Why linguistic terminology can be useful and misnomers problematic

Tense and aspect

What are tenses? And why is the answer not: all verb structures? How many tenses does English really have? And does it matter? What is the semantic relationship between verb form and time? What is time? What do we mean when we talk about time? How do we talk about time? And why should this be important?

In my introduction to the concept of the Verb Structure Circle I mentioned the technical definition of ‘tense’. Tense and aspect are two terms crucial to explaining, and in my opinion, understanding, the English verb structure system. I also noted that in many if not most course books of English ALL verb structures are referred to as tenses and, as far as I can tell, ‘aspect’ is rarely used. Perfect and continuous forms are commonly related to as ‘tenses’ though they are actually referred to as ‘aspects’ in linguistic literature.

Note (2016): Some publishers of English course books like MacMillan make the distinction, as I have found in the meantime.

The reason I believe this issue to be important is because I believe understanding the difference between ‘tense’ and ‘aspect’ could help understanding English verb structures’ meaning and function better. Continue reading