Grammatical Tense in English
Do you want to know how to talk about an action or event that happened a few seconds, a few years or even hundreds and thousands of years in the past or future?
Tense in grammar shows us when a verb’s action or its state is taking place. Tenses are usually shown by inflectional morphemes (for example by the suffix '–ed' in English language) or by free morphemes (for example by 'will', as in 'she will study'.).
The main tenses found in many languages are:
- The past (something happened earlier)
- The present (something happening now)
- The future (something going to happen)
Some languages have only two distinct tenses:
past and nonpast,
future and nonfuture.
Some languages do not have tense at all, like most of the Chinese languages.
Relative tense vs. Absolute Tense
the grammatical tense can be categorized into two distinct possible uses: relative tense and absolute tense.
The difference between absolute and relative tense is in the use of adverbs of time. Absolute time adverbs such as next week, six hours ago, in four days or tomorrow are related to the time of utterance. For example, tomorrow is the day after the day when the sentence is uttered.
In contrast, relative time adverbs such as two hours before, seven days after or the day before require a textual reference point in the context.
Tenses are usually connected with the category of aspect. Aspect gives more information about the state of the verb's action. It is the extension of the state or action in time. There are four aspects in the English language:
- Progressive (continuous)
- Perfect Progressive
Simple aspect is equaled to the basic present, past, and future tense verb forms. A verb with a simple aspect doesn't necessarily specify if an action is complete or not. For an action that's ongoing or unfinished, we use progressive tenses. For a completed and finished action, we use perfect or perfect progressive tenses.
- I talked. (simple past)
- I am talking. (present continuous, action is ongoing)
- I was talking. (past continuous, action was ongoing in the past)
- I will be talking. (future continuous, ongoing action will happen later)
- I have talked. (present perfect, action is completed)
- I had talked. (past perfect, action was completed in the past)
- I will have talked. (future perfect, action will be completed in the future)
- I have been talking. (present perfect progressive, the current ongoing action is complete)
- I had been talking. (past perfect progressive, the action was ongoing in the past and completed in the past)
- I will have been talking. (future perfect progressive, ongoing action will be completed in the future)
Grammatical mood is a feature of verbs and is used for showing the speaker's attitude toward what they are saying (for example if they are stating a fact, a desire or a command). Mood is often manifested by the use of verbal inflections.
For example in English the word "talk" is shown in different tenses, aspects and moods:
- Tense: He talked (Past), He talks (Present), He will talk (Future).
- Aspect: He talked (Simple), He was talking (Progressive), He used to talk (Repeated).
- Mode: I can talk (Possibility), Talk faster! (Imperative).
The Future Tense Debate
Many contemporary linguists believe that tenses are manifested by the inflectional categories (or different endings) of a verb. Because of this, they don't consider the future to be a tense. In English we only use an inflectional distinction between the present (for example, laugh or leave) and the past (laughed, left). But the linguists who relate "tense" with a time change, then for them, the future is definitely a tense.