Sunday, April 14, 2013

Verb Tense Timelines

Today I was looking for a timeline chart for all the verb tenses in English that was

  • intuitive
  • uncluttered
  • included the grammatical name of the verb tenses, and all the verb tenses
  • gave a good sense of when to use each verb tense
  • included at least one example sentence of each to show the grammatical form

There were not as many websites with verb tense timelines as I expected, so I thought I would save some other English language teachers some time by summarizing what I found, what I found most useful, and why.

Mostly, I found a lot of websites with charts filled with words in English, not simple graphic based timelines, which  I suspect would be  hard to read, boring, and downright mystifying to most English language students.

Below are my top picks, in order of preference.




1. an attractive, simply drawn series of illustrations showing verb tenses on a timeline, with intuitive examples to show how to form each verb tense. 

I really liked how all the tenses are grouped, with the past, present and future simple tenses shown together on one timeline. All continuous / progressive tenses were shown on another timeline, then the perfect tenses and then the perfect continuous/ perfect progressive verb tenses (4 timelines in total).

Example of the top half of the chart:

(There is more to this chart, but I couldn`t fit it into my screenshot.)

2. An online presentation with animated actions shown against a timeline. Although not exactly ' at a glance', it`s a short presentation and the animation depicting repeated actions, and the passage of time, works extremely well to get the idea of when to use each verb tense across to students.

Here is a screen shot of one slide in the presentation showing the present continuous (present progressive)  (the original shows the man really walking).

3. - Scroll down the page to see his color coded chart with timelines for each verb tense, the name of each, and simple tips about when to use each one.

There is a series of timelines is shown on the second page of this 2 page PDF document. I liked the symbols used (for example the circle reminiscent of a recycle symbol to show the idea of repeated actions and routines associated with the present simple). 

I also like how the tenses are grouped into two categories: Specific time (simple and progressive/ continuous tenses) and unspecified time (perfect tenses and perfect progressive/ perfect continuous).

By the way, the first page of this document shows a useful chart,  a 'verb tense continuum', showing all the verb tenses, and example sentences of each, on one continuous timeline. 

The sites above are my top 4 picks. 

Below are some more examples of websites with verb tense timelines. Although they didn`t meet my criteria, they may appeal to you and be useful to you in some way.


Other online resources I considered with noteworthy features: - I was a bit confused by the vertical layout of the timeline at first. It wasn`t intuitive to me to start the timeline at the top with the past simple, with a line going down towards the bottom of the page to show the other tenses (ending with the future tenses). However, this may work better than a right to left continuum for people in Arabic and Thai (and other cultures) who don`t read left to right, and therefore don`t associate the passage of time as moving from the left (the past ) to the  right (to depict moving into the future).  - Although it repeatedly turned up in Google searches for 'verb tense timelines', this online slideshow wasn`t very intuitive in my opinion. It would work if an English speaking teacher was explaining each slide, but isn`t as useful for self study purposes or quick reference. An infographic chart of verb tenses, a diagram chart with dots and lines that show all the tenses in relation to each other. To me the symbols were a bit misleading, since one simple dot doesn`t depicted the present simple, future simple or future continuous tense to my way of thinking. The dot oversimplifies it in my opinion. But it is a clean layout and shows how the verb tenses related to each other in one continuous timeline.
I wasn`t impressed with the layout since the sentence examples of each verb tense lacked labels telling you what each verb tense is called, and I found the successive lines of timelines confusing. However, perhaps this would work well as a review, to quiz or test students to name each verb tense and explain when to use each.

Google image search for verb tense timelines - This turned up a lot of different charts, most of them filled with words, which I think are overwelming and /or boring to ESL students. Many were like online posters, but I felt these lacked enough detail to allow instant understanding, how to form them and when to use each tense.

Quick Lesson Prep Tip:
Take a Screenshot!

Remember that you can take screen shots of these timelines for quick and easy reference during or after a class (email it, print it out or show it ' in vivo' during a class). This is much faster than copying and pasting into a Word document, in my opinion.

On a MAC, you can do a screenshot of any selected portion of the screen by using the shortcut key commands:
CMD + upper case arrow + 4

On a PC, hit the print screen button at the top, and then crop the image in Paint
use a free program like Screen Hunter to select and do a screenshot of any portion of a website or document on your computer screen.


Did you find this  post useful?

Did I miss a useful site about verb tense timelines? 

Please let me know!

I would appreciate your comments.