# Overview of Tenses

## What is Tense?

Tense is a verb-based method used to indicate:

• the time, and

• sometimes the aspect/status of an action or state (i.e. complete or ongoing).

Any verb phrase can have these two components, which work together to denote a certain time (past, present or future): We construct the Future tense using present and past tense forms of the verbs, e.g. will/shall + $V_1$. So, we get three tenses (past, present & future) and four aspects.

Using these two components we get 12 tenses (3 × 4). If you remember the five forms of verbs, then you may know that there are only two finite forms of verbs – $V_1 / V_{s/es}$ (present form) and $V_2$ (past form)

There is no future form of a verb. That’s why some experts consider will/shall modal verbs as present forms only.

It’s also because their past is would, should and we can make past only from the present and not from the future.

But, we do use will/shall to formulate future tenses. Just keep in mind that any verb that comes after will/shall will be in base form (i.e. will/shall + $V_1$).

## Verb Forms and Tenses

Tense is a verb based method to indicate time.

In English Language only verbs can have tenses. Different forms of verbs are used to convey different tenses. Examples: Keep this in mind:

$V_1$ or $V_{s/es}$ or $V_2$ – it means simple present/past/future tenses

be + $V_4$ – continuous tenses

has/have/had + $V_3$ - perfect tenses

has/have/had + been ($V_3$) + $V_4$ – perfect continuous tenses

be + $V_3$ – passive voice

We will study active-passive voice in a separate module.

As per some experts there is no future tense in English, because there is no future form of a verb. We use some other constructs to make future tense, e.g. present tenses, going to, will/shall etc. Still we use the term future tense, just for our own convenience.

You will notice that most of the future tense forms are similar to present tense forms – we generally just add will/shall.

#### Some Caveats!

So, we talk about time and status of some action/state in English with tense. BUT!

• one tense time form does not always talk about one time (for example, we can use the present tense form, or even the past tense form, to talk about the future time)

• we can also talk about time without using tense, i.e. by using other formulations (for example, going to, to-infinitives, or by using words like tomorrow, yesterday, etc.)

## Tense Vs. Time depicted

It is very easy to find out the aspect of a tense (i.e. whether it is indefinite, continuous, perfect or perfect continuous).

I am working on the Manhattan Project. (working – $V_4$, it denotes that aspect is continuous, i.e. he is still working on the project)

I worked on the Manhattan Project. (worked – $V_2$, it denotes that aspect is perfect, i.e. he is no longer working there)

But to find out what time a tense is denoting, we need to study:

• form of the verb attached to the subject (present form or past form)
• the aspect (indefinite, continuous, perfect or perfect continuous) and
• some other formulations too, e.g. infinitives, going to. We usually use present tense verb forms to talk about present time and past tense for past time. But there are exceptions.

The present and past tense forms can be used to showcase all the three divisions of time (past, present and future).

There is no future tense form of verbs in English. To refer to future time we use present and past tenses or constructs like ‘be going to’ or ‘will/shall’.

We will see some of such examples in our next section given below.

## Present Tenses denoting other times

### Simple present tense denoting future time

PM leaves for China next week. (next week – denotes future time)

He likes cricket. (here we are talking about something which is true in past, present and future)

### Present continuous tense denoting past time

The other day I am just walking down the street when suddenly a bird attacks me and hits me on the head. (the other day gives a clue that we are talking about past time)

### Present continuous tense denoting future time

Sam is arriving this evening. (is arriving – present continuous tense; this evening denotes a future time)

They are living in Rajasthan. (here we are talking about something which is true in past, present and future)

Sometimes we use infinitives along with verb phrases to denote a specific time. For example we use these to denote future:

• be + to-infinitive – it is basically simple present tense + to-infinitive
• be + going + to-infinitive – it is basically present continuous tense + to-infinitive

### be + to-infinitive

I am to work on the Manhattan Project. (verb form used: be + to + $V_1$; am – the verb attached to the subject is in present tense, but ‘to work’ is an infinitive that denotes future time)

be + about + (to-infinitive) can also be used for the immediate future. So, we can rewrite the above sentence as:
I am about to work on the Manhattan Project.

### be + going + to-infinitive

Note the difference in the following two sentences:

I am going to the cinema tonight. (am going – present continuous tense; tonight denotes a future time; here ‘to’ is a preposition followed by a noun)

If we remove ‘tonight’, then it will show present time – I am going to the cinema.

I am going to resign from my post. (verb form used: be + going + to + $V_1$; to resign – infinitive, as ‘to’ is followed by a verb)

There is no need to use words like tonight, tomorrow etc. The to-infinitive gives the sense of future time.

### Present perfect tense denoting past time:

She has gone. (has - the verb attached to the subject is in present tense, but the sentence is denoting past time, because gone is a past participle ($V_3$). So, here gone is not only telling the aspect, i.e. the task is complete, but is also influencing the time denoted.)

We have been waiting for four hours. (present perfect continuous tense denoting past and present time)

## Past Tenses denoting other times

### Simple past tense denoting present time

If I had some money now, I would have given it to you. (had – simple past, but now denotes that we are talking about the present)

### Simple past tense denoting future time

Mr. Stark might meet you tomorrow. (tomorrow – denotes future time; so a word, which is not a part of verb phrase, can also denote time)

It would be better if we went home now.

## Passive voice denoting past time

She is gone. (is - the verb attached to the subject is in present tense, but the sentence is denoting past time, because gone is a past participle ($V_3$). So, here gone is not only telling the aspect, i.e. the task is complete, but is also influencing the time denoted.)

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