The Art of Conlanging

Chapter 9: A Tense Situation

Grammar, Part Four: Verb Tenses

First off, it's good to be back. I haven't updated in a couple of years, but hey, why not resume a project that got good reviews? I also uploaded some of the writing work that I have done in the past couple of years.

I also wanted to thank Written for including this essay last year in his C2 The Idiot's Guide to Writing. I'm glad to be of service :-)

You may notice a leap forward in my general knowledge of linguistics. That is because I now have taken a Linguistics course and am working on my second year of American Sign Language courses, as well as having spent a little time with Esperanto, the world's most spoken conlang. So expect some examples from Esperanto and American Sign Language ^_^

Without further ado… let me pick up where I left off…

Verb tenses. In short, the tense a verb is in denotes when the action took place. In general, it is thought in English we have 3 tenses, corresponding to our idea of time as past, present, and future (I will explain later why we do not). Past tense in English is marked by the –ed ending, as in, "I walked to the store." Present tense we think of as the basic form of the verb, adding –(e)s if the subject is third person singular (e.g., "I walk to the store"). English has no true future tense, but we use the helping verb "will" to convey the same idea: "I will walk to the store.)

Whoa! Back up! "Helping verb"? Helping (or auxillary) verbs serve more of a "grammatical" role rather than conveying new information. "Will," as in "I will walk to the store," is a helping verb, as is "have" in "I have to walk to the store" or "I have walked to the store." The "did" in "I did walk to the store" is also a helping verb. Note that "will" in "I willed her my bicycle" and "have" in "I have ten toes" are not acting as helping verbs in this instance.

I mentioned before that English only has two tenses: past and non-past. The argument goes like this: the present tense and future "tense" do not differ in form. Even using "will" is not necessary if it is clear that the action takes place in the future: "We head out of Dodge tomorrow."

Now, many languages actually do not have verb tenses. Languages like Chinese, American Sign Language (ASL), and even Klingon and leave tense to adverbs. In ASL, in order to say "I went to the store yesterday" you'd sign "YESTERDAY I GO-TO STORE."

Well, that's it for now! I will shoot for weekly updates ^_^


Next Chapter: Aspect the Unexpected (Part V of Grammar: Looking at Verb Aspects)