*Is there a correct answer to the number of tenses in the English Languages? How can a mark be given in an examination to the question," How many tenses are there in English?" It seems that highly educated people can't come to an agreement on this issue. Can we stop debating and give an acceptable answer? Some of us are trying to learn.
It can appear that there is no 'acceptable answer' to this question.
The reason is that a sentence has tense, aspect, and mood (remembered as TAM) but a lot of educated people, including a lot of English teachers, lump aspect and mood under a generic 'tense' umbrella and come up with answers like "There are 16 tenses!"
In simple terms, tense situates an event in time, aspect is how it relates to the flow of time in terms of being bounded or not, and mood reflects the speakers attitude to the event - often how certain we are of the truth. In that light, there are only two tenses: the past and not-past. All the other 'tenses' are aspect or mood.
It depends on what you want to mean by "tense".
If, as highly educated people have always agreed, "tense" is a precise term for a finite inflected verb form, then there are precisely two tenses in Modern English:
- Present (goes, has, is, makes, wants)
- Past (went, had, was, made, wanted)
On the other hand, people who vaguely recall grammar-school catechism, and people who fell in love with Strunk and White in college, as well as many uneducated people and peevers, have always disagreed about what kinds of constructions should receive the accolade of being called a "tense".
Some people say there's a future tense (will go); they don't have a tense name for the more popular gonna go, though, nor any tense for may/might/should/can/could go. Dunno why. Then there's present, past, and future perfect tenses. And present past and future conditional, continuous, subjunctive, middle, passive, and whatever tenses. It's confusing; everybody uses their own interpretations and descriptions. That's why it feels like a matter of opinion. But in fact it's a fact.
That's why English language experts all agree that there are two tenses in Modern English.
But if you prefer to believe Mrs. Abbott in the third grade, there are 18, or any number you please.
Like the fictional Eskimo words for snow, people can say absolutely anything about language,
and somebody will believe them.