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Tense, Aspect and Phase

§ 7. Tense is the form of the verb which indicates the time of the action. The category of tense in English is made up by a set of forms opposed to each other in referring the event or state described to the present, past or future.

Aspect is the form of the verb which serves to express the manner in which the action is regarded. There are two opposing sets of aspect forms in English — the Continuous forms and the Non-Continuous (Indefinite) forms. The Non-Continuous (Indefinite) forms have a very broad meaning, they have no specialized aspect characteristics of their own and merely represent an action as occurring. Conversely, the Continuous forms have a clear-cut aspect characteristic, which is to represent an action in its temporary development. The Continuous forms have a number of other concomitant meanings or overtones that go with the basic meaning of process and duration. They are incompletion, simultaneity, vividness of description, emotional colouring and emphasis.

Besides, there are the Perfect forms which are opposed to the Non-Perfect forms. The latter have no definite grammatical characteristics. The grammatical meaning of the Perfect forms is to express retrospectiveness, which consists of two elements — priority and relevance. In some grammars this category has been given the name phase.

The three grammatical categories of the English verb are so closely merged together that it is impossible to treat them separately.

We find the following finite forms in English: the Present In definite, the Present Continuous, the Present Perfect, the Present Perfect Continuous, the Past Indefinite, the Past Continuous, the Past Perfect, the Past Perfect Continuous, the Future Indefinite, the Future Continuous, the Future Perfect, the Future Indefinite- in-the-Past, the Future Continuous-in-the-Past, and the Future Perfect-in-the-Past.

§ 8. 1) In discussing the use of English finite forms it is neces- sary to understand that in most cases the choice is free: the form is chosen in accordance with the meaning the speaker wishes to convey and does not depend on the structure of the sentence, e.g. He knows English. He knew English. He will know English.

In certain cases, however, the choice of the form is determined by the structure of the sentence, usually the kind of clause in which it is used. For example, the use of the Present Indefinite with reference to the future in a clause of time or condition (a), or the use of a finite form under the rules of the sequence of tenses (b).

e.g. a) When you feel hungry, I’ll bring you some sandwiches.

If I want anything I’ll call you up.

b) She knew that Henry would be waiting for her.

I wondered if he had kept his promise.

In such cases we have the structurally dependent use of finite forms.

In still other cases the choice of the finite form in a sub- ordinate clause is determined not so much by the kind of clause as by the lexical character of the head-word, i.e. the word in the principal clause which the subordinate clause modifies or refers to. For example, in object clauses subordinated to the verbs to see to, to take care or to make sure the future forms are not used.

e.g. He’ll take care that she comes in time.

She saw to it that they had plenty of food in the house.

In such cases we have the lexically-dependent use of finite forms.

2) Closely connected with the above notion is the absolute and relative use of finite forms. The forms may refer an action directly to the present, past or future time. We are dealing in this case with the absolute use of finite forms, which, as a rule, is structurally independent.

But in certain types of clauses the verb form of the subordinate clause only shows whether the action of the clause is si multaneous with that of the principal clause, precedes it or follows it. (These relations may be termed as simultaneity, priority and posteriority respectively.) In this case we are dealing with the relative use of finite forms. It is usually structurally dependent (see, for example, the rules of the sequence of tenses).

e.g. He discovered that his wife knew London far better than he did.

He knew that she had read his thoughts.

He thought that he would hate the place.

3) Last but not least, students of English should differentiate between present-time contexts and past-time contexts.

In present-time contexts, i.e. in conversations, letters, newspaper and radio reports, lectures and scientific prose, the situation is viewed from the moment of speaking. (The moment of speaking is to be understood as present from the speaker’s point of view but not as the present moment.) Any finite form that is required by the sense can be used in present-time contexts. The only reservation should be made for the Past Perfect and the Past Perfect Continuous and all the Future-in-the-Past forms which are, in present- time contexts, mainly found in reported speech or thought.

In past-time contexts, i.e. in narration, the situation is viewed from a past moment. Hence, the use of finite forms is restricted only to past forms including the Future-in-the-Past.

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