Text: Complex Verb Tenses

We’ve finally learned the different pieces that we need to understand in order to discuss some more advanced tenses. We’ve mentioned them briefly in Text: Verb Types, and they came up again in Text: Non-Finite Verbs.

These tenses include things like “We had been going to the same restaurant for five years.” What’s the difference between this sentence and “We went to the same restaurant for five years?” While both sentences have the same meaning, the first sentence creates a sense of continuity: it’s something that happened repeatedly. There’s an even bigger difference when you look at future tenses:

  • She will eat 500 gummy bears.
  • She will have eaten 500 gummy bears.

In the first sentence, the entirety of the action takes place in the future. In the second sentence, we get a sense that the action will be complete some time in the future.

The different conjugations of the verb to work. The verbs are placed in a sliding scale. The furthest in the past is had worked, then had been working, then worked, then was worked. The present include has worked, has been working, work, and is working. The future is will have worked, will have been working, will work, and will be working.

These forms are created with different forms of to be and to have. When you combine a form of to be with the present participle, you create a continuous tense; these tenses indicate a sense of continuity. The subject of the sentence was (or is, or will be) doing that thing for awhile.

  • Present: is working
  • Past: was working
  • Future: will be working (You can also say “is going to be working.”)

When you combine a form of to have with the past participle of a verb, you create a perfect tense; these tenses indicate a sense of completion. This thing had been done for a while (or has been, or will have been).

  • Present: has worked
  • Past: had worked
  • Future: will have worked

You can also use these together. To have must always appear first, followed by the past participle been. The present participle of any verb can then follow. These perfect continuous tenses indicate indicate that the verb started in the past, and is still continuing:

  • Present: has been working
  • Past: had been working
  • Future: will have been working


Follow the instructions in each item:

  1. Convert this sentence from a simple tense to a continuous tense: Ivone wrote a collection of short stories entitled Vidas Vividas.
  2. Convert this sentence from a simple tense to a perfect tense: As a pilot, Sara will fly a lot of cross-country flights.
  3. Convert this sentence from a simple tense to a perfect continuous tenses: Zachi reads all of the latest articles on archeology.

Sometimes these verb tenses can be split by adverbs: “Zachi has been studiously reading all of the latest articles on archeology.”

Now that we’ve learned about how we create each of these tenses, let’s practice using them. In this exercise, you will be asked to create some original writing. As you do so, use both simple and complex verb tenses.


Look at the following schedule for a Writer’s Workshop. Write a passage about the schedule as if it were Tuesday at 12:30.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
10:00 Check-In Genre Speakers Meet Editors/Agents
11:00 Group Orientation Genre Speakers
12:00 Lunch Lunch Check-Out
1:00 Peer-to-Peer Critique Professional Critiques
3:00 Key-Note Speaker