English Verb Tenses: Tips and strategies for Hong Kong students

Free downloadable and printable tense chart (English verb tenses) - click here for PDF

Print and use for reference

Most ESL school exams contain tense exercises in the form of passages. These can be very difficult for Hong Kong students and are one of the areas where marks can be dropped easily.

It is easy to buy books and worksheets containing practice for individual tenses but passages containing multiple tenses are difficult to find. Click the link on the left for more information about my printable e-books.

Here are some proven strategies for tackling tense exercises which I have used over the years to help my students cope well with passages.

How to Tackle Tense Exercises

English Verb Tenses

Always skim through the whole paragraph before attempting the blanks.

Each passage is like a mini comprehension exercise. Students need to connect with the meaning.

Look at the type of text. If it is a story or diary entry, it is likely to contain a lot of past tense.

If it is an article, it may contain a wide variety of tenses.

Trust your first feeling. If you start questioning yourself, you are more likely to make mistakes.

Look for clues in the sentences:

Time words: these indicate changes in tenses

Other verbs: these show the tense or relationships

Beware when there is direct speech. Tenses change a lot in direct speech.

Our three-step strategy for tackling tense exercises. For each blank:

Step 1:
Think about whether the answer is active or passive

To do this, you need to look at the subject. Can the subject 'do' the action or is something/someone doing the action to the subject.

Step 2:
Decide on the tense/verb form

To do this, you need to look at the time clues and the general meanings contained in the passage.

Here are uses of the common tenses:

  • Present simple tense
  • Present continuous tense
  • Past simple tense
  • Past continuous tense
  • Future tense
  • Future continuous tense
  • Present perfect tense
  • Past perfect tense
  • Future perfect tense

Other verb forms include:

  • gerunds (-ing forms)
  • infinitives

Step 3:
Think about the agreement

Agreement just means using the correct form of the verb. For example for present simple, we need to add the 's' in the singular form.

Many students get step 1 and step 2 correct but then get the agreement wrong.

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