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Grammatical tense

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Grammatical tense is a way languages express the time or place at which an event described by a sentence occurs. In English, this is a property of a verb form, and expresses only time-related information (English does not have spatial tenses). Tense, along with mood and person, are three ways in which verb forms are frequently characterized in Indo-European languages.

The exact number of tenses in a language is often a matter of some debate. An example of some generally-recognized English tenses using the verb "go" is shown below. The more complex tenses in English are formed by combining a particular tense of the verb with certain verbal auxiliaries, the most common of which are "to", various forms of "be", various forms of "have", and the conditional auxiliaries "may" and "might":

  • Simple present: "I go." For many verbs, this is used to express habit or ability ("I play the guitar").
  • Simple past: "I went." In English (unlike some other languages with aorist[?] tenses), this implies that the action took place in the past and that it is not taking place now.
  • Simple future: "I will go." Can be used to express intention, prediction, and other conditions.
  • Present continuous: "I am going." This is used to express what most other language use the simple present tense for. Note that this form in English can also be used to express future actions, such as in the phrase "We're going to the movies tonight".
  • Past continuous: "I was going."
  • Future continuous: "I will be going."
  • Present perfect: "I have gone." This is ususally used to express that an event happened at an unspecified or unknown time on the past.
  • Present perfect continuous: "I have been going." This is used to express that an event started at some time in the past and continues to the present.
  • Past perfect: "I had gone." Expresses that an action was completed prior to some other event.
  • Past perfect continuous: "I had been going." Usually expressed with a duration, this indicates that an event was ongoing for a specific time, then completed before a specific event.
  • Future perfect: "I will have gone."
  • Future perfect continuous: "I will have been going."

See also: aspect

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