logo  ELT Concourse teacher training
Concourse 2

Talking about always

There are times, past, present and future, when English uses a tense form not tied to time viewed from the present.  The forms of choice are quite straightforward and paralleled in many languages.  Some, such as the use of will and if are not paralleled, however.


perfectaspect

Events

It rains a lot here
It is always raining here

For example:

The meaning I want to convey Form of choice Aspect
I want to say that an event occurs in past present and future Water boils at 100 degrees
whenever you heat it
simple
Water will boil at 100 degrees
always: not referring to the future (the sense is almost that water chooses to boil)
I want to say that an event always continues The sea is getting rough when the gales arrive
predictably
progressive
The sea gets rough when the gales arrive
predictably


jellyfish

States

Jellyfish have painful stings

States are only expressed in the simple aspect.

The meaning I want to convey Form of choice Aspect
I want to say that a physical state is permanent The Milky Way measures 100,000 light years across
and that is unlikely to change soon
simple
I want to say that a mental state is permanent She appears illiterate
not at any particular time
continuous

The verbal processes which occur when describing permanent states are generally relational and are of two sorts:

  1. Attributive
    This function characterises or assigns membership of a class to a thing or person.  For example:
    Elephants are mammals
    Velvet feels soft
    Iron appears in the third row of the periodic table, next to cobalt
    Tigers look dangerous
  2. Relational
    This function describes things in relation to other things.  For example:
    My house stands next to the supermarket.
    The head office remains in London.
    He is the second son.

The sorts of verbs used for attributive purposes are generally known as copular verbs.


smoking

Habits

She smokes a lot

Habits are only expressed in the simple aspect.

The meaning I want to convey Form of choice Aspect
I want to say that a state is habitual He lies in bed all day on Sunday
that is a state not an event as such
continuous
I want to say that an event is habitual She laughs loudly
not at any particular time
simple
I want to say that a response is habitual When threatened, snakes strike
but only then
simple


mix

the so-called zero conditional

If you mix white and red, you get pink

is not a conditional because the word if can be replaced with something like when or whenever.
In effect, the form is akin to the habitual response described above.
It is not helpful to tell learners that it is a conditional because:

  1. It isn't.
  2. In other languages, special verb forms (often a subjunctive) are used for real conditionals and won't be used for this habitual response idea.
  3. Other languages will reserve the conjunction if for real conditionals only.
  4. It encourages conceptual misunderstanding and the understanding of subordination vs. coordination, in particular.
        If you work hard, you succeed
    is not quite the same as:
        When you work hard you succeed or
        Work hard and you succeed.
  5. The form frequently appears in the past and is, similarly, not conditional because the clauses to not have a relationship of contingency but one of time.  For example:
        If my father was a little drunk, his accent got stronger and stronger
        If I offended her, I always apologised
    It is unhelpful to consider this as a form of conditional because learners may confuse it with true conditional sentences such as:
        If I offended her, I would apologise
    (but I don't think I did).

the tenses index