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Inflected tense

From Teflpedia

Tense /tens/ is a grammatical category that expresses an abstract concept of distance from the speaker through inflection of verbs. English has two inflected tenses, commonly known as the present tense and the past tense. The present tense expresses closeness, while the past tense expresses distance.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

The present tense, which is the default, expresses closeness, while the past tense expresses distance.

The clearest way in which this distancing can be illustrated is through the use of present tense to talk about present time, while the past tense is used to talk about past time:

  • Present tense: “You are reading Teflpedia"
  • Past tense: “You had a birthday last year.”

However, both English tenses can refer to past time, present time, future time and general time. A distinction can be made between tense and time - see time-tense distinction.

Form[edit | edit source]

Clauses are inflected into the past tense by use of preterite verb forms. Within a clause, if there is no auxiliary verb, the main verb will be marked for tense (e.g. “I went to the park"). If there is a one auxiliary verb, it will be marked for tense.

Preterites of regular verbs are formed by suffixation with -ed; irregular lexical verbs usually have preterites that deviate from this.

Full modal verbs form a special category of auxiliary verbs, with their own preterites. For example, “can" has the preterite “could.”

If the preterite is identical in form to the base form, a clause may have structural ambiguity. For example “I read the newspaper" could be present tense or past tense. The addition of time adverbials or other clauses that are inflected usually prevents ambiguity. For example “I read the newspaper every day", “I read the newspaper yesterday", or “I get the newspaper delivered. I read it every day", or “I bought a newspaper and read it.”

Tenses may be combined with aspects to form aspectual tenses.

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

The present tense is usually acquired by EFL learners before the past tense. The basics of the past tense are typically acquired at an (upper) elementary level.

Terminology[edit | edit source]

The traditional names of present and past tense are somewhat misleading. Michael Lewis prefers "unmarked tense" and "marked tense.” An alternative would be the terms “close tense" and “distant tense" - however, the terms are so basic and well-understood that redefining them would likely confuse more than anything else.

Often the term tense is used as a shorthand for aspectual tense in which the tense is combined with aspect.

References[edit | edit source]