Posted by: Teacher Peter | March 1, 2010

The Allure of Grammar

In preparation for our foray into the world of ELL teaching, Kristin and I have both been brushing up on our grammar.

How many tenses are there in the English language?

12 or Two ( the present and the past) depending on whom you ask.

The Present Simple

This can be used for simple phrases such as:

Do you work?                          We work.                               She doesn’t work.

This tense can be used for habitual, routine, or permanent actions.

Not to be confused with…..

The present continuous

a.k.a. present progressive

I + AM + verb + ing


I am learning.                        I am not learning.                              Am I learning?

Spanish: estoy estudiando.           No estoy estudiando

Most languages other than English have a lot fewer tenses.

In Japanese, adjectives actually have two tenses (past and present.)

Why are past and present the only true tenses? Perhaps, because the future is unknowable.

I don’t know how to say any of this in Mandarin yet, but that will come.

Get ready for Time Travel: Present Perfect

Present perfect is used for actions that began in the past but somehow seep into or affect the present.


It has rained a lot today (i.e. the rain has stopped but it is still today.)

Can you help me? I’ve lost one of my contact lenses. (Lost in the past and still lost in the present.)

Can you spot the mistakes in the following sentences:

1. I am a secretary for five years.

2. I have seen him yesterday.

3. She’s liked him since six months.

4. When have you bought your car?

(Scroll down for answers.)

Now for some more…

Time Travel (too): Present Perfect Continuous

This tense is used for activities that have taken up a great length of timeo are likely to continue into the future.

Key example:

I have been writing stories for most of my life.

Student errors:

I’ve been knowing her for three months.

It should be: I’ve known her for three months (certain verbs don’t take the continuous form. e.g. like, prefer, believe)

So to review….

Present simple:  I work

Present continuous: I am working.

Present Perfect: I have worked here for 35 long years.

Present Perfect Continuous:

I’ve been working on the railroad (all the live long day) !

Who said learning can’t be fun? I love singing songs!

And now for those answers:

Present Perfect Answers:

Remember, this tense is for verbs that start in past and somehow seep into the present.

1. I have been a secretary for five years.

2. I saw him yesterday. (This should be past tense because it does not affect the present.)

3. She’s liked him FOR six months. ( or “since six months ago”. Since is for POINTS in time.)

4. When did you buy your car? (This is simple past tense. No present ramifications.)

That’s all folks!


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