Verb tenses is a topic we all have learned in school or college year after year; yet very few have confidence in using it.
This page will show you an approach to the study of tenses, so that...
In English, tense and aspect are two things which are intertwined. When people speak of tense, they usually include the aspect as well, without making a special mention of it.
There are three distinct elements in the study of verb tenses. They are:
Forms of tenses - A form refers to the spelling and combination of words used for a particular tense. It is the word-symbol (or phrase-symbol).
Names of tenses - A name refers to the label by which a particular tense form is spoken of or indicated.
Uses of tenses - A use refers to the meaning(s) associated with a particular form.
The best way to study tenses, therefore, is...
In our daily lives too, we can find these three facets (form, name, and meaning) in our use of symbols...
(i.e. the form)
|Name of the Symbol||
The Intended Message or
Meaning of the Symbol
(i.e. its Use)
|"black flag"||"We protest"|
The symbol, which we call "red flag," may be of cloth or paper and may come in any number of sizes; but all of them are called "red flags" and can carry the intended message.
In the table below, as symbols we have phrases (word-combinations) instead of pictures.
|Name of the Phrase-Symbol||
Meaning of the Phrase-Symbol
(i.e. its Use)
||"Present Continuous tense"||
||"Simple Past tense"||
An action or event which happened at a particular point of time before the time called "now."
Exactly when it happened (a little before or long before) needs to be separately indicated.
Just as there could be varieties of red flags, we can have many similar word-combinations, all of which deserve the name "Present Continuous Tense." All the combinations, which deserve that name, have a particular set of meanings associated with them.
Let's suppose, someone asked you, "What is a brick?"
Your answer shouldn't be:
"Something that is used for building a house".
That is not the answer to the question asked. It is an answer to some other question: "What is the use of a brick?"
The answer to "What is a brick?" will be something like the following:
A brick is a rectangular block of clay, 8"x4"x3" (or something similar), which is usually baked in a kiln or sometimes dried in the sun.
'Being' is different from 'Doing'. What something IS is different from what something DOES or is used for.
I think, the inability or carelessness or refusal to distinguish between the two is the problem.
When learning or teaching grammar, the teacher-student dialogue should go something like this:
Question: What is the present continuous tense?
Answer: am/is/are eating; am/is/are studying; am/is/are working; etc.
Question: What do we use these forms for?
Answer: To convey the meaning that the action of eating or studying or working is in progress....
To learn tenses systematically and effectively...
That, I think, is the best way to master verb tenses.