English Tense and Aspects
Learning Contents Summary
The contents on English Tense and Aspects expose learners of English as second language or foreign language to the rudiments of timing and time descriptions in English language. This course serves as an avenue for learners from diverse academic disciplines to acquire the knowledge on tense and aspects in English, to facilitate easy communication both in written and spoken linguistic forms. It also creates the opportunity for learners to understand the variations in the tense and aspects of English to facilitate appropriateness of usage in diverse linguistic domains.
At the end of the study, learners should be able to:
- understand the basis of English tense and aspects;
- differentiate between the categories of tenses and the various aspects in the English language; and
- use the two tenses and various aspects of English language appropriately in both speech and writing within and outside the academic domain.
Verb is the most important part of a sentence. Unlike other parts of speech as well as other components of a sentence (subject, object/compliment and adjunct), a verb encapsulates and conveys the sense in a sentence. A verb does not only indicate an action, it also describes the position and possession (states) of a subject. Time is a universal phenomenon, which is not peculiar to language alone. Contrarily, language is human specific, a code for communication among humans. Considering this all-important role of language among humans, human being must achieve relative precision in their speeches in order to understand what is said. Hence, tense is used to relate the event or happening, expressed by the verb to a scale of time in the present and past. Also, tense is a term used to indicate the time of the action or event.
The English Tenses
Tense simply describes the situations and processes of the action, including the statement of time. This chapter exposes the readers to the way verbs express information about time, which is regarded as tense. The discussion in this chapter also extends to the description of the aspects of the English tenses. Approaching tense from the point of view of time, the English tenses are of three kinds: present tense, past tense and future tense. Contrarily, considering the inflectional structure of tenses based on the changes in the form of the verb, there are two main types of verb: present tense and past tense (Babu1 & Raj Kumar, 2017, p. 48). However, for a better understanding of the comprehensive notion of tense, three types are discussed in this chapter.
They are simple:
- present tense;
- past tense; and
- future tense.
Simple Present Tense
The simple present tense is used in specific manners and it has specific structures. Firstly, the present tense expresses:
- a general or universal truth such as the statement of fact;
- Human beings are social and political animals.
- The world is round and the sky is blue.
- habitual actions and events;
- It rains heavily between May and July.
- I travel occasionally in October.
- The school opens every day except on holidays.
- the description and presentation of people;
- Mr. Thomas is easygoing and generous.
- Ladies and gentlemen, here comes the celebrant.
- future actions;
- The visitor travels tomorrow.
- He eats the fruits tomorrow before breakfast.
- Titi weans her baby next month.
- My birthday comes up in two months.
- gives instruction and warning;
- Do not walk in the night!
- Beware of dogs!
- and introduces a quotation.
- Keats asserts that: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever".
- Soyinka claims that "those who want to be great must respect the "great".
Secondly, considering the structure of a simple present tense, the tense can be singular or plural. Illustrations are cited on the table below under the headings
Present Tense Singular and Present Tense Plural.
|Present Tense Singular||Present Tense Plural|
|The world is round||Example Human beings are social animals.|
|He travels on Christmas holidays.||They travel on Christmas holidays.|
|Mr. John does not go to the temple.||The bishops do not go to the temple.|
|My mother has five children||Those pupils have their snacks in their bags.|
Simple Past Tense
The simple past tense verb is used to indicate an action that was already completed. A past tense verb is usually accompanied by adverbs of time emphasising the past.
- I wrote you yesterday.
- I travelled to London last year.
- The simple past tense also expresses past habitual actions.
- Mr. Moses rarely visited family members during Christmas.
- They have never paid our wages on holidays.
- Past tense verbs also express polite request and indicate attitude of greater respect, especially the past tense forms of the modal auxiliary verbs:
- Could you tell me your name?
- Did you wish to see me?
- Past tense is used in hypothetical statements.
- If I were you, I would have chosen the red dress.
- Had I known, I would have studied well.
- The simple past tense indicates an action in the passive form.
- The boy was bitten by a snake.
- Her bag was stolen at the terminus.
Simple Future Tense
The simple future tense is used to indicate an action, which would take place at a period later than the present. It expresses the speaker’s opinions, assumptions and speculations about the future. The future tense is used for indicating:
For example: tomorrow will be a sunny day.
b. willingness or unwillingness;
- I will do the laundry for you.
- She wouldn’t listen to our request.
c. a means of seeking advice and instruction;
For example: how shall I go about the task?
d. an act of request;
For example: will you marry me?
e. an outright decision:
For example: I will travel by air to Lagos.
Secondly, future time is often referred to through the use of the following structures:
a. Present tense plus the modals and a future time adverbial;
- I will go tomorrow.
- We shall see you in the evening.
b. Present tense plus ‘be’ plus infinitive;
- They are to be married soon.
- Those students are to see me in two days.
c. Present tense plus be and about plus infinitive;For example:
- Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to end this session.
- The lecture is about to commence.
d. Present progressive plus time adverbial; For example:
- I am travelling tomorrow.
- We are writing the last paper next week.
Aspects describe the length of an action, and how the speaker perceives the action, regarding whether the situation of the action is complete or incomplete at the time of reference. Aspects contribute additional time-related sense to the action being described in a sentence. Based on the discussion in the previous section, tense types are three in number: present tense; past tense; and future tense. According to Babu1 and Raj Kumar (2017, p. 48), the aspects of these three tenses are four: simple, perfect, continuous (or progressive) and perfect continuous (or perfect progressive). Hence, the aspects of each of the tense types are highlighted on the table below:
|Present Tense||Past Tense||Future Tense|
|Aspects||Simple Present Tense|
Present Perfect Tense
Present Continuous Tense
Present Perfect Continuous Tense
|Simple Past Tense|
Past Perfect Tense
Past Continuous Tense
Past Perfect Continuous Tense
|Simple Future Tense|
Future Perfect Tense
Future Continuous Tense
Future Perfect Continuous Tense
Based on the tabular presentation above, the present tense has "four aspects", likewise the past and future tenses. All together, the aspects of the three English tenses are twelve in number. Since the discussion in the previous section centered on the three basic tense forms, the nine aspects of the English tenses are the focus of the discussion in this section. The nine aspects of the English tenses can be grouped into two; perfectives and progressives.
The perfectives refer to actions which started in the past and spanned over a given period. Perfectives are presented as complete, whole, and finished at a referenced period. The period of the action may extend to the present, thus, the "present perfect tense". However, if the period of the action extends to a past time or if the action is regarded as having been completed in the past, then, it is expressed in the "past perfect tense". Contrarily, if an action is inconclusive or the period of completion of the action extends to the future time, then, the action is expressed in "future perfect tense".
Present Perfect Tense
The present perfect is an action spanning over a particular period which extends to the present and has a current relevance.
- I "have written" an application letter to the company this year.
- They "have done" their assignments today.
- He "has not eaten" for days.
- She "has never written" me.
Past Perfect Tense
The past perfect tense is used to indicate an action which was completed at a given time in the past earlier than another action in the past, that is, the past perfect tense indicates a double past events, suggesting that a past occurrence has relevance to another event in the past.
- I "had written" the letter before light (tripped) off.
- She "had visited" the hospital before the doctors (went) on strike.
- By the time I (got) home, I (realised) that I "had misplaced " my wallet.
Future Perfect Tense
The future perfect tense is used an action which would be completed by a certain future time. It expresses an act that is predicted to be finished within a certain span of time in the future.
- I will have finished my exam by the end of July.
- If you don’t quit soon, you will have played that video game for ten hours!
Structurally, the future perfect tense is formed using the auxiliaries "will" and "have" plus the past participle of lexical verbs. It is also expressed with the use of "by" and "before". Also, the future perfect tense can also be in past tense forms. For example:
- We "would have worked" for ten years by 2015.
- They "would have finished" the construction by the end of next year.
The progressive refers to temporary event that has limited duration but is not yet completed; hence, the action is still in progress, it has not been completed as at the relevant point in time. If this point in time is in the past, then the action is expressed using the "past progressive tense"; but if it is in the present, the action is expressed in "present progressive tense". Relatively, if it projects an on-going future action, it is expressed in "future progressive tense".
Present Progressive Tense
Present progressive tense indicates an action in progress or a possible future occurrence. It is presented as incomplete or recurring during the time referenced. It usually describes an ongoing process.
- The young lady is having her breakfast now.
- I am reading an interesting book.
- I am leaving for the United States next week.
- We are working toward executing the housing project in the state.
Sometimes, the present progressive tense is used to indicate someone’s calling or profession.
- What does your mum do? She is knitting.
- My uncle is teaching at the college.
Also, the present progressive tense expresses repeated or habitual actions. For example:
- At 6.am, we are usually having the morning devotion.
- I listen to music whenever I am driving.
Past Progressive Tense
In the past progressive tense, the action is in progress at a past moment. The past continuous tense is formed using the auxiliaries is, ‘are’, was’ and ‘were’ plus the gerund participle of lexical verbs as the case may be.
- I was working at the university hospital five years ago.
- Throughout last week, they were eating dinner at their friend’s residence.
The past progressive tense can also be used to indicate repeated actions which are temporary.
- I missed the last class because I wasn't feeling very well.
- My car was off the road so; I was travelling to work by bus last week.
Future Progressive Tense
The future progressive tense presents ongoing future events that are planned. The structure of the future progressive tense usually constitutes the auxiliaries will be along with the gerund-participle of lexical verbs which usually include time-related modifiers, which can be prepositional or adverbial.
- I will be studying tonight.
- I will be playing video games when you get here.
Present Perfect Progressive Tense
Present perfect progressive tense is used to express an action which began in the past and still continuing in present and has an indefinite future. The progressive tense is used to say how long an event has happened and how long it lasts. It describes an action over a period up to the present, that is, the action ends before the present. It forms constitute the auxiliaries has been; have been and the gerund-participle of lexical verbs as the case may be. Its form also constitutes the use of ‘for’ and ‘since’.
- The government ‘has been cutting’ expenditure.
- They ‘have been hearing’ all about the incident since yesterday noon.
- The couple ‘have been waiting’ for three years.
Past Perfect Progressive Tense
The past perfect progressive tense focuses on on-going events and situations. It indicates a situation has begun in the past and must have exceeded the relevant moment into the future. It simply describes an action over a period up to a past time. The structure of this tense aspect constitutes the auxiliaries “had been” and the gerund-participle of lexical verbs.
- He ‘had been mowing’ before the rain started.
- They ‘had been investigating’ the crime all year long.
- She 'had been sleeping’ for two hours by the time the class was over.
Future Perfect Progressive Tense
The future perfect progressive tense used to indicate a future action which is in progress over a period of time that will be over in the future. It is formed from the combination of the auxiliaries “will have been” and the gerund-participle of lexical verbs.
- The game ‘will have been ended’ by next month.
- I shall ‘have been working’ in this campus for five years by the end this year.
- I ‘will have been writing’ my thesis for three years in two days.
Questions for Practice
Print out this page and then fill in the blanks with the simple present, the simple past, the present perfect, or the present perfect continuous verb form in parentheses ( ). In some cases, more than one answer is possible.
I________ (use) the internet every day.
I ____________ it for many years. (use)
I ___________ it when I ___________ (become) interested in genealogy.
I___________ (work) on my family tree for three years.
Last month, I__________ (find) information about my father’s ancestors.
My grandfather ___________ (live) with us now and likes to tell us about his past.
He___________ (is) born in Italy, but he__________ (come) here when he was very young, so he__________ (live) here most of his life.
He doesn’t remember much about Italy.
I __________ (not/find) any information about my mother’s ancestors yet.
- ↑ Verb tenses (nd). www.umaryland.edu/writing. Retrieved from https://ww.umaryland.edu/writing-verb-tenses.html
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Babu1, T. R. & Raj Kumar, A. P. (2017). Teaching tenses in a simplest method for non-native speakers. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 22(12), 26-52.
- ↑ Eastwood, J. (2002). Oxford guide to English grammar. New York: Oxford University Press.
- ↑ "Tenses in Academic Writing". English for Uni | University of Adelaide. Retrieved 2022-11-10.
- ↑ Kaur, H. (2009). Basic English. Ibadan: University Press Plc.
- ↑ Mathew, J. D. (2007). Contemporary English grammar. Lagos: Book Master.