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Time Expressions in English

There are plenty of words in English that can help us clarify exactly or approximately when an action did or did not happen. Here is a lesson on how to use eight of these time expressions.

Basic Definitions

  • never: It did not ever occur, in the past or present. (not + ever)
  • always: something is continual or habitual.
  • ever: at any time, in any case
  • before: at a previous time
  • since: from a past time to the present time
  • so far: from then (a point in the past) until now
  • up to now: existed up to this point
  • by now: at this point in time




“I never get a good view at the theater, because a tall person always sits in front of me!”
“Don’t come here anymore. I never want to see you again!”


“I always love seeing my grandmother. She loves me so much and gives me lots of presents.”
“She must love chocolate. I always see her eating it!”


“You broke my heart. I don’t ever want to see you again!” (compare to never above)
“Have you ever been to Paris?”


“I’ve never seen him before. Who is he?”
“I’ve read that book before, but I don’t remember much.”


“I haven’t seen you since elementary school, but I still recognize you!”
“He hasn’t visited Europe since he was eight years old.”

so far

“How are things going so far, Kevin?”
So far, so good.”

up to now

Up to now, I’ve been pretty happy at my new school, but I hope things get better.”
“He’s been a good student up to now. This was the first time he behaved badly.”

by now

By now, you should be fluent in English. You’ve been studying for 30 years!”
“She should have been home by now. It takes 15 minutes to go to the store, and she’s been gone for an hour!”

Want personalized feedback on your English? Post your questions and comments below!

SOURCE: http://dictionary.reference.com/


  1. If an expression of time is used at the beginning of a sentence it is NOT the main focus in the sentence? I find that a bit odd. I always thought it was indeed the main focus. Fe: Every Sunday Tom visits his parents. I always thougt that time was emphasized in a similar sentence.
    Please explain and thanks a lot!

    Monique Koek

    • Hi Monique! Great question.

      Honestly, I need to think about a good grammatical explanation as to why the time expression is emphasized more at the end of the sentence. In pronunciation, we default to emphasizing the last content word in the sentence. In your example, I would emphasize “every Sunday” if it were at the end of my sentence. If “every Sunday” began the sentence, my voice would default to emphasizing “parents”.

      You can check out the lessons on thought groups, focus words and intonation for more explanation. But that is one explanation as to why the time expression is the focus of the sentence when it’s at the end and not the beginning.

      Does that help?

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