Discuss the Tense System of English.English lanuage and grammar

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As the word tense means time, Modern English has 6 tenses (3 are simple tenses and 3 are compound), with 3 forms of these tenses.  These tenses are formed from the 4 principal parts of verbs: 

  1. the infinitive (often called the present form)   e.g. to see, to walk
  2. the present participle   e.g. seeing, walking
  3. the past form             e.g. saw, walked
  4. the past participle       e.g. seen, walked ( the auxiliary verbs has, have, had, or will have are used with the past participle)

In the BASIC form, the 3 simple (meaning one verb is used) tenses are

  1. Present tense (formed by using the infinitive minus "to"-principal part #1) is used to express what occurs at the moment [Susie reads well], used to express what one does on a regular basis [Susie rides the bus to school], and sometimes used to express future action when accompanied by a time word [You know, Susie goes to the dentist tomorrow.]
  2. Past tense - (formed by using the past form -principal part #3) is used to express an action that has been completed in the past. [Susie went to the dentist.]
  3. Future tense - (formed by using principal part #1 plus the auxiliary (helping) verb shall or will) is used to express an action that will be completed at a later time. [Susie will not be home Tuesday.]

The three compound tenses (the Latin word perfect means completed) are

  1. Present Perfect - (formed by using the past participle (principal part #4 and the auxiliary verb has or have) is used to express an action that began in the past, but is completed in the present [Susie has finished her homework]
  2. Past Perfect - (formed by using principal part #4 and had) is used to express an action that occurred and was completed prior to another in the past. [Susie had just opened the door as the phone rang.]
  3. Future Perfect - (formed by using principal part #4 and will have) is used to express an action that will be completed in the future. [By June, Susie will have completed junior high school.]

The PROGRESSIVE form for all the 6 tenses uses the auxiliary verb to be, conjugated in the appropriate tense, with the present participle.  Thus for the verb to run the 6 tenses would look like this:

  1. I am running                Present Progressive Tense
  2. I was running               Past Progressive Tense
  3. I will be running            Future Progressive Tense
  4. I have been running      Present Perfect Progr.Tense
  5. I had been running        Past Perfect Progr. Tense
  6. I will have been running   Future Perfect Progr. Tense

The EMPHATIC form is only in the Present tense and the simple Past Tense.  The auxiliary verb do/does is used with the present form of the main verb for the Present tense, and the auxiliary verb did is used with the present form of the main verb for the Past tense.

Present:  Susie does speak well.  Susie did speak clearly on the stage.   [Do not confuse the use of do and did in questions for the Emphatic form.  They are just auxiliary verbs in those cases in the Basic Form.  e.g.  Didn't Susie speak well yesterday?]

clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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English verb tenses are built around: past, present, or future combined with: simple, perfect, or progressive.

Past: He ran.  He had run.  He was running.
Present: He runs.  He has run.  He is running.
Future: He will run.  He will have run.  He will be running.

The following resource not only simplifies the information you are looking for, but it actually breaks it down with diagrams.  It really requires no explanation or summary.

The difficult thing when it comes to verbs in the English language is the multitude of "irregular" verbs - where the entire word changes as a result of the tense - rather than simply adding "-ed."

Awake.  Awoke.  Awoken.
Bring.  Brought.
Cut.  Cut.  Cut.


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