Mastering Tense Without Tensing - Maybe
By ANNE DONNELL
Anne, I would appreciate an explanation of verb tenses. I am unsure of myself in this area and could use some help. Thank you, I enjoy your column.-Local Reader
Thank you, QP of T (Question Person of Today), for reading and enjoying. I’m having a good time myself. And I’ll add that you’ve hit me in a weak spot; I have no “ear” for tenses and scatter them willy-nilly when writing.
Willy-nilly – now why do we say that? I was pleased (and surprised) to discover willy-nilly among the entries in Christine Ammer’s The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Second Edition. It seems it’s an old term, in print by the late thirteenth century and used by Shakespeare. The origin is will-he, nill-he meaning “Will he or won’t he?” Now we use it to mean “any old way.” And that’s a sloppy use, according to American dictionaries. Not so, according to Oxford English Dictionary, the acme of British dictionaries, and, some would say, of all others. Note Ms. Ammer considered willy-nilly a cliché. Do you use it frequently? Me, neither. So who is saying willy-nilly all the time? Maybe somebody in some place like, say, Montana. Willy-Nilly in Montana. Sounds almost epic!
So, before we “get tense” let’s scoot over into ONLINE DEPARTMENT. “Redneck Bumperstickers” (Thanks, JA) • I’m Not An Alcoholic, I’m A Drunk. Alcoholics Go to Meetings. • Driver Carries No Cash. He’s Married. • Take Your Ex Out Tonight. One Bullet Oughtta Do It. • Wife and Dog Missing. Reward for Dog. • I’m Busy. You’re Ugly. Have A Nice Day. • 4 Out of 3 People Have Trouble With Fractions. • I Child-Proofed My House, But They Still Get In. • Hang Up and Drive! • The Shortest Sentence Is “I Am.” The Longest Sentence Is “I Do.” • Where the ____ Is Easy Street? • If Money Is the Root of All Evil, How Come Churches Beg For It? [OK, the Bible quote is about “the love of money” I Timothy 6:10] •Keep Honking, I’m Reloading. • Ever Stop to Think and Forget to Start Again? “You’re An Extreme Redneck If…” • You let your 14-year-old daughter smoke at the dinner table in front of her kids. • The Blue Book value of your truck goes up and down depending on how much gas is in it. • You think a woman who is out of your league bowls on a different night. • You wonder how service stations keep their rest-rooms so clean. • Your wife's hairdo was once ruined by a ceiling fan. • Your junior prom offered day care.• You think the last words of the Star-Spangled Banner are “Gentlemen, start your engines.” • The Halloween pumpkin on your porch has more teeth than your spouse.
Tense refers to the sense of time conveyed by a verb. The categories are all the time we can think of as available to us outside science fiction, Einstein, and eternity: the past, the present, and the future.
The “simple” tenses are present, past, and future. The “simple” comes from their not requiring another (auxiliary also called helping) verb, except the future tense which requires adding shall or will.
Taking the verb to run let’s look at what we have so far. PRESENT TENSE (happening now). He runs. PAST TENSE (happened sometime before now) He ran. FUTURE TENSE (hasn’t happened yet) He will run.
[Note that run is an irregular verb; unlike the majority of verbs, it doesn’t use the addition of ed to form its past tense. EXAMPLES OF PAST TENSE REGULAR VERBS looked, walked, jumped, nodded. ]
The remaining three tenses are called perfect and require added auxiliary verbs which must include a form of to have - has, have, or had, and the future perfect must have will or shall. Perfect refers to what is called aspect. Aspect means the way the time of the situation is regarded and has two categories. Perfect aspect refers to the time of a situation relative to the time of another situation. Progressive aspect refers to the duration of a situation. You don’t have to understand this!
Here are the three perfect tenses with an example. PRESENT PERFECT (activity begins in past, extends up to present) He has run. PAST PERFECT (activity completed in past) He had run. FUTURE PERFECT (activity will conclude at a point in the future) He will have run.
PROGRESSIVE means something ongoing and takes the same six tenses (the three simple and three perfect.) What makes progressive identifiable is the ing form of the verb and an additional auxiliary: a form of to be. (am ,is, are, was, were, has been, have been, had been ) PRESENT PROGRESSIVE He is running. PAST PROGRESSIVE He was running. FUTURE PROGRESSIVE He will be running. PRESENT PERFECT PROGRESSIVE He has been running. PAST PERFECT PROGRESSIVE He had been running. FUTURE PERFECT PROGRESSIVE He will have been running
Everything above has been what’s called active voice, meaning the subject of the verb is performing the action. Passive voice, meaning the subject is receiving the action looks like this in the six tenses. Note the addition of a form of the irregular verb to be as an auxiliary. PRESENT He is slapped. PAST He was slapped. FUTURE He will be slapped. PRESENT PERFECT He has been slapped. PAST PERFECT He had been slapped. FUTURE PERFECT He will have been slapped.
Whew! As in every other grammar matter, there’s always more to it, but this is all we need now. More than you wanted?