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Verb, the categories of tense and time correlation

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The category of tense

The immediate expression of grammatical time, or “tense” (Lat. Tempus), is one of the typical functions of the finite verb. The category of tense reflects the objective category of time and expresses the relations between the time of the action and the time of the utterance.  

In English there are three tenses (past, present and future) represented by the forms wrote, writes, will write or lived, lives, will live.

Some doubts have been expressed about the existence of a future tense in English. O. Jespersen denied the existence of a future tense in English, because according to Jespersen the verbs shall and will preserve their original meaning (shall – an element of obligation, and will an element of volition). Thus, in Jepersen’s view, English has no way of expressing “pure futurity” free from modal shades of meaning, i.e. it has no forms of the past and present tenses. However, this reasoning is not convincing. Though the verbs shall and will may in some context preserve their original meaning, as a rule they are free from these shades of meaning and express mere futurity in numerous examples.

 I am afraid I will have to go back to the hotel.

So the three main divisions of time are represented in the English verbal system by the three tenses. Each of them may appear in the common and in the continuous aspect. Thus we get six tense-aspect forms.

Besides these six, there are two more, namely the future-in-the-past and future-continuous–in-the-past. They don’t easily fit into a system of tenses represented by a straight line running out of the past into the future.

They are a deviation from this straight line, their starting point and the relation between the action denoted by the verb form and the time of the utterance remain uncertain. A different view of the English tense system has been put forward by Prof. N. Irtenyeva. According to this view, the system is divided into two halves: that of tenses centring in the present and that of tenses centring in the past. The former would comprise the present, present perfect, future, present continuous, and present perfect continuous, whereas the latter would comprise the past, past perfect, future-in-the-past, past continuous, and past perfect continuous. Irtenyeva reduced the usual threefold division of tenses (past, present, future) to a twofold division (past and present) with each of the two future tenses (future and future-in-the-past) included into the past or the present system, respectively.

According to A. Korsakov English tenses are subdivided into absolute and anterior, static and dynamic tenses. By dynamic tenses he means what we call tenses of the continuous aspect, and by anterior tenses what we call tenses of the perfect correlation.

The category of time correlation

The category of time correlation is based on the opposition non-perfect/perfect.

The idea and the meaning of the perfect form have been the matter of close consideration for a long time. In Modern English the following main trends, concerning the essence of the perfect forms should be mentioned:

  1.  The category of perfect is a peculiar tense category, a category which should be classed as the categories “present” and “past”. This view was held by O. Jesperson. Present past perfect tenses
  2.  The category of perfect is a peculiar aspect category. The opposition is “common aspect”, “perfect aspect” or “retrospective aspect”. This view was held by Prof. G. Vorontsova.
  3.  The category of perfect is neither one of tense nor one of aspect, but a specific category different from both. This view was expressed by Prof. A. Smirnitsky who introduced a special term “time correlation”.

The perfect form presents an action as prior to some other action (point, a period of time); it is the strong member of the opposition. The non-perfect form denotes either a simultaneous or a posterior action. But we cannot say that a perfect form always precedes another action: the present perfect form is most commonly used in sentences which contain no mention of any other action. He has broken a cup.

 On the other hand, the use of a non-perfect form does not necessarily imply that the action did not precede some moment in time. I remember seeing you.

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Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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Theoretical Grammar

Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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