I seem to remember

Simple vs continuous Past vs present (no future tense, that's present) Perfect vs "normal"

Okay, if we multiply that, we got 2*2*2=8 tenses in English.

Am I correct?

For example, say I want to express I kick a cat in 8 tenses I will got:

Simple past imperfect tense

I kicked a cat.

Simple past perfect tense

I had kicked a cat

Simple present tense

I kick a cat

Simple present perfect tense

I have kicked a cat

Continuous past imperfect tense

I was kicking a cat

Continuous past perfect tense

I had been kicking a cat

Continuous present tense

I am kicking a cat

Continuous present perfect tense

I have been kicking a cat

Am I correct here? Only 8 tenses right?


It depends on exactly what you mean by 'tense', but according to the most widely used accepted definitions, English has only two tenses: the present and the past. All the other stuff is covered by categories like aspect, mood and voice. We have:

  • the present and past tenses
  • imperative, interrogative, subjunctive and indicative moods
  • passive and active voices
  • simple, perfect, continuous and perfect continuous aspects

and most combinations of these are in use.

But note that this is just one side of the coin. Alongside grammatical categories, there are also semantic categories, and the relationship between grammar and semantics is far from being one-to-one, especially in a free-and-easy language like English.

  • 2
    Those who believe that English has a future tense (which I suspect includes most EFL teachers, though I may be doing them a calumny) will increase that 2 x 2 x 2 cube to a 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 tesseract. – Colin Fine Oct 15 '13 at 12:49
  • 1
    @Colin ... and in this 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 tesseract, they will have been including a form which is hardly ever found in English outside of bad grammar books. – Peter Shor Oct 13 '14 at 20:22

Yes, in British English ; but be careful in American-English, all the possibilities are not in use.

  • 3
    Which of the examples OP gives would not be used in American English? – Edwin Ashworth Oct 15 '13 at 7:36
  • @Edwin Ashworth Please see in Wikipedia numerous examples, asking Google for : "AmE vs BrE" – ex-user2728 Oct 15 '13 at 10:08
  • I can assure you that all of these constructions are in daily use in all registers of US speaking and writing. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 15 '13 at 10:29
  • I have done as you request. I find you are wrong. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 15 '13 at 21:54

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