According to A Student's Introduction to English Grammar, Tense is defined as follows:

Tense. A system marked by verb inflection or auxiliaries whose basic use to locate the situation in time: I liked it (past tense, past time), I like it(present tense, present time).

However, the author also points out:

..., English is not one of them: it has no future tense. It does have several ways of talking about future time, and the most basic one does involve the auxiliary will.

These two quotes made me puzzled because, as noted above, Tense is denoted by inflection or auxiliaries and the auxiliary will seems to clearly meet the criteria. In conclusion, my question is

  • Why doesn't the auxiliary will qualify as future tense?
  • 2
    The point is that "will" is an auxiliary of mood, not tense
    – BillJ
    Aug 14, 2016 at 13:58
  • @BillJ If the auxiliary will is not for Tense, exactly when is Tense marked by auxiliaries? Can you give me an example? Aug 14, 2016 at 14:02
  • The perfect tense is marked by the perfect auxiliary "have".
    – BillJ
    Aug 14, 2016 at 14:06
  • @BillJ Oh, that clearly holds. Aug 14, 2016 at 14:07
  • 1
    @Il-seobBae Just so you know, a lot of people would dispute calling the perfect a tense, even ignoring the inflections/auxiliary debate. That is because it doesn't directly refer to a time but instead marks an earlier time to the main tense. So some people call it "secondary tense". Aug 14, 2016 at 14:09

2 Answers 2


The author seems inconsistent to me.

I am someone who says that English doesn't have a future tense, but that is because I limit what is counted as 'tense' to what is morphologically marked (i.e., by verb inflection.)

But if you're going to include auxiliaries in the tense system, then will would surely qualify.

I can think of only one way for what you've quoted to not be inconsistent: if they meant that a language can mark tense either by verb inflection or auxiliaries, but not both. If that is what they meant, then because English clearly does mark the past tense morphologically, will would be excluded. But if that is what they meant they could have explained it rather more clearly!

  • I strongly agree with you. I also think that it's logical to confine 'tense' to be the one that's marked only by verb inflection. Aug 14, 2016 at 13:58
  • 2
    @BillJ will can be a marker of mood, in sentences like "I should do it" vs "I will do it", in which case the will is usually stressed. But when unstressed in current English it's pretty much a straight temporal marker. If it's contracted then it might always be a straight temporal marker? I'm not sure. Aug 14, 2016 at 14:05
  • 1
    Syntactically, the modal auxiliary verb "will" has two tenses: present and preterite. Semantically, it is used to make reference to future time (about 80% of its occurrences, I believe) but also for expressing volition (as in "I keep telling my son to get his hair cut, but he won't; so I've told him he has to".
    – BillJ
    Aug 14, 2016 at 14:15
  • 1
    ... As John Lawler has written, 'But English is almost uninflected, unlike Latin, and there are really only two inflectional tenses, on the Latin model, left: present (am/are/is, go(es), walk(s), etc.) and past [purists may prefer "aorist"] (was/were, went, walked, etc.).' // This viewpoint would render 'Tense. A system marked by ... auxiliaries' unacceptable (as curiousdannii essentially points out). Aug 14, 2016 at 20:40
  • 1
    The perfect auxiliary "have" (in combination with a following past participle) locates a situation in past time just as much as the preterite does. The inflectional preterite and analytic perfect have a great deal in common, and hence some grammars treat the latter as a tense, not an aspect. And inflection is common throughout all English systems.
    – BillJ
    Aug 15, 2016 at 8:37

Tense is the form of a verb to show the time of action of the verb.

According to modern grammar, there is no future tense in English.

For example, in the sentence "He will work", the verb 'work' is in the base form, i.e., in the present tense; but future time is expressed with the help of the the auxiliary verb 'will'.

Actually, different tense-forms can express future time :

*'He will do this work.'

'Our principal retires next year.'

'We are going to New York next week.'

'He is very ill; I'm afraid he is going to die.'

I'll come as soon as I have finished writing the letter.'

'It is high time we started.'

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