Tenses

Tenses – An Overview

In the weeks to come, I will address tenses as part of my grammar blog on Fridays. To most English-bred writers, tenses come naturally, but not to writers to whom English is a foreign language.

A few writers write in the present tense, but most prefer the past tense as it gives more options to describe what is happening. I myself prefer the past tense. Sometimes, however, I find that a simple present tense sneakily slips in. Hence, I love my beta-readers, and I edit and edit and edit…

Overview

Tenses in language are used for time reference. There are many different constructions for time reference and not all languages use the same one. Basic tenses have a past, a present, and a future. Some languages have a past and a non-past (which is both the present and the future), while other languages have a future and non-future (which is the past and the present). Some languages don’t weave time into their verbs at all. Some languages differentiate near and remote pasts or near and remote futures.

The TAM system

The English language uses the ‘TAM’ system; the Tense-Aspect-Mood system.

Verbs mark in what tense the action is happening: the past, present, or future (the tense proper).

The aspect shows if the action is happening (continuous), is completed before another action (perfect), is an action that had been ongoing but is completed at a certain point (perfect continuous), or is an action that is just stated (simple).

The four moods are:

  • indicative (assertion, denial, question of actuality, or strong probability)
  • imperative (request, direct order, permission, and strong suggestion)
  • conditional (if sentences, hypothetical results, reporting dialogue, polite speech)
  • subjunctive (desires, wishes, assumptions).

The indicative is the most used mood form in the English language.

English is a Germanic language that has a past and a present (non-past) and these tenses are formed morphologically (the tense is created with the verb only). The future tense is made with auxiliaries, i.e. it is made of the same non-past tense with a supplementary supporting word (will or shall).

The table below may help you understand.

Tenses
Morphological With auxiliaries
Present Past Future
 

 

 

Aspects

 

Simple

 

I work I worked I will work
 

Continuous

 

I am working I was working I will be working
 

Perfect

 

I have worked I had worked I will have worked
 

Perfect continuous

 

I have been working I had been working I will have been working

Tenses in verbs are a large subject in the English language. Therefore I will limit the forms in the posts to come to regular verbs and the examples to positive sentence structures (no negatives or questions). I won’t go into abbreviations either.

For the following explanation of the tenses, please note that the root of a verb is the base form of a verb (= whole verb minus –ing).

Example: working – verb root = work

An overview of posts to come

Past

  • Simple Past
  • Past Continuous
  • Past Perfect
  • Past Perfect Continuous

Present

  • Simple Present
  • Present Continuous
  • Present Perfect
  • Present Perfect Continuous

Future

  • Simple Future
  • Future Continuous
  • Future Perfect
  • Future Perfect Continuous

 

Timeline Graph

Tenses_Graph

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense#English

http://www.whitesmoke.com/tense-aspect-mood/

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/simple-present/

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/verbtenseintro.html

http://www.ef.co.uk/english-resources/

https://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar

http://www.whitesmoke.com/tense-aspect-mood

http://www.ef.com/english-resources/english-grammar/verbs/

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