Verb Tense and Aspect



Verbs are some of the most difficult things for English Language Learners (and even many native English speakers) to understand and master. On their surface, verbs may seem straightforward. There are only past, present, and future tenses to worry about, right? Wrong. It usually blows people’s minds to learn that there are, in fact, TWELVE verb tenses in English. Technically, there are twelve combinations of tense and aspect, but the distinction between tense (time) and aspect (the structure of an action regardless of time) has faded to the point where “tense” may refer to both time and structure.

Different tense/aspect combinations have different meanings that go beyond when something happened. These different combinations may show relationships between more than one event, completion or continuation of an event, the permanence or impermanence of an event, etc.

When working with ELL students, tutors should identify which tenses the student is struggling with, explain and demonstrate the proper form of the verb, and use contrasting examples to show differences between tenses and the proper tense to employ in a particular situation. This lesson presents definitions and examples of the twelve tenses of English, as well as several examples of verb pairs that cause confusion for ELL students.