English Tenses - Grammar - Aspects


The complexity of the tense system ultimately forms the basis of the language. However, this has often proven the biggest challenge for students. To be able to understand and use this confidently is a prerequisite for success. In TenseMaster we based a new learning system on ‘Aspects’ to help you bridge this gap. These play a key role in learning English tenses effectively. But what are they and how do they help?

A View of Time

Every language has a unique relationship with the notion of ‘Time’. Some are easy and some are extremely complex. In this article we are going to have a look at the English speakers’ view of Time.

Aspects are the “interpretation” of any given tense. They serve to clarify how the English speaker views time when using different tenses. Are they looking forward, backwards or are they speaking about recent activities? The tenses are the tools used to express these different concepts of Time. They give clarity to the meaning of what they want to express.

A new Approach

Traditionally, learners have always been faced with meta language such as ‘Present Perfect Continuous’ or the ‘Going to Future’ but do these really convey any meaning that you easily understand? Probably not! Why would a native speaker choose to use them? Transforming these tense names into ‘Aspects’ makes them much easier to understand.

So, let’s see how this all works. In this example we are going to have a look at the Present Perfect Continuous – A rather daunting collection of words that can be difficult to understand. Alternatively, we could use ‘Aspect’ or, in other words the idea behind this tense, to unlock the meaning. In the case of Present Perfect Continuous the Aspect is - UNFINISHED. A lot simpler and easier to understand. The English speaker uses this tense to describe an action or a situation as UNFINISHED – it started in the past and still ongoing, for example:

"I have been waiting for the bus for 20 minutes". Traditional grammar describes this as the PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS. What you want to express is the idea of an action that is still happening. By using ‘Aspect’ your view changes to simply UNFINISHED.

There is no contest between which is easier to understand and internalise. When you see it, use it or hear it, you know immediately what it means.

Tenses and their Meaning

All English tenses contain a number of different ‘Apects’ Here’s a list of the most common ones:

Present Simple

Aspects: Permanent situations, Routines, Habits, Facts

Present Continuous

Aspects: In Progress, Temporary, Around now

Past Simple

Aspects: Finished, Completed

Past Continuous

Aspects: Activity in the Past

Present Perfect

Aspects: Before now, Present result, Up to now

Present Perfect Continuous

Aspects: Unfinished, Actions still continuing

Future 1 – Going to

Aspects: Intentions, Predictions

Future 2 – Present Continuous

Aspects: Fixed arrangements, Plans, Diary

Future 3 – Will

Aspects: Instant response, Predictions, Facts

In all this, it is important to know that language is a living thing. But as soon as you have fully internalised the basic rules, you will easily understand their finer nuances.

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