Glossary: tense

Explanation

Tense is a grammatical notion, and refers to the way that time is encoded in language, typically through verb endings (inflections).

In English, tense is the choice between present tense and past tense verbs, which is special because it is signalled by inflections and normally indicates differences of time. In contrast, languages like French, Spanish and Italian have three or more distinct tense forms, including a future tense. (See also: future.)

The simple tenses (present and past) may be combined in English with the perfect and progressive.

  • He studies. [present tense – present time]
  • He studied yesterday. [past tense – past time]
  • He studies tomorrow, or else! [present tense – future time]
  • He may study tomorrow. [present tense + infinitive – future time]
  • He plans to study tomorrow. [present tense + infinitive – future time]
  • If he studied tomorrow, he’d see the difference! [past tense – imagined future]

Contrast three distinct tense forms in Spanish:

  • Estudia. [present tense]
  • Estudió. [past tense]
  • Estudiará. [future tense]

Tense and aspect in fiction

In this activity we will examine some short extracts from novels. The idea is to look at the tense and aspect forms used, and think about how they are used to unfold the action of the story.

Tense and aspect in fiction: Activity

It was after supper, and I was reading and smoking at the table. Algie was playing patience and drumming a tattoo with his fingers, and Gus was outside checking on the dogs. Suddenly he burst in. 'Chaps! Outside, quick!'

Tense in narrative

In this resource we will practise using tense consistently and think about the effect of using past tense versus present tense in a story.

Goals

  • Identify past tense and present tense forms.
  • Practise changing tense and using tense consistently.
  • Consider the effect of changing tense in a story.

Lesson Plan

Background

Tense in narrative: Activity 1

Activity 1: Tense consistency

Look at the following short passages. For each one, identify where the tense changes incorrectly, and then write a correct version which continues with the tense used at the start of the passage.

Tense in narrative: Activity 2

Activity 2: Past to present

The following extract uses past tense narration. Rewrite the extract, changing to present tense narration throughout. Take care to be consistent.

The dread came from nowhere. Without warning, my flesh began to crawl. I felt the hairs on my scalp prickle and rise. I couldn't see anything except the bear post and its cairn of stones, but my body braced itself. It knew.

Tense in narrative: Activity 3

Activity 3: Present to past

Now try reversing the process. This extract uses present tense narration, so rewrite it using past tense narration.

Panting, I fight my way out of the sleeping bag. The torch slips from my fingers and blinks out. Whimpering, I fall to my knees and grope for it. I can't find it. Can't see my hands in front of my face.

Again, compare the two versions. Does the change of tense have an effect?

Verb images

This lesson asks students to think about tense and aspect, what they mean, and how else we can communicate those meanings.

Goals

  • Identify verb tense and aspect. 
  • Explain the meaning of verb tense and aspect. 
  • Use multimodal literacy skills to present information from words as pictures. 

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will be describing some pictures using language, and then drawing some pictures to describe language.

Verb images: Activity

The girls are rehearsing a song.

Several boys were playing football.

Sally has studied French for three years.

John has been studying French for one hour.

 

Writing with tense and aspect: Activity 2

Here is the outline sequence of events (don’t forget that you can add more):

Aspect and tense

Look at the highlighted verb phrase in each example, then decide which category of tense and aspect to place it in.

Y6 GPaS Test: Present or past tense?

In each of the following examples, indicate whether the highlighted verb is in present or past tense:

Clauses: Finite and nonfinite clauses

Look at each of these examples. Do they have present tense or past tense? Can we change the tense?

  • She feels sick.
  • I was watching TV.

In the first example, we have the present tense verb form feels. We could change to past tense: She felt sick.

In the second example, the verb phrase was watching contains the past tense form was. We could change to the present tense: I am watching TV.

Expressing time

Grammar is important for expressing information about time. It helps us to locate situations in the past, present or future, and to describe how situations unfold over time.

This is typically done by using different forms of the verb. For example:

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