Our train leaves at four-thirty tomorrow morning.

This is probably a simple problem, but I am having difficultly finding a source that answers my specific question. I am having some trouble determining the tense of leaves here, and determining tenses in general. The sources (here's one example, but I am referring to basic guides) I have read imply that a lack of any auxiliary verbs (beyond will for future simple) automatically indicate simple tense. Is this true? For example, leaves is present tense on its own. However, in the context of this sentence, the train is clearly departing at a specific time in the future.

How do I determine the tense? Is it present simple because there are no auxiliary verbs, and leaves on its own is present, or is it future perfect because it "describes an action that will be completed by a specific time in the future." Is it neither?

Does the context of a sentence change the tense of a verb like this? Or am I entirely off the mark in how I'm determining tense? Grammar resources like the one I linked are useful, but I am still finding myself lost. Any links to more exhaustive and nuanced explanations/resources would also be appreciated.

2 Answers 2


The problem here is that the word tense is defined differently in different resources. In the one you link to tense refers to all possible combinations of time frame (past, present, future) and aspect (simple, progressive, perfect).

By this definition the present simple is a tense, as is the present perfect simple, and the present perfect progressive, and the future perfect progressive, and so on.

This conception of tense is common in pedagogic (prescriptive) materials for English language learners. However, tense as defined in authoritative descriptive grammars such as Oxford Modern English Grammar is restricted to just present and past:

It must be said at the outset that the inflectional system of tense in English is quite simple in allowing only a present tense and a past tense. English has no future tense, because it has no future tense inflections, in the way other language do, nor any other grammatical form or combination of forms that can be exclusively called a future tense. (p243)

Whichever definition you adopt, however, you should abandon the belief that the name of the tense determines its use; that, for example, a present tense can only be used to talk about a presently occuring event or state. In fact, the various tenses (first definition) can have various functions.

In your sentence Our train leaves at four-thirty tomorrow morning 'leaves' is in the present tense simple form (i.e. there is no auxiliary). One function of the present simple is to refer to a future scheduled event. The present tense can also be used when talking about the past (also called the historical present). It is common in narratives:

"So he walks over to me and he gets right beside me and leans down and he just whispers to me, he goes 'Timmy, he just doesn't understand.'" Source

As to the past simple form, one of its functions is to express a counterfactual. For example, If I had a lot of money .... This is a reference to the present despite the use of the past tense.

For more information on tense, with some good extracts from authoritative resources, I recommend Understanding Verb Tenses at ThoughtCo.

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