Tips for Learning English Grammar: Verb Tenses

As a global language, English can open many doors to a better future.  For some people, however, learning English can be very stressful, especially when it comes to grammar rules that are indeed many in English.  This is why you should never try to learn everything at the same time.  Take your time, and let the thing you learned slowly sink in.  The best way to learn and remember something is to put it in the everyday context.

If you are unable to use your knowledge in everyday conversations and situations, all your learning effort has little point, doesn’t it?

SEE ALSO: 10 English grammar mistakes that almost everyone makes

To help you with the basics, we present you the differences in using Present Perfect and Past Simple, as well as Future Simple and be going to.  Keep in mind to use these tenses for some everyday situation from your life so that you could remember them easily.

Grammar made easy

It is important to know the rules, but if you only know to recite them as a poem, that won’t help you in conversation.

When it comes to grammar, it may seem there are so many rules to memorize.  Of course there are some things we need to learn by heart, such as irregular verbs (sorry, no other way).  However, you shouldn’t apply this to all aspects of the English grammar, especially when it comes to English verb tenses.  

One thing you can do when learning a particular verb tense is to use sentences that contain it in as many real-life situations as possible.  Talking about something familiar would help you better remember when to use that specific tense.

Present Perfect and Past Simple

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If you find it difficult to understand the difference between Present Perfect and Past Simple, don’t worry, you’re not the only one.  Lots of students have this problem, and we’ll try to help you better understand it.

Present Perfect is used to talk about experiences in our lives, things that we have done, seen, tried, and so on, without specifying when exactly this happened.  Therefore, Present Perfect is never used with specific time determinants such as “last week,” “last month,” “yesterday,” “when I was a child,” and the like.  

Examples

  • “I have been to Italy.”

When you use Present Perfect, you don’t tell the exact time when something has happened, you are just saying that your experience was enriched by going to Italy at some point in your life.

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  • “I went to Italy in 2005.”

When you use Past Simple you have a specific event and time in mind.  It’s not at any point in your life, it’s a specific event in the past.

  • “I have made two cakes this week.”

In this case the week hasn’t finished yet.

  • “I made two cakes last week.”

Here, last week signifies the finished time period.

Advice

Try to apply these tenses to your life immediately.  Talk about important experiences in your life, without specifying when they have happened, or talk about the events of this week.  Also, talk about specific times and dates in your life, talk about the events of yesterday, last week.

You can say: “I have tried Indian food.” or “I have travelled to…” And then say the exact time when this happened: “I tried Indian food 2 years ago.” or “I went to … in 2005.”

Future Simple and be going to

Another problem that is important to mention is the difference between Future Simple and Be going to.  
Both of these forms are used to denote an event that might or will happen in future, and their usage depends on whether something is a decision/plan or a future prediction.

When it comes to making decisions, we use Future Simple when we make a decision at the moment of speaking; we haven’t thought about it before.  On the other hand, we use be going to when we talk about decisions that we made before the moment of speaking.

When you predict the future based only on your thoughts or feelings, and when you have no evidence something would become true, you use Future Simple.  When you can conclude from the present situation that something will happen with certainty, you use Be going to.

Examples

  • Situation 1

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Your friend is talking to you, and she says she is going to the cinema, and suddenly she asks you: “Are you free tonight? Would you like to go to the cinema with me?” And you answer: “What a great idea, I will go with you.” Here we used Future Simple because we didn’t plan to go to the cinema, we decided to go the moment our friend asked us, not before.

  • Situation 2

in January, you booked a hotel room for your summer holiday in Greece, and now the summer has started and everybody wants to know your plans.  Your friend asks you: “What are your plans for this summer?” “I’m going to travel to Greece.” We used be going to because we have already planned to go to Greece (remember – we booked in January).  

For example, your basketball team plays a match tomorrow, and you say: “My team will win the match tomorrow.” You are only guessing, you can’t know for sure that this will happen.

  • Situation 3

You see a man carrying a lot of boxes and he can’t see anything in front of him and he is going straight into the wall.  You then say: “That man is going to hit the wall!” because you can see from the present situation that something is going to happen in the future.

Advice

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Try to find a partner to talk to you.  Ask each other questions about your future plans and use going to if you already planned something, or use Future Simple if you decide something at that moment.

For example, your friend asks you about your plans for the weekend, and you say: “I’m going to attend a party.” Then you friend can ask you: “What are you going to wear?” and if you didn’t think about that, you can say: “Oh, I don’t know, I didn’t think about that; I think I will wear my new dress.”

What about you? What aspects of English grammar do you find really difficult?

Photo credit: Foter / FreeDigitalPhotos

Jovana has been working as an English language teacher for several years before she started working with the Saundz team.  She likes blogging, reading science fiction and telling jokes.

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