Past tense

From Teflpedia
This article is about the tense. For the verb form often referred to as "the past tense (of a verb)" see preterite.

The past tense (/ˈpæs(t) ˈtens/) is a tense found in English and related languages. It is used for expressing an action or state that is distant from the speaker. It is one of two tenses used in English, the other being the present tense.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

The past tense is used to distance the language.

There is an important distinction to be made between time and tense - the time-tense distinction. The past tense can describe events that occur in past time, present time or future time. This is contrary to its name; more logical suggestions such as "marked tense", "distant tense" exist but are unlikely to catch on.

The past tense is used for distancing, specifically either distancing in vividness, distancing in reality or distancing in directness.

Form[edit | edit source]

The main features of the form of the present tense are the presence or absence of aspect, and the present or absence of modality.

Aspect[edit | edit source]

With aspect, we get these:

Aspect(s) Name(s) Example
Simple (i.e. none) Past simple I did something.
Perfect Past perfect I had done something.
Progressive Past continuous / past progressive I was doing something.
Perfect and progressive Past perfect continuous / past perfect progressive I had been doing something.

Modality[edit | edit source]

Distinct from aspect, the past tense may express modality using modal verbs. The modal verb preterites are "could", "might", "must", "should", and "would". "Ought (to)". "Needed" and "dared" are also (rarely) used as semi-modal verbs:

Present tense modal verb Preterite
can could
may might
must must
ought (to) ought (to)
shall should
will would

Aspect and modality[edit | edit source]

When combined, this gives a total of 8 forms, which we can call "modalised aspectual tenses". In the examples below, "can" is used as an example modal verb.

Aspectual tense Amodal Modal
Past simple Amodal past simple
e.g. I did something
Modal past simple
e.g. I could do something
Past perfect Amodal past perfect
e.g. I had done something
Modal past perfect
e.g. I could have done something
Past progressive Amodal past progressive
e.g. I was doing something
Modal past progressive
e.g. I could be doing something
Past perfect progressive Amodal past perfect progressive
e.g. I had been doing something
Modal past perfect progressive
e.g. I could have been doing something.

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

The past tense is learnt subsequently to the present tense.