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Time Expressions and Tenses

by Brian September 08, 2021
Television showing interference

When we learn a language, making mistakes is part and parcel of the process. Many mistakes we make are a result of interference from our own language. Interference in this sense is when we use words and structures from our native language in the language we are learning. We often do this unconsciously. It’s just the way our brain works.

One area where interference is very common is in the use of prepositions. Our brain will automatically use the same preposition in the new language as we use in our native language. This is not a problem if the preposition is used in the same way in both languages. However, when this is not the case we often use the wrong preposition in the new language.

An example of this is using the prepositions for an since to talk about time. In this blog post I will be looking at for and since as well as other expressions we use to talk about time and the tenses we use with these expressions. Let’s get going!

Present Simple

When we make present simple statements we use time expressions including:

Today                              Every morning                 Every afternoon

Every evening               Every night                       At the weekend

On Mondays                 On Saturdays                    In the morning

In the afternoon           In the evening                 At night

Always                            Often                                 Sometimes

Rarely                             Hardly ever                      Never

For example:

I take a shower every morning

He visits his parents at the weekend.

She has classes in the afternoon.

We rarely go to the theatre.

Past Simple

When we make past simple statements we use time expressions including:

Yesterday                   Yesterday morning             Yesterday afternoon

Yesterday evening

One month ago            Two years ago                 Three weeks ago

Four seconds ago          Five decades ago

Last month                     Last week                         Last year          Last night

Last October                  Last Saturday                  Last Tuesday evening

Using the past simple tense together with these expressions tells us that the action is finished and when the action happened.

For example:

She was late for work yesterday morning.

They went on holiday last August.

I started my new job three months ago.

We had a meeting last Monday afternoon.

Present Continuous

When we make present continuous statements we use time expressions such as:

Now                            Right now                  At the moment

At present                 Today                          All day

 

For example:

John is eating his lunch now.

Linda is working at the moment.

We are leaving right now.

Past Continuous

When we make past continuous statements we use time expressions such as:

At 7pm last night               At 4am this morning          At lunchtime yesterday

We can also use the past continuous with a clause and a verb in the past simple tense – for example:

Before I started school        Before I went to Germany

When I watched a film

Here are examples:

I was sleeping at 4 am this morning.

It was raining before I started school.

Sue was driving to work when she heard the news.

Future

When we make future statements we use time expressions such as:

Tomorrow                      Tomorrow morning            Tomorrow afternoon

Tomorrow evening       Tomorrow night

Next month                    Next year                              Next November

Next Christmas

In an hour                      In 2 days                              In 3 weeks

In 4 months                   In two days’ time               In three weeks’ time

 

For example:

John will do the shopping tomorrow morning.

I will help you tomorrow evening.

We are visiting my parents next month.

For

Now let’s learn how to use the time expression for.

We use the time expression for to communicate a period of time, the duration of something that happens.

We can use the time expression ‘for’ with all grammar tenses

For example:

In the present simple: I work everyday for 8 hours.

In the past simple: He played football for 2 hours last night.

In the present continuous: She is taking an exam for one hour.

In the past continuous: They were walking for 20 minutes.

In the future simple: The students will study for 45 minutes.

In the past perfect: We had waited for 10 minutes when the bus arrived.

In each example sentence we used for because we wanted to speak about a period of time or the duration of an event.

In each example here, the amount of time has been represented by numbers – one hour, 20 minutes etc. There are some other expressions we can use with for, such as:

I haven’t seen you for ages.

They’ve been living in that house for a very long time.

These expressions also express a period of time.

 

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'For' and the Perfect Tenses

Although we can use the time expression ‘for’ with any tense in English, this time expression is most commonly used with the perfect simple and perfect continuous tenses. This is because these tenses are generally used to talk about a period of time.

Here are some examples of sentences in the present perfect tense:

Jane has worked as a hairdresser for ten years.

Mike has played the piano for 15 years.

Judith has studied for 3 hours today.

And here are some sentences with the present perfect continuous:

The workers have been eating lunch for 30 minutes.

Paul has been living in Dublin for 4 months.

I’ve been waiting for half an hour.

'Since' and the Perfect Tenses

The time expression since is also commonly used with the perfect simple and continuous tenses. We generally do not use since with the present simple, present continuous, past simple and past continuous tenses.

We use the time expression since to speak about the point in time at which something began.  For example, if I moved to Dublin in 2018 and it is now 2021, I can say:

I have been living in Dublin since 2018.

This has the same meaning as:

I have been living in Dublin for 3 years.

A common mistake that learners make is to say:

I have been living in Dublin since 3 years.

So remember:

For: period of time

Since: time when a period began.

We can use the time expressions ‘since’ with days. For example:

Since Monday                         Since Wednesday morning

Since Friday afternoon         Since Sunday night

 

We can also use ‘since’ with times of day. For example:

Since 8am                     Since 3 o clock             Since 7 o clock yesterday

Since 6pm Wednesday evening               Since 11 o clock last night

We can also use ‘since’ with months and years. For example:

Since March                  Since July             Since 1991

Since January 2001

We can also use ‘since’ with verbs in the past simple tense. For example:

Since I bought my car                   Since I finished work

Since we ate lunch

Here are some examples of present perfect sentences using the time expression ‘since’

John has worked here since Christmas.

Martin has lived in Texas since 1999.

The students have been studying since 9am.

Have they been on holiday since Monday?

Sam has been working from home since the lockdown began.

Jim and Ann have been married since 2010.

Test Yourself

 

Time expressions and tenses

Which time expressions to we use with different tenses?

1 / 9

Which expression can we not use to talk about the past?

2 / 9

Which expression can we not use to talk about the present?

3 / 9

Which sentence using the past continuous is correct?

4 / 9

Which sentence using the present continuous is correct?

5 / 9

Which sentence about the future is correct?

6 / 9

Janet has been living in London _______ 5 years.

7 / 9

I haven't seen my parents _______ one year.

8 / 9

Mike has played piano ________ he was a child.

9 / 9

Kate is starting a new job ______________.

Your score is

Vocabulary

Unconsciously : Not aware of what you are doing.
Example: Most of the time we breath unconsciously.

Automatically: Without volition, do something by habit.
I automatically look at my mobile phone when I wake up in the morning.

Duration:The amount of time in which something occurs.
Example: The duration of a football match is 90 minutes.

Idioms

To be part and parcel of something: An essential component of something.
Example: If you work in a shop dealing with customers is part and parcel of the job.

To get going: To start an action.
Example: You’d better get going if you want to finish your homework today.

Thank you for reading our post. You’ll find more English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our online English courses live from Dublin, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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