3

Being a hobbyist coder and influenced by OOP, I tend to organize the data I'm working with. Helping my little sister on her English made me curious about something.

Tenses in English is usually listed/grouped as

  • Simple
    • Past Simple
    • Present Simple
    • ...
  • Progressive/Continuous
  • Perfect
  • Perfect Progressive

or

  • Past
    • Past Simple
    • Past Progressive
    • ...
  • Present
  • Future

You get the idea. They're either grouped by tenses or aspects. I like the latter, grouping them by tenses. So, one would get, for present tense

  • Present
    • Simple
    • Progressive
    • Perfect (Simple?)
    • Perfect Progressive

Now, this grouping doesn't seem satisfactory. I'd group it as

  • Present
    • I
      • Simple
      • Progressive
    • II (Perfect)
      • Simple
      • Progressive

which makes a lot more sense to me. Though this grouping creates ambiguity, that is "I".

My question is what is the difference between "I" and "II"? What would one name "I", since "II" is the Perfect aspect. What exactly is "Perfect" and how it differs from "I"?


PS: I live in Turkey, so English isn't my native language. This categorization helps me internalize tenses better. Structured data is always easier to comprehend. I've seen a lot people (mostly classmates) struggle with Tenses, even after years of education. Discarding other possible reasons, this insufficient categorization is one of the reasons of the struggle, I think.

My reasoning in this grouping might be wrong. If so, you should ignore that. My question at its core would be 'If "II" is the Perfect aspect, which it is, what would be "I"? What should I name it?'

I'm fine with learning the right thing using the wrong method, as long as it works and makes sense to me. (You know, assuming my grouping is absurd.)

marked as duplicate by curiousdannii, user140086, jimm101, Mitch, tchrist Dec 15 '16 at 2:37

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 3
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/21846/… – Mitch Aug 9 '16 at 12:43
  • 3
    Scholarly grammars nowadays recognise two tense systems: an inflectional system contrasting preterite and present, and an independent analytic tense system contrasting perfect and non-perfect. There is no future tense in English. – BillJ Aug 9 '16 at 12:45
  • 1
    There is a future tense in English, there is simply not a future verb conjugation in English. That isn't the same things at all. – Jesse Williams Aug 9 '16 at 15:31
  • 1
    "I will help him" denotes the future. Will and going to be are the most common forms. This puts the tense of the sentence in the future. As I said, there are just no future conjugations of verbs to denote this, only additive structures. – Jesse Williams Aug 9 '16 at 15:46
  • 2
    "Will" is an auxiliary of mood, not tense. It makes much more sense to admit that English has no future tense, rather, it has several ways of talking about the future. The modal auxiliary verb "will" is a present tense form, that even has its own past tense form ("would") so it's not possible to claim it is a marker of future tense. It clearly belongs in the same category as "can/may/must etc". – BillJ Aug 9 '16 at 15:56
0

The difference between regular and perfect tense is a matter of stance.

  1. Take the verb "to go"

  2. and place it in the past. "I went there."

  3. Now reference another verb from the past or future of the first verb. "I went there after I had eaten."

    The phrase in #2 and the first half of #3 are in the past tense. The second half of #3 is past perfect.

It's also used when relaying another's speech.

  1. I said that I had gone there after I had eaten.

And in an "if" statement.

  1. If I had gone there first I wouldn't have eaten.

ref: http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/rules/pastperf.htm https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/past-tense/past-perfect (warning: this goes much further)

0

The easiest name is probably the one BillJ mentions in a comment, "non-perfect". In fact, it seems to be fairly straightforward to define the English tense-aspect system (excluding the future) in terms of independent binary features that can be "marked" and an "unmarked":

  1. Past vs. Non-past
  2. Perfect vs. Non-perfect
  3. Progressive vs. Non-progressive

Using this type of "non-whatever" naming scheme is maybe a bit longwinded, but I don't think you should substitute "simple" for "non-progressive" anyway because it seems to me confusing to use terms like "the past perfect simple" to mean "the non-progressive past perfect". (I did find one website that uses the phrase "past perfect simple", although it's immediately followed by the contrasting term "continuous".)

It's true that the opposite of the "past" has an existing name, "present", but this may not be as fitting a name as "non-past" since the "present tense" is fairly often used to refer to timeless or future events. Of course, in nearly any language morphological tenses will have core and non-core usages. You can still call this form the "present" if you want to.

As also mentioned in the comments by BillJ and curiousdanii, what is traditionally called the "future tense" in English is marked dissimilarly to the past tense; it uses the modal auxiliary will (and in fact, the two markings can be combined to give us the "future in the past" would, while this future marking cannot be combined with other modal auxiliaries such as can or should).


As for the nature of the perfect: it is basically a type of past tense or aspect. It's a type of past tense in that it is used to refer to an action or state that occurred at least partially in the past (relative to the reference frame).

The "aspectual" element of the perfect mainly shows up in restrictions on when the present perfect is used vs. the simple past: the present perfect can generally only be used for events with some kind of ongoing relevance in the present.

In contrast, compound forms of the perfect (where the past tense is not possible as an alternative) may simply refer to anteriority without any special relevance to the reference frame.

This is a very general summary and the specifics of how to choose between the present perfect and simple past would require a very long explanation that I don't have the expertise to give. There is a relevant question on the Linguistics SE site: What is the meaning difference between have+V versus bare V?

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