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Natives & Tenses: Chapter 14. TENSES: The WHOLE Story

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

TENSES: The Whole Story

Well, I have been promising this but in reality we have already seen the 'Whole Story'!

The first fundamental question is...
WHAT DO THE TENSES DESCRIBE?

HINT: It's NOT ACTION!

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So...
WHAT DO THE TENSES DESCRIBE?

HINT: It's NOT TIME!

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Right here we go, 3rd time lucky...
WHAT DO THE TENSES DESCRIBE?

DISTANCE.

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From WHERE to WHERE?

From:
HERE = Present, Real, Probable, Direct, Private, Informal.
OVER THERE = Past, Unreal, Hypothetical, Impossible, Public, Formal.

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So in terms of YOU, a person, what is the idea here?

HERE = Me, now, real, private.
THERE = Past, public, improbable, impossible.

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We talk a lot about TENSES...
But WHAT IS A TENSE?

Technically a TENSE when VERBS have an INFLECTED FORM.
Clear?

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Uh, no... what does THAT MEAN???

It means that the verb form (the word), CHANGES FORM.
A bit like CONJUGATING.
He do/does.
He did.

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So how many TENSES are there in English?
(Careful about ASPECTS!!)

Well, these are NOT tenses...
I will go
I must go
I can go
I shall go
I would go
...because the VERB does not change form.

And these are NOT separate TENSES either...
I used to go
I have gone
I had gone
I am going
I was going
I am going to go
Because these are just ASPECTS...
...HINT: have a look at the word that follows the subject...

Even the PASSIVE...
It had been eaten.
It will have been eaten.
It is eaten
What forms of the main are used?

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So, how many TENSES are there in English?

TWO.

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Which are?

FIRST:
The Present.
I HAVE, she HAS. (Present Simple)
I HAVE done, she HAS done. (PRESENT Perfect Simple)
I AM doing, She IS doing. (PRESENT Continuous)
It IS done, (PRESENT Passive Simple)
Note that Done and Doing are indeed forms of the verb but they denote ASPECT.

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And secondly?

SECOND:
The Past.
They HAD, (Past Simple)
They HAD done, (PAST Perfect Simple)
They WERE doing, (PAST Continuous)
It WAS done, (PAST Passive Simple)

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What about GOING TO and USED TO?

These are also common structures based around...
The Present with "They ARE going to go".
The Past with "They USED to do it."

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So what is the point here?
Does it matter?

Well it means a speaker of English is either in one of two modes.
In the PRESENT.
Or in the PAST.

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And the FUTURE?

Well, unlike in many languages, perhaps even in your other languages,
English does NOT TRANSPORT the speaker to the FUTURE.
Things remain in relation to the PRESENT/PAST modes.

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PAST for the FUTURE?

If I were you at that meeting tomorrow, I would say nothing.

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So when we use the PAST 'mode', what are we describing/feeling?

We are feeling the DISTANCE away from now,
either in terms of NOT NOW (so NOT PRESENT TIME)
or in terms of NOT REAL (so NOT PRESENT REALITY)
or in terms of NOT PRIVATE (so NOT PRESENT ME)

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And the PRESENT 'mode'?

So ALL of the following are true:
PRESENT TIME
PRESENT REALITY
PRESENT ME

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And as SOON as we leave this 'PRESENT' situation for whatever reason, we start to use the...

the DISTANCE TENSE...oh sorry...
I MEAN THE PAST TENSE!

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Can you make these sentences with CAN (PRESENT) into COULD (PAST/DISTANT)?

I can speak English. (NOW)
If it snows, I can't come. (PROBABLE)
Can you tell me the time? (INFORMAL)

I could speak English. (PAST)
If it snowed, I couldn't come. (IMPROBABLE)
Could you tell me the time? (FORMAL)

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Can you make these sentences with SHALL (PRESENT) into SHOULD (PAST/DISTANT)?

I shall arrive by 6pm. (REAL)
If you touch me, I shall get angry. (PROBABLE)
Shall I call you later? (INFORMAL)

I should arrive by 6pm. (HYPOTHETICAL)
If you touched me, I should get angry. (IMPROBABLE/HYPOTHETICAL)
Should I call you later? (FORMAL/UNLIKELY)

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Can you make these sentences with WILL (PRESENT) into WOULD (PAST/DISTANT)?
[to be studied further in next parts]
Don't give it to him, he will break it.(PREDICTION based on PROBABILITY)
If I am invited, I will accept. (REALISTIC)
Will you help me? (DIRECT/INFORMAL)

If you did that, he would break it.(HYPOTHEITCAL)
If I was invited, I would accept. (UNREALISTIC)
Would you help me? (INDIRECT/FORMAL)

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And FINALLY we get to some 'normal' verbs!
Can you finish these in the PAST/DISTANT?
Today I am not working, but yesterday...(TIME)
That's a small present! It's ok if it's for a colleague, but...(REALITY)
Mary, I am looking for the toilets! I'll ask someone./ Excuse me...(FORMALITY)

...but yesterday I worked all day!
...but if it was for me/a friend then it wouldn't be ok!
I was looking for the bathroom....

Click me!


[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

Test Your Knowledge!

Question


So how many TENSES are there in English?

(Actual INFLECTED FORMS)

Theory Test


Click to show

Answer


TWO

(Present and Past - there is NO TRUE FUTURE TENSE in English)

Notes


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Notes


No specific notes on this question yet, sorry.
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