English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

"You were unable to do it."

Can you describe the tense of this sentence? Is it Past Progressive?

share|improve this question
No, we can't, because the sentence is ungrammatical. Perhaps you meant 'You were able to do it' or 'You were enabled to do it.' – Barrie England Sep 26 '12 at 9:31
@BarrieEngland Sorry, A correct sentence is "You were unable to do it.". – fronthem Sep 26 '12 at 9:39
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The finite verb is were and it’s the past tense of be.

share|improve this answer
it is the imprefect ("were" as opposed to the perfect "had been"). – Mawg Sep 26 '12 at 11:58
@Mawg: It is not. English has no imperfect tense. – Barrie England Sep 26 '12 at 12:03

The tense is simple past or past simple. Progressive tenses use /-ing/: He is running or She was jumping or They had been eating or We will be groaning soon or You would have been driving for 24 hours by then.

share|improve this answer
Progressive is not a tense; even in languages with progressive morphology, progressive is an aspect. English has only two tenses, present and past. The progressive is a construction consisting of a form of the auxiliary verb be followed by the -ing form of the main predicate. It doesn't refer to time but to continuity of action, and requires an active predicate. – John Lawler Sep 26 '12 at 17:20
Yes, progressive is an aspect. The verb-tense terminology used by most English teachers and textbooks is inconsistent and sloppy. I recognize only two tenses: present and past. (I just found a page that lists 19 English tenses!) Then there are aspects: progressive and perfect; voice: active and passive; mood: subjunctive; etc. And many more words that I no longer use. I should have said progressive tense-forms perhaps. – user21497 Sep 26 '12 at 18:25

protected by tchrist Aug 8 '15 at 16:55

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.