The reason why learning English can be difficult, is related with various aspects. One of large obstacles for a beginner is a confusion around the number of grammatical categories of time. When you try to learn how many time tenses there are in the English language by your own you come across different information. As a result, the goal of mastering the language seems to be unachievable.
The fact is, however, it is far easier than it seems at first. Understanding the difference in approaches to language structures of Russian and British linguists can eliminate the illusory complexity. First, let us see into the primary issue, i. e. the quantity of tenses which deemed to be correct based upon different information sources.
Traditional English Grammar includes 12 tenses. This number is supported by many linguists of specialized web sites. Self-teaching guidebook by Tatiana Trofimenko indicates 26 tenses. Based on authoritative online sources, there are 16, 24, and even from 2 to 4 tenses. Each alternative option is correct in a way and is well-argued.
The hard part is that the authors refer to different concepts of the category of time. If you try to find any parallel with phrase building in the Russian language, you can come across more linguistic inconsistencies. Russian has many in common with English, however, the rules that define the forms as a separate tense differ. For example, let us compare English Past Continuous tense and Russian imperfective verbs, and we will see pretty much the same constructions.
The matters in relation to the quantity of the tenses that linguists approach differently can be explained by the fact that the active forms of the verbs are added to the groups of passive voice and future in the past tense. Russian language has three tenses: Future, Past, and Present. For the English language, there are also three principal groups: Future Tenses, Present Tenses, and Past Tenses. Each of the group can be further divided into four separate categories of time.
The table below is helpful to illustrate the number of English tenses.
|Group / Time||Present||Past||Future|
verb / verb + s
am / is / are
the second form
(regular / irregular)
|will + verb|
|Continuous||am / is / are + verb + ing||was / were + verb + ing||will be + verb + ing|
|Perfect||have / has + the third form||had + the third form||will have + the third form|
|Perfect Continuous||have / has been + verb + ing||had been + verb + ing||will have been + verb + ing|
The challenge to percept the classification is rooted in the differences of language structures. Let us look at this difference by an example. The modern usage of Russian is characterized by an infrequency of the modal verb to be. On the contrary, English speakers would use it as a mandatory piece in building sentences. Let us translate the phrase "I am an auditor" — "Я аудитор" (Present Simple). In Russian, we would not use the verb. The phrase "I am throwing the ball" can be translated into Russian word-by-word as "Я есть бросающий мяч» (Present Continuous). But if we want to build the Russian phrases organically, we shall simplify the structure by omitting the forms of the verb to be ("Я аудитор", "Я бросаю мяч").
In English, there are three groups of time (Present, Past, and Future) and four tense-aspect forms: Perfect, Simple, Continuous, Perfect Continuous. The groups of time (Present, Past, and Future) can be divided by the nature in which actions are performed — how rather than when a certain action was performed. Let us see how the tense-aspect forms are build by the example with action, performer, and object of action. We take the words Ben, mow, lawn.
Let us count how many Present Tenses there are in English; it is 4.
We see how many past tenses there are in English (it is also 4).
Now, we can count the tenses of the English language: 3 groups, 4 forms in each, amount to 12 tenses. But this figure covers only active voice. Passive voice will add other kinds of tenses.
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