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Tense and aspect: initial training sessions


This site takes the view that there are, despite what many grammar books will tell you, actually three tenses in English.
Yes, yes, we know that the future in English is not really a tense form because the verb is not inflected but a sentence such as:
    I will be 30 years old in January
can only refer to the future with no reference to any other time (it is an absolute tense).
The other two tenses can be loosely categorised as present (referring to now and always) and past.

At an initial level, the aspects to be considered are these:

Left out of this area altogether are considerations of habitual, durative, iterative and other aspects which are common forms in other languages (and occur in English).
The simplification causes a certain amount of inexactitude and half truth but is unavoidable at this level.


The key ideas

Obviously, the names of the tense forms and aspects will have to be acquired.  That's the focus of a later worksheet.
Before getting bogged down in identifying present perfect progressive forms or whatever, it's as well to deal with the difference between time and tense and the mismatch sometimes observed between them.
Worksheet #1 is an attempt to alert people to the central ideas but will need a good deal of discussion as people work through it.
The essentials to cover at initial training level are:

  • Time and tense:
    • Present
    • Past
    • Future
  • Aspect:
    • Progressive
    • Perfect
    • Prospective


Workshop tasks

Usually, participants can be relied on to do some work at home or out of face-to-face session time to absorb the terminology but the concepts are better presented and discussed in class.  You need to be on hand because the ideas are rarely seen as intuitive.

Worksheet #1
This is a quick awareness-raising exercise.
Start with eliciting what people may already (vaguely) be aware of, namely that there is such a thing as tense and it is somehow related to time.
The purpose of the first two tasks is to make it clear that tense is indeed a matter of time in many cases.
The second two tasks are designed to undermine the idea.
You will need to check that everyone has the right answers and question 4 will need a good deal of discussion.
Worksheet #2
This is about aspect not time or tense per se.
This worksheet does not explain the meanings of aspects, it exemplifies them and attempts to alert people to their significance in English.  Meaning is your problem.
Worksheet #3
This exercise focuses on the names of the tenses.  It's mostly revision and reference.
The comment is made that English can but does not usually distinguish between progressive and continuous aspects.
For example:
    She was living in London at the time
is a continuous aspect, but
    She is writing a letter at the moment
is progressive but the tense form is the same.  However:
    She is thinking about her holiday
is progressive
    She thinks her holiday was wonderful
is continuous insofar as it functions as a background and refers to a state of affairs.
In this case, because of stative and dynamic uses, the forms are different.
It is, naturally, usually not wise to trouble initial-course trainees with this but to aver that continuous and progressive are interchangeable words is also unwise.
The second task on this worksheet focuses on all that people on initial training courses need to know about finite and non-finite verb forms.
The text contains examples of non-finite forms acting as parts of subjects and objects, as adverbials, prepositions and as adjectives.


Related areas

This is a contentious area and the site takes a slightly sideways, functional look at things.  There are also more traditional guides to the tense forms.

Related guides
For trainees:
tenses for the index to the guides to tense forms in the initial plus section
tense and aspect an essentials-only guide to the area
time lines for an example set of timelines to help in getting concepts across to learners
For you (as a reminder of what you need to know)
tenses and aspects this takes you to the more technical in-service guides to tense forms, aspects and much else
A-Z index where you can find guides to or containing specific concepts and terms