Verb Tense  verb tense
 Verb tense indicates the time of an action, condition, or event.


Verb tense

From A New English Grammar for Schools, by Thomas Harvey

I. There are three divisions of time:

past, present, future

II. Each division of time has two tenses:

absolute, relative

A. The absolute tenses (past, present, future) show indefinite or incomplete action

1. Past tense indicates what took place completely in the past.
I wrote. (unclear when the action finished)
The army was sailing. (unclear when the action finished)

a. The past indicative, like the present, denotes what was habitual.
We walked five miles every morning.
It may denote an act in past time, but not completed:
He was driving furiously when I saw him.

b. The past potential denotes
i. a duty or obligation, without reference to time.
Judges should be merciful.
ii. a habit or custom.
He would be absent a week at a time.
iii. ability possessed in past time.
He could walk yesterday.
iv. present possibility or power.
I could write [now] if I would.
v. a future possibility.
If I should write to you [hereafter], you must answer immediately.
2. Present tense indicates present time.
I walk. (unclear when the action finishes)
The army is marching. (unclear when the action finishes)
a. The present tense is used in expressing a general truth, or what is habitual.
Perseverance conquers all things.

The mail arrives at six p.m.
b. If composed of a being verb and the present participle of the principal verb, the present tense expresses what is now occurring.
The train is moving.
c. The historical present is the present used for the past to describe more vividly what took place in past time.
Tacitus describes the manners and customs of the ancient Germans.
Ulysses wakes, not knowing where he was. Pope
Matthew traces the descent of Joseph; Luke traces that of Mary.
The present of the speaker or hearer is what is meant by present time. The present of the reader may not be the same as that of the writer.
d. When preceded by a relative pronoun, or by conjunctive adverbs of time, the present tense is sometimes future in its reference.
He will please all who meet him.

The flowers will bloom when spring comes.

3. Future tense expresses what will take place in future time.
I shall return soon. (unclear when the action will finish)
The lion shall eat straw like the ox.
(unclear when the action will finish)
a. Shall and will are the signs of the future tense.
i. Shall expresses the action or event
  •  as a duty commanded.
He shall pay you.

Thou shalt not steal.
  • as a prediction.
I shall make a million dollars.
  • as future.
I shall leave at noon.
ii. Will expresses the action or event
  • as something determined upon.
I will go; no power on earth can prevent me.
The cause will raise up armies.
  • as future.
You will feel better tomorrow.
b. Shall, in the first person, and will, in the second and third, are usually used to show future.
We shall arrive there by noon.

You will be glad to see us.

He will be with us.
c. Will is used, in the first person, to denote determination; and shall, in the second and third, to denote necessity.
I will write to you.

I will not do it, come what may.

Neither he nor you shall go without me.

B. The relative tenses are the present perfect, the past perfect, and the future perfect. The action is shown as completed (or perfected).

1. Past perfect tense represents an act as ended or completed at or before a certain past time.
She had finished her task before three o’clock. (action 'perfected' -- clearly finished)

The cars had started before we reached the depot.
(action 'perfected' -- clearly finished)
a. The past is frequently used instead of the past perfect to denote the completion of an act at or before a certain past time mentioned.
The boat left before midnight.
b. The past perfect subjunctive and past perfect potential deny the action or event.
If I had started sooner, I would have overtaken you.
2. Present perfect tense represents an action or event as past, but connected with present time.
I have learned my lesson.
(action 'perfected' -- clearly finished)
a. Have”, the sign of the present perfect tense, originally denoted possession. It retains this meaning when used as a principal verb. As an auxiliary (helping verb), it denotes completion.
The hunters have killed a wolf.

A man has fallen from the bridge.
b. When preceded by a subordinate connective of time, the present perfect tense sometimes denotes future time.
He will forward the goods as soon as he has received them.
3. Future perfect tense represents an action as finished or ended at or before a certain future time.
I shall have finished my task at three o’clock.
(action 'perfected' -- clearly finished)

We shall have dined before you arrive.
(action 'perfected' -- clearly finished)

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