Through these last years learning French I have aquired the basic tool kit of the main tenses in English and can explain them easily in less than an hour. The reason I mention it is that I read "The Stranger", by Albert Camus in English and much later in French. In French to me it has so much more suspense because of the manner in which the past tense is used from the opening scene of the book when he is going to his mother's funeral. As if a condemned man well a dead man is telling the story. I never got that subtle feeling of powerlessness reading the English version that I did reading it in French. Also now that I understand the structures of the basic verbs I am more conscious about how these tenses feel to me when writing. I must mention that one of my favorite sentences in Camus, paraphrasing, "the gun was in my hand and the gun went off, so existentially morbid.
Before moving to Paris I was a Registered Nurse for 15 years at the same hospital. So my training is not in languages at all or English. My first University degree is a Bachelors in Fine Arts and I love reading and writing although not really paying attention to the specifics of English Grammar. To be honest the only grammar I had tried to learn in my past was two sememsters of college Spanish. I am not a grammar person per se. Nor do I consider myself a language person although I can function in Spanish and have attained a decent level in French since living in France these last years. I know a few words in my Native American language of my grandmother that she taught me. So to preface this grammar blog I am no grammar expert yet I like grammar. I learned by needing to understand English to learn French.
Here is a following list of the basic grammar tenses in English: present simple, present progressive, future simple and future progressive, past simple and past progressive, present perfect and present perfect progressive and past perfect and past perfect progressive plus some grammar expressions that are common like "going to" or "used to". The two basic categories are state of being and action, as in French these two categories are not differentiated as in most latin languages. So we have the simple tenses, and the be + ing tenses explaining actions. I usually don't teach the passive tense such as my leg is broken verses I broke my leg although it seemed to work for Camus. I heard it is better not to write in the passive voice if possible. It's less dynamic.
Present simple..third person "s", I eat, you eat, he/she/it eat(s), we/they eat, an example would be I eat an apple.
Present progressive....be + ing, I am eating an apple.
Future simple......will + verb I will eat an apple for breakfast tomorrow.
Future Progessive.......be + ing I will be eating an apple for breakfast tomorrow.
Past Simple.....irregular verbs such as eat/ate/eaten or regular verbs adding ed endings such as played. He ate an apple.
Past Progressive.....be + ing I was eating an apple when you called. Often two actions.
Present Perfect...have + past participle I have eaten many apples in my life.
Present Perfect Progressive.... have + be + verb + ing I have been eating apples all my life.
Past Perfect....had + past participle usually a story of some sort, I had heard on the radio that Princess Diana had been in a car accident. Similar rule to past simple yet I find this tense more dreamy and usually several actions.
Past Perfect Progressive....had + past participle + verb + ing I had been eating an apple when I read in the newspaper she had died. Often in combination with other tenses.
Going to....I am going to visit Spain in August.
Used to....I used to have long hair and now it is shoulder length.
The Present Perfect is a difficult tense for latin language speakers to use as it is something that happens in the past until now. I always refer to it as a string from the past to something that still is going on today. For instance I have played tennis since I was a child. The string going from your childhood until now. Time is very interesting to deal with in langauge and different in all cultures also how the verbs are organized for instance the Russian teacher was explaining basic Russian grammar to me and it sounds very different in how it is organized in comparison to English. Also when we learn a language we are always holding up our native language for comparison. So even for people who might be learning their third language it is our mother tongue we use a reference.
What I love about English phrasal verbs. Such as stand up, etc. the verb plus the preposition. It makes english really flexible about different meanings using these word combinations. I also love all the adjectives in English. For me French seems to have fewer words and so the language has a lot of meanings based on how the word is used and the context. I find it just a more complex language overall even with less vocabulary and more subtle. Currently I am trying to change from an English teacher to something working in more medical research or international health type of field because my French has improved enough to do this. The economy in Europe is very competitive job wise as I soppose it is everywhere.
This is a very general overview and then there are finer points of punctuation and just general word choice that influence how things are understood. I have heard teachers say that learning a language is like creating framework like building a house. I have also heard it is like a tree by a linguist. For me learning French starting in my forties basically it is so different than learning a language as a child or even teen. A neurologist told me that after 12 years old our brains are not plastic enough to learn languages spontaneously. For instance I was just learning a how to make the difference with the sound pou and peu in french and than I have these strange associations with the words after. Unlike having few associations to learning words in English.
For me learning a language is like learning to swim. You first cling to the side in the shallow end hanging around the stairs. Than you dog paddle and get to the side clinging desperately. Using the same phrases you know over and over is the dog paddle in the shallow end. This goes on for a while this dog paddling madly dashing from one side of the pool to the other in the shallow end. Than one day you learn a few breast strokes or crawl and can go into the deep end of the pool. Than it is just a matter of time that you can really enjoy yourself. For me when I am writing I try to keep some sort of grammatical consistency throughout a work just a general rhythm. I have to secretly admit I like the past perfect. It seems like a magical music box to me.