Tense, Aspect and Mood

Tenses interact with the grammatical concept of aspect. Aspect defines how the flow of time is viewed in the sentence. Sounds too abstract ? Be patient! The following will make this much clearer. In English there are four aspects according to which the tenses can be conveniently sorted.

1. The Progressive (or continuous) Aspect views the action in the process of happening, being in the middle of things and not having completed it.
Ron is cooking dinner at the moment.
[He is still doing it and not finished]

2. The Perfect Aspect views the action as having been completed before another point in time. The action is finished but may influence what follows it.
Ron has already seen this film.
[The action is completed. It may influence our present choice of what film to see, since we don’t want Ron to see it again]

3. The Perfect-Progressive Aspect combines the qualities of the previous two. It views the action as an ongoing one that has been going on until a certain point in time and having been completed up to that point. They may influence what follows.
By 1996, Dona had been dieting rather seriously and subsequently lost a lot of weight.
[Dona was in an ongoing process that was completed in 1996. This influenced what followed – the loss of weight]

4. The Simple (or Zero) Aspect does not relate to the flow of time and merely states whether or not the action occurs.
Dona works in London.
[simple factual statement]

The names for the various English verb tenses are derived when combining time with aspect. The following is a short general overview of the tenses accompanied by examples illustrating their typical usage.

Another related grammatical concept here is mood. Mood (or mode) regards the relationship of the verb with reality and intent. While other languages have different verb forms for the same tenses in different moods, English does not get too complicated with moods. Some regard English as having the following four moods:

1. The Indicative Mood regards the action as actually occurring in reality, as a matter of fact. All the tenses mentioned above are in the indicative mood, which is the most prevalent in English.

2. The Imperative Mood states requests, orders, and strong suggestions.
Go there now! Do not postpone this any longer!

3. The Conditional Mood regards the action as not factually occurring in reality, but only as a result of a potential fulfillment of some condition.

  • •     The Present Conditional (would+base verb) expresses hypothetical results, reporting what someone said, and in polite speech.
  • If I won the lottery, I would go on a trip around the world.
  • •    The Past Conditional (would+ have+ past participle form of the verb) expresses hypothetical outcomes that may have occurred in the past and can no longer be achieved.
  • If you had told me about the party, I would have come with you (but you didn’t).

4. The Subjunctive Mood expresses desires, wishes, and assumptions that are not necessarily to be fulfilled in reality. It is used in specific figures of speech and is of little use in Modern English.

  • I demand that she leave at once!
  • If only you were here!
  • If that be the case, than…

The more you encounter and use the different verb tenses and forms, the more you will be able to control and make proper use of their fine nuances in meaning that will enrich your English writing.