How many tenses do native speakers of English use to communicate?

Got this question:

Hi Julian! What a great voice! Your accent is very clear! I like this video a lot! My question: on a daily basis, when doing ordinary activities (like running errands, doing chores…) how many tenses do you think native speakers of English use to communicate? Thanks!

Oscar Aldomá

This is a good question.

This is something that’s easier to show you, so watch this:

This is all just rough.

But you get the idea.

So basically we can say that native speakers use the simple forms 80% of the time, then the present forms… and from there it’s all downhill.

Of course…

… that doesn’t mean people never use the other grammatical tenses.

They certainly do.

Every very tense is used somewhere

Next week I will have been doing the EES programme for 3 years.

When you need the future perfect progressive, well, you need it. No matter how rare it is relatively speaking.

But the point is…

The way speakers actually use the tenses is clearly extremely imbalanced. And so the approach you take to learning the patterns of language (including tenses) needs to take this into account. What most people do is actually backwards, and it’s, well, not very good.

This is where what I call…

“Example-Based Learning” comes in.

I talk about this in detail in Master English FAST in chapter 6.

You can check out the first Chapter of MEF here, for free.


Julian Northbrook
Will have been a language punk for 10 years soon.

P.S. All language follows this 80/20 pattern – and my best selling book, Master English FAST shows you have to identify it.


Meet the Author

Julian Northbrook

Julian Northbrook is an unconventional punk of the business English learning world. A leading expert in English education and direct response marketing, he’s fully equipped to drag you kicking and screaming from English-mediocracy to speaking at an outstanding level. After being turned down for his dream job in the art industry, Julian suffered three long years as a crap Japanese speaker. He understands exactly what it’s like to feel like a total idiot every time you speak. But Julian overcame his language problems, mastered the language, and went on to work first as a freelance translator, then as an executive member of a Japanese company. But he soon grew sick of the corporate world and left it to pursue something infinitely more satisfying — running his own business helping small business owners and entrepreneurs get so good at English that they forget that it’s not their first language. He writes the infamous Doing English Daily Newsletter which you can (and should) subscribe to.