Tenses: Introduction

Identify Tense

Write your sentence and find its tense

What is the auxiliary verb of your sentence*

What is the form of your verb*

The word tense is introduced in English language in 14th century from old French word tens which ultimately came from Latin’s tempus which means time.

Hence in English it is the verb’s inflectional category which tells us about time.

There are TWO broader kinds of verb as mentioned in the previous chapter of verb, and they are; tensed and non-tensed forms.

It is said that the tensed form, in its individual capacity, tells us about time whereas non-tensed form does not until any auxiliary is used with it.

Since auxiliary too is the verb hence we can say that tenses are determined only because of verb.

Tenses are expression related to time and manner and it is verb only that accommodates these things.

With respect to time and manner verb has following categories;

  1. Time is expressed by present form (go), 3rd person singular form (goes) and past form (went)


  • I go to fetch my books from the class. (Sentence is present because of verb go and no auxiliary is used)

And if we change only the form of verb the sentence’s time will be changed too hence it will be the past tense like,

  • I went to fetch my books from the class. (Sentence is past because of past form of the verb went)

So it means the verb alone plays a vital role in tenses and other way round we can say that the tense is another name for manner and time of verbal action.

  1. Another important factor in tenses is the manner of verbal action (aspect), the way the verbal action is performed and this is determined by both main verb and auxiliary. in case of main verb all non-tensed forms stand for the manner of verbal action, like; past participle (gone) and present participle (going).


  • He is writing a speech.

In the sentence the main verb [writing] indicates that the verbal action (of writing) is in progress.

And if we change it like;

  • He has written a speech.

Now we see that the manner of verbal action is changed.

The writing which was in progress in the first sentence is now completed.

It is on account of the same that the first sentence is called continuous (where verbal action is continuous) whereas the second example is of perfect (where verbal action is perfect or completed).

Aspect is determined by auxiliary too.

In the sentence “He is writing a speech.”

[is] is be-form that indicates continuity of verbal action if used with the main verb (otherwise without main verb it is called copula that shows no action).

And if we change auxiliary of the sentence like, “He has written a speech.” the auxiliary [has] indicates the completion of verbal action.

The names of tenses too are the combination of the information regarding tense and aspect, for example, in present perfect we see that [present] is tense whereas [perfect] indicates aspect or manner of verbal action.

Similarly past continuous and so on.

Names of tenses indicating tense or time: present, past and future.

Names of tenses indicating aspect: continuous, perfect and perfect continuous.

It means the function of tenses is actually the function of verb in a sentence for both share the same characteristics.

Form of the verb

S.No. Name of the verb Function of the verb
1 Present
2 Past
Past Indefinite +
3 Past participle
4 Present participle

Helping verb (Auxiliary, Operator)


  Indefinite Continuous Perfect Perfect Continuous
Present Do / Does Is / am / are Have / has Have been / has been
Past Did Was / were Had Had been
Future Will / Shall Shall be / Will be Will have / Shall have Will have been / Shall have been

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