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The sentence

I don't think the leaves will have started changing colors yet.

threw me for a loop today. I've been searching for hours, and I can't find anything close to a definitive answer on the question. At first glance it looks like it's simply Future Perfect. That can't be right, though, because the timing doesn't work out, being as how it's talking about an action in progress with the present participle. At the same time, I don't think it can be Future Perfect Continuous while it's missing the "to be" verb. I know that there is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentence, but for the life of me, I just can't define it.

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    Your example is 'present tense' since the only tensed verb in the sentence is the present tense "think". "Will" is not used here to locate the action in future time; rather it has a modal meaning expressing epistemic modality. I don't know for certain that the leaves have not yet started changing color, though I'm allowing it as a possibility. – BillJ Sep 9 '16 at 7:36
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I don't think (that) the leaves will have started changing colors yet.

Your question, I take it, refers to the subordinate clause

the leaves will not have started changing yet.

Not really belongs with this clause, but is moved to the head clause I think by 'negative raising'. I've moved it back because yet in the subordinate clause is ungrammatical without the negator.

The verb construction here, will have started, has the form of a 'future perfect', but it does not have future reference. Will here is employed as an epistemic modal: it expresses a necessary (or at least fairly confident) judgment or inference, just as it does when you hear a knock at the door and say "Oh, that will be Jack, I'm expecting him". You may call this verb construction a modal present perfect, and you may paraphrase the entire sentence thus:

I am not confident that the leaves have already started changing colors.

Changing colors is not part of this construction but a gerund-participle clause acting as complement of the verb start. Start takes a variety of complements:

  • a noun phrase: I have started my essay.
  • an infinitive clause: I have started to write my essay.
  • a gerund-participle clause: I have started writing my essay.
  • a free relative clause: I have started what someone else must finish. (But some grammarians would call this a noun phrase, too.)

It may also act as an intransitive verb with no complement: My essay has started.

  • While this is almost surely not the few-word "answer" the asker thought he was looking for, that answer does not exist and yours is impeccably correct. – tchrist Sep 8 '16 at 21:13
  • @tchrist I'll boldface the few words :) – StoneyB Sep 8 '16 at 21:16
  • Actually it's exactly what I was looking for. I was definitely more interested in the how and why, than I was in just a simple answer, and you more than delivered. – Chris_Lujan Sep 9 '16 at 11:10
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I don't think the leaves will have started changing colors yet.

The tense in the dependent clause [(that) the leaves will have started changing colors yet] is the Future Perfect Progressive (Continuous): will have or shall have been going

: will have started changing = : will have been changing

The past participle of be is been

The past AND past participle of start is started

Why?

"The progressive forms of the verb are not a separate tense. Progressive forms are made up of the various tenses of he verb be plus the present participle. Progressive forms are used to show continuing action."—John E. Warriner. Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. Fifth Course. Liberty Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich. 1986.

The Future Perfect Tense (will have or shall have + past participle)

"...will have started..."

The Future Perfect Progressive (Continuous) (will have or shall have + past participle + present participle)

"...will have started changing..."

Summary: You may substitute "started" using it in its past participle form for "been" which is the past participle of be

Furthermore, the future perfect tense is used to express action which will be completed in the future before some other future action or event. "leaves will have started (this happens before the changing of the colors)

With the progressive form the action which will be completed in future before some other future action or event is continuous. "leaves will have started changing (the process of started and changing colors is not a completed process; it is continuing over and over, an ongoing process, an action that will continue up until some time in the future)

EDIT

Each of the six tenses has an additional form called the progressive form, which expresses continuing action. It consists of the form of the verb be plus the present participle of the verb.

Remember: The progressive is not a separate tense but an additional form of each of the six tenses in the conjugation.

John E. Warriner. Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition. Third Course. Liberty Edition. Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovich. 1986. 196.

EDIT II

Examples:

I don’t think the painters will have begun painting the house yet.

The stars in the sky will have appeared shining brighter in the fall.

The artist will have tried sculpturing a new model before he completes the old one.

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