Tense and Aspect
The Teacher’s Grammar of English – Ron Cown
• 1- Basic concepts: Tense and aspect.
• 2- The simple tenses.
• 3- Expressing future time; progressive aspect.
• 4- perfect aspect.
• 5- Perfect and progressive aspects.
• 6- Sequence of tense rules.
• 7- exercise / activity.
• 8- Problems that ESL/EFL students have with
tense and aspect.
• 9-Blank-filling exercise
Basic concepts: Tense and aspect
• Tense in verbs expresses time. It is referenced
to the moment of speaking.
• Aspect expresses how the speaker views the
action of the verb.
• Tense and aspect intersect in English.
Example: She is running right now.
She was running an hour ago.
She will be running in about an hour.
• Sometimes more than one aspect may
combine with tense/time.
example: She will have been working.
Same verb form doesn’t mean that we will have the
same interpretation. Examples:
John has written only one novel since 1998
John has owned only one car since 1998
Lexical aspect .
Lexical aspect refers to semantic properties of verbs, for
example, whether or not an action is characterized by a
duration, an end point, or change.
Verbs fall into two four categories in terms of lexical aspect –
stative verbs and three types of dynamic verbs.
Stative verbs describe states or situations rather than action. States
are continuous and unchanging and can be emotional, physical, or
E.g. she hates her boss.
Acitivity verbs express actions that go on for a potentially
indefinite period of time. The actions are constant (e.g.
run, swim, walk) or involve an inherent change
(e.g., decline, develop, grow)
Atelic verbs; they lack an end point.
E.g. He is walking around the park.
Achievement verbs describe an action that occurs
instantaneously – either punctually
(e.g., hit, kick, bounce) or as change of state (e.g., find).
He bounced the ball several times. Punctual
She crossed the finish line Change of state
Accomplishment verbs have a termination that is
logical in terms of their action, as is the case, for
example, with build (a house) or paint (a picture).
He wrote a book about language teaching.
• The simple present is represented by the third
person singular « s » inflection on verbs
Basic meanings of the simple present
• States: some english verbs have stative meaning;
they describe states rather than actions
John looks very tired.
Susan seems to be confused.
• Habitual action: the simple present is used to
express habitual or everyday activities
He always comes late to class.
• General statements of fact: the simple present is used to express
what is referred as genearl statements of fact or scientific truths.
The world is round.
The sun rises in the east.
• Future action: the simple present can also be used to express future
time with some indications of the future time.
The museum opens at ten tomorrow morning.
Additional uses of the simple present
• The Instantaneous present: the simple present occurs in
the running commentary produced by a speaker to provide
an ongoing account of what he / she is watching.
Smith passes the ball....He shoots....
• The conversational historical present : it is used to describe
an action in the past.
He comes in and starts shouting at the hotel clerk. He is
really angry. You know. So the monger calls the cops.
• The narrative present: the simple present
narrates the plot of a movie, or novel that the
speaker has seen or read, regardless of the time
in which the plot is set.
The second act of Verdi’s opera Otello takes place
in the castle, Lago urges Cassio to ask Desdemona
to plead with her husband, Otello, to restore his
rank, and watches him go in search of
• Stage and screenplay directions: It is used in directions for actors in
They fight,Tybalt falls.
o Directions about exiting or entering the stage usually begin with the
verb (eg. , Enter the crowd, rather than the crowd enters).
• With communication verbs (tell, say…)
He tells me that you are a talented student.
The simple past is represented by -ed inflection
on regualr verbs and by other changes in the
case of the irregular verbs.
• Express action prior to the time of speaking: It
frequently occurs with expressions that
indicate a specific point in time when the
action was carried out such as yesterday, last
week , a week ago…
We started the master program three months
Additional uses of the simple past
o The simple past is used instead of the simple
present in some contexts that requires a shift
• Reported speech: when speech is reported, the simple present is
backshifted to the simple past:
A- John said, “Im a good student”. Quoted speech
B- John said that he was a good student”. reported speech
• Unreal conditionals: The simple past expresses unreal conditionals :
If I were you, I would study very hard.
• Polite requests and questions: the simple past
is often used instead of the simple present to
express a more deferential,polite tone:
A- I want to ask you a favor.
B- I wanted to ask you a favor. More polite
C- Do you want to see me now?
D- Did you want to see me now? More polite
• Identify the meanings of the simple present or
past tense in the following sentences:
1. A- what happened ?
B- it was the same old story. She comes in and
starts chewing me about the sale I lost. So I
don’t like that, right ? So, I tell her that I don’t
have to take that sort of talk from her. And you
know what? She says I'm right. I don’t because I
don’t work there anymore. I’m fired
2.If I were John, I would accept her offer.
3. Did you want to pay for that now or later?
4. He listens to that program on NPR every
5. He seems to be perfectly healthy.
1. The conversational historical present
2. Unreal conditional
3. Polite request and question
4. Habitual action
Expressing future time
Future can be expressed by:
• Will + verb : (especailly to express probable actions)
According to the weather report, it will be cloudy tomorrow.
• Be going to + verb : (especially to express planned actions)
I'm going to give another presentation this afternoon.
Expressing future time
• Present progressive:
Is used to express the actions planned for the near future which is
indicated by adverbs and other expressions of time.
My wife has an appointement with a doctor. She is seeing him next
• Be about to:
Is used to express the actions that are going to occur in the very
He is about to get into the car and leave for the airport.
Expressing future time
• Be to + verb: is used to express actions in the
future. This form is relatively rare and is
limited largely to contexts like commands:
You are to stay here until ten o’clock.
• A sentence is transformed by being made
negative or interrogative or through changes in
the tense, mood, voice…
• Directions, ask one student to give you a
sentence in the simple present, then ask the
other students to transform the sentence into:
1. The negative form.
2. The interrogative form.
3. The simple past.
4. The negative form of the simple past…
• The progressive aspect is formed with be and the
• It combines with present, past and future for
forms that express ongoing action at different
• There are three forms:
• Present progressive.
• Past progressive.
• Future progressive.
The present progressive
• It’s formed with a present form of to be and
present participle of the main verb
It’s used to express ongoing action at the time of
E.g.: I’m giving a presentation right now.
She’s watching a Korean movie right now.
• In addition to expressing ongoing action, the
present progressive can express a number of
• Expressing planned future events.
• E.g.: She’s flying to Japan tomorrow.
• I’m taking Korean language lessons this
• Expressing habitual actions with adverbs such
as always and forever in which the speaker
expresses irritation and disapproval.
• She’s always calling me up at night to
complain about her husband
• He’s always asking stupid questions.
• And with stative verbs ,which rarely appear in the
progressive form , for a number of reasons:
• Conveying emotional intensity:
• E.g.: This is costing me a lot of money.
• Focusing on change from the norm:
• E.g.: You’re being very kind,what do you want?
• Focusing on evolving change
• E.g. : The master program is becoming
challenging more and more every day.
• Providing an informal and polite tone:
• E.g. : We’re hoping that Mrs Jennifer would be
generous when she corrects Grammar
• Hedging or softening a definitive opinion:
• E.g. : I’m not doubting your word, but I heard
a different story from Naima yesterday.
• The past progressive, or past continuous, is
formed with past form of be and the present
participle of the main verb.
• It expresses an ongoing action in the
past,including in relation to another action. In
other words, often the action expressed with the
past progressive at the time another action
• E.g.: she accidentally cut her hand while she was
• I was writing essays when the bell rung.
• It’s also used in situations in which two ongoing
actions in the past were occurring
• E.g.: I was working on grammar exam when my
whole family was spending enjoyable time on the
beach. what a pity
• It’s also occurs with time expressions that
indicates a point in time when the action was
• E.g. : I was studying in the library at 16:00.
• It’s consists of will followed by be and the present
participle of the main verb.
• It’s used for an action that will be ongoing in the
E.g.: We will be having grammar course at ten o’clock
It’s also used to talk about an action that will continue in
the future for a long time.
E.g. : Moroccan government will be fighting against
bribery and corruption for a long time.
• Indicate whether each of these sentences
grammatical or ungrammatical, and explain why:
• I’ll be discussing those issues with him at our
meeting in Friday.
• She was working on her paper since noon.
• When a gas is heated, it is expanding.
• He’s always complaining about the service
everywhere we go.
• Sasuke takes a statistics course next fall.
• Ungrammatical, because the past continuous doesn’t
appear with adverb phrases that mark the point in time
when the action begun: since.
• Ungrammatical,beause we use simple present to
describe scientific facts not the present progressive.
• Ungrammatical, because the simple present doesn’t
describe a future event that is fixed and planned. But
we use either present progressive or future.
• The perfect aspect formed with have and past
participle of the main verb, which expresses
• The three tenses formed by the combination
of time and perfect aspect are the
present, past and future perfect.
The present perfect
• The present perfect is formed with a present
form of have and a past participle of the main
verb. It occurs with a time expression of
duration, e.g. : for six years, since 1999 and so
• It expresses a situation that started in the past
and continues to the present
• E.g.: I have taught English language for 5
• It also expresses a recently completed action.
• E.g.: Korean drama has become popular
around the world recently.
• Prof Tamer has just postponed Moodle
assignments which makes me happy all the
• It expresses an action that occurred at an
unspecified time .
• E.g. : He has read all Shakespeare's play.
• The past perfect tense is formed with the past
tense form of the verb have and past
• It’s used for an action completed prior to
another event or time in the past. The past
perfect often occurs in sentences with a main
clause and a subordinate clause, where both
clauses express the events in the past.
• E.g. :he had already left when I arrived.
• It’s also used in counterfactual sentences.
Which express speculations or regrets about
• E.g. :if he had worked hard, he would have
passed the exam.
• If she had driven carefully, she wouldn’t have
had an accident.
The future perfect
• The future perfect is formed with will followed by have
and the past participle of the main verb.
• It’s generally used to express an action that will be
completed prior to or by some specific future time.
• E.g.: He will have read the tempest by 1O o’clock.
• It can also express states that will have endured for a
period of time as measured at some future date.
• E.g.: They will have been married for 20 years this
Perfect and progressive aspect
• The perfect and progressive aspects can be used
together,with present ,past and future time.
• Present Perfect progressive:
• It’s formed with has or have+been+p.participle.
• It expresses ongoing past action that continues
up to the present. It often occurs with time
expressions such as for and since.
• E.g.: I have been taking English courses in the
American language centre for a year.
• Past perfect progressive:
• It’s formed with had+been+p.participle.
• It expresses an ongoing action in the past that is
related to another past action, which is often
expressed in the simple past tense. This other
action frequently occurs in a subordinate
clause,particulary with when.
• E.g.: he has been working on the assignments for
over two hours when his mother came home.
Future Perfect Progressive
• It’s formed with will+have+been+p.participle.
• It’s expresses an action that will continue into
the future up to a specific time. The duration
of the action is usually specified in a time
expression with for. That time is frequently
indicated in a subordinate clause beginning
with when or by the time.
• E.g.: I have been studying for two hours by the
time you arrive.
• Indicate whether each sentence is grammatical or
ungrammatical. If a sentence is ungrammatical, explain
why and correct :
• She has been studying for four hours when she decided
to take a short nap.
• I have been reading your article. it's very good, but
there are a couple of points that need to be clarified.
I’ve been studying since noon, so I think it’s time to stop
and do something else.
Mary has been working on that paper since January.
He will be travelling for about 8 hours when in Sydney
Sequence of tense rules
Reported speech changes the tense in spoken speech by sequence
of tense rules.
Tense shifts normally occur by what is known as backshifting.
Simple present becomes simple past.
e.g. Peter: "I work in the garden.“
Peter said that he worked in the garden.
present progressive becomes past progressive.
e.g. Peter: "I'm working in the garden.“
Peter said that he was working in the garden.
*these rules apply in sentences that have past tense reporting verbs.
Certain modal auxiliaries are also
May for possibility becomes might, and may
for permission becomes could.
e.g. 1- Fred added, “I may go with her” -becomes:
Fred added that he might go with her.
2- The secretary said, “you may go in” –becomes:
the secretary said that we could go in.
Can becomes could.
e.g. Alice said “ I can do that too” -becomes: Alice said she
could do that too
Will becomes would.
e.g. Peter: "I will work in the garden.“
Peter said that he would work in the garden.
Must becomes had to.
e.g. he told, “you must finish it today”
He told her that she had to finish it today.
shall is changed to would when the meaning is future
time. When it represents a suggestion, it is changed to
e.g. The headwaiter said, “I shall speak to the chef about
it.” future time.
The headwaiter said that he would speak to the chef
e.g.“ Shall we include Bill in our plans? “ Alice asked.
Alice asked if we should include Bill in our plans.
A shift is not necessary if.
The original statement is a general truth.
e.g. Torrecelli concluded that the atmosphere (is, was) a
sea of air pressing down on the surface of the earth.
The speaker is reporting something that is still true.
e.g. Fred said he (drives, drove) a 1956 Belchfire Special.
The speaking is reporting something still possible for
e.g. The forecast a couple of days ago said we (will, would) be
having the rain all weekend.
The speaker repeats something he or she just said.
e.g. John: I like the opera.
Bill: Sorry, I wasn’t listening. What did you say?
John: I said I like opera.
Problems that EFL & Esl students have
with tense and aspect
• Reasearch indicated that students use the present perferct
forms in contexts in which the simple past is obligatory:
When I was more young I have gone with my friend and his
At this place we have met some people who were very
o The most likely explanation for the errors is that in French
the tense that would be used in a context like the one
shown in the previous example is the passé composé,
which in fomr, resembles the English present perfect. 1
• L1does not mark tense on verbs (Chinese):
o An error that Chinese speakers make is to use
bare infinitive forms rather than verbs
inflected for the simple present and past.
A- she go (to) Chicago every day.
B- she go (to) Chicago yesterday. 2
• L1 has one tense corresponding to two tenses in
Er qrbeit jetze und nicht gestort zerden
He works now and may not disturbed become
He is working right now and can/may not be
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