5 September 2004

Verb tenses

I've been thinking about verb tenses recently (man, am I boring), how they are formed, and what they mean. I once had them down solid--they're not that difficult--but I always need a refresher when the auxiliaries are used. This entry clarifies tenses and adds some useful insights from my books on natural language processing--although IANALG (I am not a licensed grammarian).

The following table shows the past, present, and future tenses in simple tenses, perfect tenses, and progressive forms (taken from my old Harbrace College Handbook).

Present Past Future
Simple ask asked will ask ("will" + present)
Perfect (conjugated "to have" + past participal) has asked had asked will have asked
Progressive (conjugated "to be" + present participal) is asking was asking will be asking
Progressive Perfect (conjugated "to have" + past participle of "to be" + present participal) has been asking had been asking will have been asking

Active and passive voice are distinguished by passive's use of "to be" (distinct from the progressive use of "to be").

Present Past Future
Passive (conjugated "to be" + past participle) is asked was asked will be asked

The wonderful, seminal book Speech and Language Processing quotes Reichenback's description of English tenses. In it, he illustrates the relationship of the event being discussed, the time of the utterance, and the time that is being referenced in the utterance. It is a stunningly logical approach. Here is the chart from the book:

[ posted by sstrader on 5 September 2004 at 10:01:03 PM in Language & Literature ]