Grammar: Tense

Tense is the grammatical capability of verbs to show by distinctive forms or arrangements the time when the action of the verb occurs, occurred, or will occur. "Tense" is derived from Latin tempus (time). Any set of forms or structures signaling a particular time relation is called a tense of the language (as, present tense, past tense). Among grammatical categories, tense is one of the most complex and controversial because (1) time as such is an abstruse philosophical notion; (2) grammarians cannot agree on a way of analyzing the linguistic markers of time relation; (3) known languages present a bewildering array of time patternings; and (4) tense merges with mood or mode in analyzing verbs. Recognizing the commonsense division of time into "now," "before now," and “after now," traditional grammarians say that a modem English finite verb has six tenses: the present (he walks), the past or preterit (he walked), the future (he will walk), the present perfect (he has walked), the past perfect or pluperfect (he had walked), and the future perfect (he will have walked). They also identify a "progressive tense" (he is walking, was walking) and an "emphatic" conjugation (he does walk, did walk). Structural-descriptive grammarians prefer to restrict the term "tense" to cases in which the form (sound and spelling) of the base verb actually changes to signal a time relation. Hence, for them, modern English has only two tenses the present or common tense and the past or preterit. They deal with the other traditional tenses as phrasal verbs varying in aspect, phase, and mood or mode. Aspect and phase deal not with the now, before now, and after now but with the state of the action-is it beginning, going on, or finished? The durative aspect, for example, signals an action in process (he is walking); the perfect phase signals an action completed (he has walked). The "future tense" employs a modal auxiliary ("shall" or "will"), which is grammatically analogous to "can," "may," "must," and the like. This analysis not only stresses the formal characteristics of English but also recognizes the historical development of the English tense system from the combination of base forms with various auxiliaries.

More by this Author

  • Facts about Bananas

    Banana is a perennial seed plant that produces an edible fruit, also called a banana. It is found in tropical regions. Distribution of Bananas A native of the East Indies or Malay Archipelago, the banana was...

  • What is a Metaphor?

    A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one kind of object or idea is compared or identified with another kind in order to suggest a Similarity between them. Often the comparison is a highly imaginative one between...

  • Who is susceptible to vitamin deficiency?

    Serious deficiency diseases like rickets or beriberi are almost non-existent in developed countries. However, there are certain defined groups in the community who are more at risk of vitamin deficiency than others....


No comments yet.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article