Being able to switch between tenses is a good way to illustrate your skill with the language.

A word of warning

Changing tenses can prove your English skill to an examiner. However, using tenses incorrectly will result in losing marks.

Also, switching tenses at the wrong time or too often can make an essay unreadable. Only change tenses inside a sentence if you are sure it will still make sense.

Twelve tenses

It is worth knowing the twelve basic tenses

(note: ‘will’ can be swapped for ‘be going to’. See here for the difference.)


Present SimpleI think there are too many cars on the road.

Past SimpleThe first cars appeared in the early 20th century and became popular after the war.

Future SimpleCar ownership will continue to grow.

Continuous (be …ing)

Present ContinuousDeveloping nations are buying automobiles in large numbers.

Past ContinuousWhen the first cars came into production most people were using horse-drawn vehicles, trains, or walking.

Future ContinuousBy the year 2050 the majority of the world’s population will be driving.

Perfect (have (done))

Present PerfectAs more families have bought two vehicles cities have become gridlocked.

Past PerfectIn the 2000s Beijing tried to control car numbers but the damage the 1980s and 1990s had done was irreversible.

Future PerfectThe average person currently living will have driven about half a million miles before he/she dies.

Perfect Continuous (have been …ing)

Present Perfect ContinuousPeople have been driving for only a century, but the car has changed our landscape.

Past Perfect ContinuousBefore the combustion engine was invented populations had been moving around cities on foot or horse for several hundred years.

Future Perfect ContinuousWithout a change in attitude it is possible that by the time fossil fuels run out people will have been depending on their vehicles to such an extent many will find adaptation impossible.

Ideas for different tenses

Some tenses – such as the past perfect, past perfect continuous, and future perfect continuous – are difficult to use, and even harder to use in an essay. But some tenses are easier.

(Note: these are only ideas for ways to switch tenses)

Opinionspresent tenseI believe that people must force the change and buy alternative-energy fueled cars.

Quoting factspresent tenseThere are more cars on the road now than at any other time in history.

Evidence/ facts (past) past tenseIn the 1950s most middle-class families only owned one car; now they have two.

Evidence (recent)present perfectRecently some cities have introduced congestion charges for driving in the city centre.

Current trends present perfect continuousRecently more people have been looking at buying electric cars, and inventors have been toying with ideas such as magnet-powered ignition systems.

Future factfuture tenseIf the rate of population growth and car ownership continues more and more cities will face the same problems.

Future projections (now vs. future time) future continuousAt current rates it is inevitable that within the next century more people will be suffering from pollution-related diseases, more nations will be involved in energy-related conflicts, and more families will be struggling to pay for fuel than now or ever before.