isn’t permanent and maybe I’m doing it for a while until I get another job.)

• House prices are rising.

   (The prices are continuing to rise and haven’t stopped rising yet.)

• He was watching the news on TV.

(He watched the news before I saw him and he still watched it after I saw him – watching the news continued over a period of time.)


3. Connecting different times – use the perfect form to show that one event was completed before another, or to show that one situation continues from one time to another.


• I have lived here for two years.

(I started to live here two years ago and I still live here.)

• I have been working in the garden all morning.

(I started working in the garden in the past and I’m still doing it now.)

• I will have finished the report before next week.

 (Some time before next week, but I don’t know exactly when.)

• He had studied law before he met her.

(He studied law before he met her, but we don’t know exactly when.)


4. Talking about the future – use “will” for prediction and willingness and only “be going to” for prior plan.


• Be careful! You’ll hurt yourself.

• Watch out! You’re going to hurt yourself. (We can also use “be going to” to express prediction.)

A: I don’t understand English grammar.

B: Ask Demi about English grammar. She’ll help you.

(Speaker B feels sure about Demi’s willingness to help.)

• I’m going to meet Barry at the library at seven. We’re going to study together.

(I have intention to meet Barry at the library. We have made plan to study together.)


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