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Compound tenses - Easy Learning Grammar

The compound tenses are a combination of present or past tense (shown through an auxiliary verb) with continuous or perfect aspect. See also Tense and Aspect.
  • I’m doing my homework at the moment, so I can’t come out.
  • Ben has seen the camera that he wants.
  • She was listening to the radio in the kitchen.
  • Sandra had invited all her friends.
  • The tense of the auxiliary verb shows whether the compound verb is present tense,
  • I’m having dinner at the moment; I’ll call you back.
  • Weve had a lovely stay; thank you.
   or past tense.
  • We were dancing around the living room and singing along.
  • Mum had gone out and left us some snacks.
The choice of the auxiliary and the participle shows what aspect the verb has.
  • if it is the auxiliary be and the -ing participle (the present participle), the aspect is continuous.
  • My brother is having a party tomorrow.
  • The kids were running wild when we got home.
  • if it is the auxiliary have and the -ed participle (the past participle), the aspect is perfect.
  • Jill has walked more than 500 miles for charity.
  • Someone had tied up the dog to stop it wandering off.
These are the main compound tenses:
present continuous= present of be + -ing participle.
  • Kerry is waiting until Jessica gets here.
past continuous= past of be + -ing participle.
  • Maria was watching TV when Jo called.
present perfect= present of have + -ed participle.
  • Sam has seen a few things that he’d like.
  • We’ve bought some better equipment.
past perfect= past of have + -ed participle.
  • She had really believed their story!
  • Rory had had enough of their silly questions.
A compound verb can also combine both the continuous and perfect aspects, using two auxiliary verbs and a main verb. This produces the following combinations:present perfect continuous   =   present of have + past participle of be + -ing participle.
  • For the past two months, Zoe has been visiting us once a week.
  • We’ve been trying to finish that job since Easter.
past perfect continuous   =   past of have + past participle of be + -ing participle.
  • Vicky had been hoping for better news.
  • I had been travelling all day, so I was exhausted.
The modal auxiliaries can be used in compound tenses.
  • She might be babysitting for us on Friday.
  • We would be sitting here for hours if I told you everything.
  • I may have eaten something that disagreed with me.
  • I expect Nayeema will have bought something for tea.
They come in first position in the verb phrase, so they are followed by:
  • the subject and the rest of the verb in questions.
  • Will you be going shopping after work?
  • the negative not and the rest of the verb in negative statements.
  • Marcus may not have been entirely truthful.
  • the subject, the negative not, and the rest of the verb in negative questions.
  • Will you not be pushing for that to be changed?
If the contracted negative form of the modal is used, then it comes before the subject and and the rest of the verb.
  • Won’t he be calling on us this evening?
Modals are not used with the supporting auxiliary verb do.
See Modal verbs, Can and could, May and might, Must, Shall and will, Should, Would, Ought to, Dare and need and Used to for the meanings and uses of modal auxiliary verbs.


You usually use just the first part of the verb phrase in a compound verb as the response form. That is, you use one of the auxiliary verbs. If it is a simple tense you use the supporting auxiliary do.
  • Do you like avocados? – Yes, I do.
If one of the forms of be or have is the first verb in the verb phrase, then use that as the response form.
  • Has Claire been round yet? – Yes, she has.
  • Was Nayeema asking for help? – Yes, she was.
If a modal verb is first in the verb phrase, some speakers prefer to use the modal and the auxiliary form together as the response form.
  • Do you think he might have left the parcel somewhere? – Yes, he might or Yes, he might have.
  • So Laurence could be coming with us then. – Yes, he could or Yes, he could be.

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