Revolutionary approach: Past and present tenses

Revolutionary approach: Past and present tenses

Hello class! We hope you liked our lesson from last week about the two present tenses – present simple and present continuous. (Present Simple or Present Continuous?) If you did, join us for this week’s lesson about the past and present tenses. You won’t regret it because today we’re going to give you a revolutionary approach for understanding past and present tenses in English!


Yes that’s right, we’re going to give you something you won’t have come across before in your grammar books, in fact something we don’t think you’ll have come across anywhere… something that’s born out of many hours of teaching time and a few seconds of inspiration!


Read on, as we’re about to unveil our secrets for understanding English past and present!



Nice diagram huh?!


Okay so big drum roll… Are you ready? Hold your breath… Here it is!


Another way of thinking about the past and present tenses in English is to think about them in terms of process and how close we are to the action, physically, emotionally or in terms of time.

The -ing form always accentuates process or the action itself. The simple form accentuates the facts or results.


Try thinking about tenses in this way. How close do you want to bring yourself to the action? Or are you more interested in emphasizing the subject matter itself?


If you feel that this is a bit complicated for you, don’t panic. Just check out our following diagram.


Past and Present tenses



Present Perfect (have + past participle)

(started in the past but continues to the present)

I do Arabic evening classes

Here the most important thing is Arabic

(then ‘evening classes’)

I am doing Arabic evening classes

The meaning is similar but emphasis is on doing and the fact that it’s a process you’re currently involved in. The verb/process takes on more importance.

Oh, you’re from Tunisa. I did some Arabic evening classes last year.

Again the most important thing is Arabic (and then school)

– Say something to me in Arabic then.

– Oh no, I don’t speak it very well. I’ve

 just done a few classes.

Emphasis on having completed just a ‘few’ classes, but because we’re using the

present perfect form, the classes began in the past and you’re still attending them

Oh no, I don’t speak it very well. I only did a few classes.

Again emphasis on few and only, the results/facts.

That’s not true you were speaking it just now when I came in.

Emphasis on the activity, the speaking…

I’ve been doing classes for a while but it’s such a hard language.

The connotation here is negative/downbeat but still with emphasis on the activity.

In spite of all this doing, I’m still struggling because it’s a hard language.


Contrast with:


I’ve done lots of classes but it’s such a hard language.



Sometimes the choice isn’t between different forms of the same tense but continuous and simple forms of different tenses. Think about the following:


You’ve been working really hard. You’ve made lots of progress.

He’s been working really hard. He’s making lots of progress.

I’m working really hard. I’m making lots of progress.

She’s working really hard. She’s made lots of progress.

They’ve worked really hard, they’ve made lots of progress.

They’ve worked really hard, they’re making lots of progress.




If you’ve been following our short explanation of the difference between the past and present tenses, why don’t you test your newly acquired knowlegde and check out this exercise:


Fill in the gaps

They _____________ (mean) to find out what insurance I need but they __________ (be) so busy I just __________ (get around) to it. We really have to sort it out. You __________ (have) to go to the doctor last week and you __________ (have) to pay full price. Luckily she ___________ (let) me put it on my credit card. She __________ (give) me a prescription and I __________ (be) very good about it, I __________ (take) the pills 3 times a day, every day. I don’t really like taking them. They __________ (make) me very tired. Lesser of two evils I suppose. I’ll need to make some changes to my lifestyle, I guess. I __________ (do) enough exercise. I __________ (eat) badly and __________  (drink) too much.

Isidora Vlaovic
1 Comment
  • Posted at 8:55 pm, 27th April 2017

    Great lesson! This way I may learn English finally!

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