Technical English II – Verb Tenses Lecture Notes
Tense a way of expressing time in the verbal system: the present and the past
Aspect the progressive aspect: -ing, the perfective aspect: -ed
Voice active or passive
Mood indicative, imperative, the subjunctive
Dynamic verbs denote a voluntary or deliberate action
Stative verbs denote conditions or properties over which human beings have no control / involuntary feelings. They refer to states rather than actions:
beliefs (think, understand)
wants / preferences (prefer, want)
perception, the senses (hear, see)
being, seeming, having, owning
I walk to school every day
Ed and Tim are quarrelling
I walked to school yesterday
Ed and Tim were quarrelling
I have walked to school
Present perfect progressive
Ed and Tim have been quarrelling
I had walked to school
Past perfect progressive
Ed and Tim had been quarrelling
The simple present
is used for repeated actions, routines or situations we see as permanent and about thoughts, feelings and states
The instantaneous present
These are situations of very short duration, eg sport commentaries:
Crane passes the ball to Leon, who shoots.
The historic present
is used in narratives and headlines about events which belong in the past to make them more vivid and immediate:
Racist attacks continue
Stage directions and plot summaries
are usually written in the simple present:
Lord of the Flies is a story about a group of boys who are stranded on a desert island.
Summer follows spring
Present events, actions, situations of unlimited duration
She works in a shop
You are his friend, aren’t you?
Something that happens repeatedly:
I usually get up at 6.15
I never do the dished
Do you ever swear?
Timetables, programmes, fixed schedules:
I leave for Brussels on Monday
The present progressive (the present continuous)
is used about routines, situations or actions we see as temporary, or lasting for a limited period of time. It can also indicate that we are in the middle of an action, something happening right now.
Going on at the moment
I am writing English sentences
I usually work for Mr. Smith, but this week I’m working for Mrs. Jones.
They are staying at The White House Hotel. They usually stay at Regent’s Palace.
She is always driving them.
Why are you always complaining?
Always + the present progressive means ”very often” or ”too often”. It may indicate irritation on the part of the speaker.
I’m always making silly mistakes vs. (I don’t always make silly mistakes, but I make them too often)
I always make silly mistakes when I sit for an exam (I make silly mistakes every time)
We use the present progressive about a plan for the future which is subject to change:
We’re leaving early tomorrow
He is a very nice person (He generally is nice)
He is being very nice today. I wonder why. (He usually isn’t very nice)
Stative vs. dynamic verbs (action verbs, durative verbs)
Stative verbs are verbs like:
seem, be, consist of, exist, belong, depend on, deserve, matter, mean, know, understand, think, remember, love, like
They generally do not occur in the progressive (but there are exceptions!):
The door is blue
He owns the land
I remember nothing
The box contains old magazines
I love vanilla ice cream
In these examples the progressive form would not be correct.
Dynamic verbs are action verbs like:
paint, buy, put, fight etc.
They can be used in both the simple present and the present progressive:
I buy a house I am buying a house
I paint pictures I am painting my first picture
Verbs that are normally stative may have a durative/dynamic meaning:
I think you are right (a mental impression – stative)
I am thinking about the problem (a mental activity – dynamic / durative)
I have two brothers (ownership – stative)
We’re having lunch (activity)
He’s an idiot (stative – there’s nothing you can do about it)
He’s being an idiot (dynamic - his behaviour now, he’s not always like that)
The picture looks nice (stative – not a voluntary act that can be stopped)
I’m looking at this picture (action/dynamic – a voluntary act that can be stopped)
My bag weighs 5 kilos (stative)
They are weighing my bag (dynamic/action)
The soup tastes wonderful (stative)
She is tasting the soup (action – maybe it needs more salt)
Stative verbs can also be used in the progressive when we talk about a short period of time:
I enjoy parties I’m enjoying this party very much
I like school I’m liking school a lot better now
Holidays cost a lot of money This trip is costing me a lot of money
You look wonderful tonight You’re looking wonderful tonight
We feel a bit sad We’re feeling a bit sad
NB! Norwegians tend to overuse the present progressive. Don’t use it unless you specifically intend to do so.
The simple past
is used about completed actions in the past
We are concerned with the time at which something happened and not the duration of the action:
I met him yesterday
She came to my home this morning
The Romans invaded Britain in AD 49
I never met your uncle
A time reference must be given or implied.
I used to give up too easily
I smoked twenty cigarettes a day till I gave up three years ago
The immediate past
Used about an action which happened a very short time ago
Did you ring?
Who left the door open? (we can also say: Who’s left the door open?)
This is not a reference to past time; it is used when asking for favours
(I wonder if you could help me? Is possible, but we more often hear:)
I wondered if you could help me?
I thought maybe this would do?
The simple past usually occurs in combination with a time adverbial which refers to past time.
The past progressive
is used about actions that were in progress at some time in the past
I was living in London two years ago
She was working on her essay last night
It was raining all night
Actions that began earlier and lasted longer than something else
At eight he was having breakfast vs. (breakfast started before eight)
At eight he had breakfast (breakfast started at eight)
When I arrived, Tom was leaving vs. (Tom had decided to leave, and was in the process of doing so before I came)
When I arrived, Tom left (I might be the reason for his leaving)
? Yesterday we were listening to a play on the radio
(this sentence is odd, because listening to a play doesn’t take a whole day)
Yesterday at seven we were listening to a play on the radio (this sentence is OK because of the time reference ‘at seven’: we started listening before seven and we listened after seven)
that were in progress at the same time
While I was working in the garden, my wife was cooking dinner
I was painting the wall at the same time as I was trying to prepare an after-dinner speech.
We use the past progressive about both actions in these sentences to indicate that one didn’t last longer than the other.
He was always making mistakes
She was always spilling milk on the floor
The past progressive has the same function as the present progressive in this context.
I was wondering if you could help me
As we saw above we can also say: ‘I wondered if you could help me’, but the progressive form is perhaps slightly more modest.
It can be used as an alternative to the simple past, being more casual:
I was talking to Janet the other day (suggests it was not a deliberate action. I happened to meet her and we talked)
I talked to Peter the other day (suggests I took the initiative, perhaps because I needed to talk to him)
The simple past must be used when a time adverbial indicates how many times things happen:
I talked to Peter several times the other day
It is not natural to say: ‘I was talking to Peter the other day’.
The progressive form is sometimes more polite:
What were you doing before you came here?
What did you do before you came here?
But: What were you doing in my office? Suggests you had no right to be there, whereas
What did you do in my office? does not.
The simple present perfect
The present perfect tense is a mixture of present and past, implying a strong connection with the present. It is used more frequently in oral English than in writing.
Actions in the past continuing up to the present
I have read the instructions
implies that I did so recently, whereas
I read the instructions
may be further back in the past.
Therefore a simple present perfect sentence may combine nicely with the simple present:
I have read the instructions, but I don’t understand them
we are interested in the present results of something that happened in the past. In this respect we can say that the present perfect is a present tense which looks back into the past
(just as the past perfect is a past tense which looks back into a more distant past:
I had read the instructions, but I didn’t understand them)
I read the instructions, but I didn’ understand them
shows no such connection with the present. Therefore it is natural to choose a simple past tense for the second sentence: ‘I didn’t understand them’.
(‘I have read the instructions, but I didn’t understand them’ is an unnatural combination).
I haven’t seen him this morning (implies it is still morning)
I didn’t see him this morning (implies the morning has now passed)
Bill Peters has written several books (is said when he is still alive)
Bill Peters wrote a number of books (is said post-mortem)
Bill Peters wrote two short stories last month (the adverb ’last month’ cuts off the relation to the present) – therefore
* Bill Peters has written several books last month is not a valid sentence.
Adverbs not related to past time are frequently used with the present perfect:
before, so far, never, up till now, ever, ( since, for – conj.)
I have never seen him before
He has worked in that bank for two years (means he still works there)
(He worked in that bank for two years – means he doesn’t work there anymore)
A conversation about past events often begins in the present perfect, then continues in the simple past:
Where have you been?
I’ve been to Marks and Spencer?
Oh, did you buy anything?
Yes, as a matter of fact I did …I bought ….
Actions occurring at an unspecified time
Have you passed your driving test?(no time specified) Yes, I passed it when I was 18. (a specified time)
Often used in conversation, with or without a time adverbial (referring to recent time)
I’ve just done my homework
Have you finished already?
I haven’t passed my driving test yet
I still haven’t passed my driving test
Repeated and habitual actions
I’ve heard those words a hundred times
I have often wondered why they are doing this
My students have always worked hard
The simple present perfect is often used in broadcast news, newspapers and letters which have a connection with the present:
Inflation has increased again
The government has promised to cut taxes
As I have been away the whole morning, I haven’t had time to write to you yet
The present perfect progressive
is used about an activity beginning in the past and still continuing:
I’ve been waiting for an hour and he still hasn’t turned up
The emphasis is put on the duration of the action. The simple past is also possible, without an emphasis on duration: I’ve waited for an hour …
Whether you use the simple or the progressive form here is a matter of taste as both sentences are grammatically correct.
It is used about repeated actions in the past:
I’ve been writing letters all day
I’ve been running
The focus is on the activity. Thus we cannot say:
* I’ve been writing six letters (we cannot both focus on the activity and the result: six letters)
I’ve written six letters is therefore correct. We focus on the result, not the activity.
* I’ve been running a mile
I’ve run a mile is OK
We use the present perfect progressive to draw conclusions based on direct or indirect evidence:
Why are you so stiff? I’ve been running (my activity explains the stiffness)
Is it raining?
But the ground is wet.
It has been raining
Your eyes are red. Yoy have been crying. (I conclude that you have been crying because your eyes are read)
Compare the simple and the progressive forms:
The ceiling was white. Now it is blue. She has painted the ceiling. (This implies a completed action)
Her clothes are covered in paint. She has been painting the ceiling. (The activity is not necessarily completed)
Somebody has smoked all my cigarettes. (A completed action)
Somebody has been smoking in this room. (Conclusion drawn on evidence)
How many pages of that book have you read? (focus on result)
How long have you been reading that book? (focus on activity)
The simple past perfect tense
The past perfect is the equivalent of the present perfect, denoting a more distant past:
When I arrived Peter said: ”Ann has just left” (When this is said the leaving is close to the present)
When I arrived Ann had just left. (The action is more distant in time)
They have had lunch (said at noon)
At noon they had had lunch (said at dinner time)
I am exited because I have never been in London before
I was exited because I had never been in London before
Sometimes we want to distinguish between events in the past, ie. state what happened before something else happened:
The patient died. The doctor arrived.
These two sentences can be combined in two ways depending on when the two events occurred:
The patient died when the doctor arrived – the two events occurred at the same time
The patient had died when the doctor arrived – death occurred before the arrival of the doctor
When I arrived, Ann left (ie. at that moment; I may have been the reason)
When I arrived, Ann had left (ie. before I got there)
(Recall the example: ‘When I arrived, Ann was leaving’. These three sentences give different messages.)
We can use the past perfect to describe things we hoped or wished to do but didn’t:
I had hoped to come to the party, but I couldn’t get away.
The past perfect progressive
is the past equivalent of the present perfect progressive:
I can see they have been arguing (present perfect progressive)
I could see they had been arguing (past perfect progressive)
He has been phoning her every night the past week
She was annoyed because he had been phoning her every night for a whole week
THE FUTURE TENSES
The simple future tense
is formed by shall and will and the base form of the verb:
I will stay
Will is used with all persons, shall can be used as an alternative with I and we. Will contracts to ’ll in writing, shall does not. I will not contracts to I’ll not or I won’t, I shall not to I shan’t
(Other future tenses formed by shall and will:
Future progressive: I will be seeing
Future perfect: I will have seen
Future perfect progressive: I will have been seeing
Use of will/shall:
They will win on Saturday. It will rain tomorrow. I don’t know if I shall ever see him again.
The reception will be at the Anchor Hotel
I hope you’ll get the job you applied for (also: I hope you get the job you applied for)
Ask him again. Perhaps he’ll change his mind.
The future progressive tense
I shall/will be expecting you
Actions in progress in the future:
Hurry up! The guests will be arriving at any minute.
By this time tomorrow, I’ll be lying on the beach.
The progressive may sound more polite than the simple form:
When will you see him? Vs. When will you be seeing him?
Sometimes there is a difference in meaning:
Will you join us for dinner? (is an invitation)
Will you be joining us for dinner? (is a question about future plans)
Arrrangements and plans:
Mrs. Homer will be giving a lecture on US economy
We will be spending the next year in London
The future perfect - simple and progressive
I will have received it
I will have been working here for five years by the end of January
Past in the future:
I will have retired by the year 2020 (by that time my retirement will be past event)
I hope you will have changed your mind by tomorrow
The ’going to’-future
I’m going to arrive tomorrow
The future ’going to’ is often pronounced ’gonna’: I’m going to have a wonderful time/ I’m gonna have a wonderful time is not standard English and should not be accepted in writing.
The present progressive, however, can never have this pronunciation: I’m going to London
Look! It’s going to rain. (this includes the present, whereas It will rain is purely future)
They’re going to be married. (Her brother told me) They will be married on the 5th. (official announcement) The will-future is preferred in formal writing.
I’m going to swim this afternoon (If you decide something at the moment of speaking, use will: Please wait, I’ll be back in five minutes [‘I’m going to be back in five minutes’ is not natural here])
I’m going to have dinner with Janet tomorrow. I’m having dinner with Janet tomorrow. I think I’ll have dinner with Janet tomorrow. All possible future sentences.
Other ways of indicating futurity:
is used when actions are subject to human control:
We are to meet in London next week (an action I can control)
* I am to faint (this is out of my control) vs. I’m going to faint
You are not to tell him about our plans (ie. you must not)
You’re not going to tell him, are you?
Be about to:
is used to refer to the immediate future:
He’s about to start crying. (It’s just a matter of seconds)
Be due to:
The plane is due to arrive at 3pm. They are not due until 3pm. When is the baby due?
Future in the past:
We were just going to leave when Jane fell and hurt herself.
I was to leave for London tomorrow, but my mother has been taken to hospital.