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THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
This article is from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_the_GNU_Free_Documentation_License 

Grammatical tense

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Grammatical tense is a way languages express the time at which an event described by a sentence occurs. In English, this is a property of a verb form, and expresses only time-related information.

Tense, along with mood, voice and person, are four ways in which verb forms are frequently characterized, in languages where those categories apply. There are languages (mostly isolating languages, like Chinese) where tense is not expressed anywhere in the verb or any auxiliaries, but only as adverbs of time, when needed for comprehension; in the same condition, grammatical tense in certain languages can be expressed optionally (such as Vietnamese), for example, "sinh" meaning "birth" and "sanh" meaning "birthed"; and there are also languages (such as Russian) where verbs indicate aspect rather than tense.

The exact number of tenses in a language is often a matter of some debate, since many languages include the state of certainty of the information, the frequency of the event, whether it is ongoing or finished, and even whether the information was directly experienced or gleaned from hearsay, as moods or tenses of a verb. Some grammarians consider these to be separate tenses, and some do not.

Tenses cannot be easily mapped from one language into another. While all languages have a "default" tense with a name usually translated as "present tense" (or "simple present"), the actual meaning of this tense may vary considerably.

English tenses

Strictly speaking, English has only two tenses: nonpast tense and past tense, which are shown with the verb endings -Ø and -ed.

The following chart shows how T/M/A (tense/modal/aspect) is expressed in English:

Since will is a modal auxiliary, it cannot co-occur with other modals like can, may, and must. Only aspects can be used in infinitives. Some linguists consider will a future marker and give English two more tenses, future tense and future-in-past tense, which are shown by will and would respectively.

Compound tenses

The more complex tenses in Indo-European languages are formed by combining a particular tense of the verb with certain verbal auxiliaries, the most common of which are various forms of "be", various forms of "have", and modal auxiliaries such as English will. Romance and Germanic languages often add "to hold", "to stand", "to go", or "to come" as auxiliary verbs. For example, Spanish uses estar ("to be at the moment") with the present gerund to indicate the present continuous. Portuguese uses ter ("have") with the past participle for the perfect tense. Swedish uses kommer att ("come to") for the simple future, and Spanish ir a ("go to") for the same. These constructions are often known as complex tenses or compound tenses (a more accurate technical term is periphrastic tenses).

Examples of some generally-recognized Indo-European and Finnish tenses using the verb "to go" are shown in the table below.


 

* отивам and отида are two different verbs, both meaning "to go", and both can be conjugated in all the above tenses, but in order best to preserve the English and Spanish meaning, only some of their forms are shown.

Tense, aspect, and mood

The distinction between grammatical tense, aspect, and mood is fuzzy and at times controversial. The English continuous temporal constructions express an aspect as well as a tense, and some therefore consider that aspect to be separate from tense in English. In Spanish the traditional verb tenses are also combinations of aspectual and temporal information.

Going even further, there's an ongoing dispute among modern English grammarians (see English grammar) regarding whether tense can only refer to inflected forms. In Germanic languages there are very few tenses (often only two) formed strictly by inflection, and one school contends that all complex or periphrastic time-formations are aspects rather than tenses.

The abbreviation TAM , T/A/M or TMA is sometimes found when dealing with verbal morphemes that combine tense, aspect and mood information.

In some languages, tense and other TAM information may be marked on a noun, rather than a verb. This is called nominal TAM.

Classification of tenses

Tenses can be broadly classified as:

  • absolute: indicates time in relationship to the time of the utterance (i.e. "now"). For example, "I am sitting down", the tense is indicated in relation to the present moment.
  • relative: in relationship to some other time, other than the time of utterance, e.g. "Strolling through the shops, she saw a nice dress in the window". Here, the "saw" is relative to the time of the "strolling". The relationship between the time of "strolling" and the time of utterance is not clearly specified.
  • absolute-relative: indicates time in relationship to some other event, whose time in turn is relative to the time of utterance. (Thus, in absolute-relative tense, the time of the verb is indirectly related to the time of the utterance; in absolute tense, it is directly related; in relative tense, its relationship to the time of utterance is left unspecified.) For example, "When I walked through the park, I saw a bird." Here, "saw" is present relative to the "walked", and "walked" is past relative to the time of the utterance, thus "saw" is in absolute-relative tense.

Moving on from this, tenses can be quite finely distinguished from one another, although no language will express simply all of these distinctions. As we will see, some of these tenses in fact involve elements of modality (e.g. predictive and not-yet tenses), but they are difficult to classify clearly as either tenses or moods.

Many languages define tense not just in terms of past/future/present, but also in terms of how far into the past or future they are. Thus they introduce concepts of closeness or remoteness, or tenses that are relevant to the measurement of time into days (hodiernal or hesternal tenses).

Some languages also distinguish not just between past, present, and future, but also nonpast, nonpresent, nonfuture. Each of these latter tenses incorporates two of the former, without specifying which.

Some tenses:

  • Absolute tenses
    • Future tenses. Some languages have different future tenses to indicate how far into the future we are talking about. Some of these include:
      • Close future tense: in the near future, soon
      • Hodiernal future tense: sometime today
      • Post-hodiernal future tense: sometime after today
      • Remote future tense: in the more distant future
      • Predictive future tense: a future tense which expresses a prediction rather than an intention, i.e. "I predict he will lose the election, although I want him to win". As such, it is really more of a mood than a tense. (Its tenseness rather than modality lies in the fact that you can predict the future, but not the past.)
    • Nonfuture tense: refers to either the present or the past, but does not clearly specify which. Contrasts with future.
    • Nonpast tense: refers to either the present or the future, but does not clearly specify which. Contrasts with past.
    • Not-yet tense: has not happened in present or past (nonfuture), but often with the implication that it is expected to happen in the future. (As such, is both a tense and a modality). In English, it is expressed with "not yet", hence its name.
    • Past tenses. Some languages have different past tenses to indicate how far into the past we are talking about.
      • Hesternal past tense: yesterday or early, but not remote
      • Hodiernal past tense: sometime earlier today
      • Immediate past tense: very recent past tense, e.g. in the last minute or two
      • Recent past tense: in the last few days/weeks/months (exact definition varies)
      • Remote past tense: more than a few days/weeks/months ago (exact definition varies)
      • Nonrecent past tense: not recent past tense, contrasting with recent past tense
      • Nonremote past tense: not remote past tense, contrasting with remote past tense
      • Prehesternal past tense: before hesternal past tense
      • Prehodiernal past tense: before hodiernal past tense
      • Preterit: past tense not marked for aspect or modality
    • Present tense
    • Still tense: indicates a situation held to be the case, at or immediately before the utterance
  • Absolute-relative tenses
    • future perfect tense: will have completed by some time in the future, will occur before some time in the future
    • future-in-future tense: at some time in the future, will still be in the future
    • future-in-past tense: at some time in the future, will be in the past
    • future-perfect-in-past tense: will be completed by some time which is in the future of some time in the past, eg., Sally went to work; by the time she should be home, the burglary would have been completed. (this tense does not make much sense, ask a local English professional before using it)
    • past perfect tense: at some time in the past, was already in the past
  • Relative tenses
    • relative future tense: is in the future of some unspecified time
    • relative nonfuture tense: is in the past or present of some unspecified time
    • relative nonpast tense: is in the present or future of some unspecified time
    • relative past tense: is in the past of some unspecified time
    • relative present tense: is in the present of some unspecified time

Bibliography

  • Bybee, Joan L., Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca (1994) The Evolution of Grammar: Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the World. University of Chicago Press.
  • Comrie, Bernard (1985) Tense. Cambridge University Press. [ISBN 0-521-28138-5]
  • Downing, Angela, and Philip Locke (1992) "Viewpoints on Events: Tense, Aspect and Modality". In A. Downing and P. Locke, A University Course in English Grammar, Prentice Hall International, 350--402.
  • Guillaume, Gustave (1929) Temps et verbe. Paris: Champion.
  • Hopper, Paul J., ed. (1982) Tense-Aspect: Between Semantics and Pragmatics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
  • Tedeschi, Philip, and Anne Zaenen, eds. (1981) Tense and Aspect. (Syntax and Semantics 14). New York: Academic Press.

See also

  • English grammar
  • Grammar
  • Grammatical conjugation
  • Grammatical mood
  • Grammatical aspect

External links

  • Tenses Flowchart and worksheet (pdf-file)
  • English Verb Tenses
  • Short descriptions of the English Tenses
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense"
 

 

 

 


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