Grammar tenses

English: A Student of the University of Britis...If something can be boring while studying a second language, that’s probably grammar tenses. This is one of the most important subjects and one of the most destructive also. Do not get down by tenses!

Time is a weird thing. It seems it never stops and it only has one direction according to common sense. The laws of physics discuss this issue better, but let’s not get lost!

Time, what is time?

We get to know the meaning of time when we’re really young kids. Humans are probably the species who better understand this concept, and as a logical thing, we just took it to languages.

Babies easily learn present, past and future concepts naturally, because they learn them in a specific context which tells them when we are referring.

We can all understand these concepts by mere intuition, but when it comes to analyzing them individually we get a bit confused.

The tense ratio

Unlike vocabulary, tenses do not refer to a same concept in two different ways. Some tenses are very similar, but they’re always slightly different at least.

The time covered by a tense is what I call “the tense ration”, which is an invented concept, so don’t look for anywhere else!

If you search for tenses in a grammar book, you might feel a bit disoriented, unless you have some grammar training, about their ratios. Imagine what happens when you are studying a second language and the only thing you get is grammar, pure grammar!

An example

I deal with these concepts on daily basis, I have said this a thousand times in the last ten years, and I still find students struggling.

Past Simple in English represents an event in the past.

“I ate pasta”

Present Perfect in English represents an event in the past with a present result.

“I have eaten pasta, so I’m full right now”

Many English speakers might have not realised of the ratio. However; they don’t have to as they completely understand each sentence. Second language students need some help.


Let’s bring it from the grammar book, as that has a real meaning we have to get. Just by seeing it written down might not be enough for us. We need to feel it in a real situation!

For this particular example, I like to show my students two pictures of windows. They understand this quite well as they normally play ball games where they shouldn’t.

English: Green window

“Tristan broke this window five years ago”

And we can easily understand the window was at some point broken, but someone has mended it. The following examples shows how events can reach the present.

English: broken window.... Français : Vitre brisée

“Look! Someone has broken the window!”

And we can clearly see it is still broken. This visual thing really helps my students.

Human brain is more than capable of learning whatever thing as long as you get them explained in its own language. Brain language is pure logic, is not the language we find in grammar books.

Those formal chunks of language are great for studying purposes when we really know the topic, but not for second language learners who are a bit like children.

It doesn’t matter the tense you are studying, and it doesn’t really matter the language. You must understand its ratio, you must know the time perfectly and you must use it in real situations!

Keep Thinking!

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  1. People (who doesn’t speak English) usually tell me: I want to speak English, but I don’t want to learn grammar or writing or structure….just a simple way…Then, I will tell them back, there is no simple way. In our bahasa (language) Indonesia, indeed, we don’t recognise any changes in verbs as in English grammar. Moreover, using grammar shows that we are using the language in a more educated way than…the ‘street vendors’ way.


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