The Ultimate Business English Tense Review for Every Workplace Situation
Business communication requires us to talk about the past, present and future all the time.
In a single morning, you might talk about something that happened at a recent conference, report the current status of a project and brainstorm plans for next month with your team.
So you need to know your English verb tenses really well!
We’ll help you do that today with a unique business English tense review and show you six of our favorite resources to master those tricky English tenses.
- Practice Makes Perfect! 6 Business English Resources to Review Verb Tenses
- A Quick Guide to Using English Tenses in the Workplace
- 1. Talking Facts
- 2. Giving Progress Updates
- 3. Discussing Future Plans and Projections
- 4. Describing Past Activities and Telling Stories
- 5. Discussing Hypothetical Situations
Practice Makes Perfect! 6 Business English Resources to Review Verb Tenses
Before we show you which tenses to use in different business situations, you probably want an overall review of English tenses, so you can recognize and use them in your own work communications.
The resources below are great options. No matter your level or preferred learning style, there’s a tool for you.
We love free stuff!
This easy-to-navigate library of free practice lessons, quizzes and worksheets will help you with difficult English tenses. For example, you can explore how English tenses are used to form conditional sentences in business situations, or try the advanced English grammar test.
You’ll also find plenty of other lesson categories that speak to business English learners like you, like “Useful Business Verbs and Their Collocations” or “Signposts for Presentations.”
FluentU is a language learning program that teaches using authentic English videos, the kind made for and by native speakers. The video collection includes business-related content that features formal, professional English.
Each clip comes with interactive subtitles, so as you watch, you can click on a word to get its definition, grammar details, pronunciation and example sentences. This lets you see and understand how tenses are used in context.
Flashcards and quizzes are included so that you can review the vocabulary and concepts you learn. The quizzes also include “speaking questions” so that you can practice your pronunciation.
The British Council English learning website is full of free resources to help you refresh your understanding of grammar and English tenses, along with short exercises for each section.
Most of us have that one particular English tense that’s a bit slippery. In the Grammar section, you can find easy-to-understand explanations of grammar rules according to your level. Browse the righthand sidebar for a handy glossary of grammar topics you can access. Try “Predicting the Future,” for example.
Verb Tenses and Passives Course from UC Irvine
This course from the well-known University of California-Irvine will give you a more structured learning experience and the opportunity to interact and discuss with people from other parts of the world.
It covers 12 English verb tenses and how to mix them together the way native speakers often do.
If you feel that a routine or schedule helps you to focus, online Coursera classes like this one are a great option. They push you to follow through and do a bit of homework, all from the comfort of your sofa!
Everyone learns in a slightly different way. I find doodling and writing things down help me remember better. If you’re like me, EnglishForEveryone is just the thing.
There are downloadable verb worksheets available in PDF form, organized according to tense type. Each worksheet starts with some example sentences.
They’re one-page exercises, which means you can do them quickly whenever you get a spare moment. It’s handy to have them saved in the computer or phone or print them out. That way, you have them on hand when you’re waiting for the doctor or that colleague of yours that’s always late to meetings!
As the name indicates, this is where you can go for all things grammar. Some of their exercises are a real workout. For example, there are several where you have to compare English tenses and structures that are often confused, like “Present Perfect vs. Past Perfect” or “Will vs. Going To.”
They’re online exercises, but you could easily print them out as well.
A Quick Guide to Using English Tenses in the Workplace
Textbook English tense reviews can be tedious and boring. Why not look at them from a different angle?
Here we take a look at some typical day-to-day interactions you might have in business English, and review the tenses you would use in those situations.
Instead of trying to remember English tenses based on rules, this practical guide will help you remember English tenses based on real workplace contexts.
1. Talking Facts
You’re probably already familiar with the present simple, the most basic English present tense. Use this tense for information that doesn’t change, such as facts about yourself and your work. You’ll need to speak about these facts during job interviews, at networking events, etc.
Hi, this is Ashmi. She delivers new projects for the whole of Southeast Asia.
Our organization works with local partners to ensure smooth, localized service to our customers.
2. Giving Progress Updates
Most professionals regularly present updates on projects and campaigns to their clients or supervisors. You’ll need the following tenses to do this naturally in business English.
This is the most basic English past tense, and you’ll need it when presenting stuff that’s done and dusted. These are projects or efforts that are finished, often accompanied by the time you completed them.
The marketing team met with prospective advertising agencies last month.
To form this tense, use the verb “to be” as a helping verb, plus the “-ing” form of your main verb. Use this tense to discuss projects that are still in progress.
They are developing a social media campaign for the summer collection.
Our designer is currently presenting her work to the client.
Have a recent development to report? Use the present perfect.
For example, if your manager is aware that you’re working on a specific task, you can use this tense to update them on any changes to its status.
This tense is formed with “to have” as a helping verb, plus the past participle of your main verb. You may want to also incorporate words like just, already, yet or still to give further information about the status.
We have just established a new customer service center in São Paulo, Brazil.
Renovation of the building has already begun, but they have not started the recruitment drive yet.
Present Perfect Continuous
Use the present perfect continuous to emphasize the effort you’ve been putting in!
This differs from the situation above in that it demonstrates a continuous effort that started in the past and is ongoing.
To form this tense, use “has been/have been” plus the “-ing” form of your main verb.
The Customer Experience team has been working closely with local vendors to design more efficient procedures.
I have been coordinating her relocation to Paris with HR for the past three months.
3. Discussing Future Plans and Projections
Knowing your future forms is key to managing expectations. Is it a promise? Is it definite?
You’re probably already at least somewhat familiar with this tense. Just remember that you can use “will” or “going to” plus a verb to indicate a commitment or prediction for the future.
As a general rule, “going to” is a bit less formal than “will.”
Our Customer Care Agent will respond to your complaint within 24 hours.
The business will expand to North America in the next two to three years.
We are going to have a brief discussion at the cafe before visiting the client.
It is going to be very difficult to retract that statement once it is published.
Here’s the present continuous again. You can use it to describe future activities that’ve already been arranged.
This means it’s on! No backing out!
Mark is meeting the Procurement Manager tomorrow at 10 a.m.
We are launching the new product on the 15th of April.
Here’s a specific use of the present simple to describe plans for a formally arranged event or action.
Use the verb “to be” in the present simple tense, plus the phrase “due to/set to [verb].”
Confusing? Examples will help:
The new service center is due to begin operations in July of next year.
The bands are set to arrive at 6 p.m., so they have enough time to rehearse.
For advanced English speakers, you may find the appropriate situation to use the future perfect (“will have” + past participle) or future perfect continuous (“will have been” + verb in “-ing” form) to forecast the completion of a certain task by a specific point in time.
By the time he arrives, we will have ended the meeting.
By next January, we will have been developing this product for three years.
4. Describing Past Activities and Telling Stories
Imagine yourself at a conference, glass in hand, ready to charm your listeners with a story.
Unsurprisingly, you’ll need to use the English past tenses to explain what happened. Try mixing the simple past, past perfect (“had”+ past participle), past continuous (“was/were” + “-ing” form of verb) and past perfect continuous (“had been” + “-ing” form of verb) to weave it together.
The Project Team had been testing the new software when they encountered an issue. I was having a teleconference with a client when Steven told me. I was so upset, I started criticizing him, but I hadn’t put my phone on mute. The client heard everything! So embarrassing!
Again, the UC Irvine verb class is a great option to learn how to blend tenses naturally like this, and GrammarBank has some great mixed verb tense exercises.
5. Discussing Hypothetical Situations
Our day-to-day professional lives often require us think creatively. This might come up when we’re brainstorming, having a job interview or analyzing past events.
These situations call for the use of second and third conditionals.
The second conditional is used for present and future imaginary situations. The formula is “if” + simple past verb… “would” + infinitive verb.
Again, examples always make it easier:
If you sent me the data on Friday, I would review it before the end of the day.
The third conditional discusses alternative results for situations that didn’t happen. The formula is “if” + past perfect verb… “would have” + past participle.
If I had known Paul was working for our competitor, I would have told him less.
If we had met the Finance Director, we would have addressed her concerns about the ROI.
You’ve made it past learning all the English tenses, so go ahead and pat yourself on the back. But don’t stop there, use these review resources to keep your skills sharp and accelerate your program to becoming a fluent business English speaker!