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Term Definition

In grammar, tense is a category that expresses time reference. Tenses are usually manifested by the use of specific forms of verbs, particularly in their conjugation patterns.

Introduction to Tenses

If you have found this webpage, then you probably want to know the meaning of tense. We want to help you with that. Every verb an every sentence of the English language always has one tense or another. This is fundamental to the very nature of grammar. 

Tense conveys the relation of an action to time. The preceding sentence, for example, is in the present tense (as is this one, too). 

On the other hand, the very first clause of this glossary entry is in the present perfect tense. It is literally impossible to use a verb without conveying a tense. This time relationship is intrinsic to the very nature of language itself. 

Using Various Tenses

Here is an example for you of tense being used correctly within a real sentence. 

"Yesterday, he went to the grocery store; and tomorrow, he will use the ingredients he bought to prepare a meal for his friends." 

This sentence correctly uses the past tense and the future tense to express a specific meaning. 

Now, here is an example of tense being used within a sentence in an incorrect way

"I am walking to the park last week, in order to meet up with an acquaintance who said he had a business proposition for me." 

In this sentence, "am walking" is the wrong tense for speaking about something in the past. 

In case you are still a little unclear about the meaning of tense, here are a couple rules you can follow when trying to make use of it in an effective way. 

1. Every single sentence, ever, has tense: it is not possible to use a verb without conveying a tense. The important thing is for you to match up the conjugation of the verb to the context of time reference, so that you are in fact using the right tense for the meaning that you are trying to convey. 

2. The expression of tense is all about conjugation: you need to modify verbs correctly in order to express the right tense. This means that you both need to know how the verbs are conjugated, and also the nature of each tense in the English language. Learning these things is fundamental to the study of grammar. 

Roots in Language

The concept of tense really reflects the extent to which language is utterly bound up with the nature of time. It is literally impossible to speak a sentence that does not have some reference to time. It is perhaps only the simple present tense that is relatively independent from time, expressing lasting truths in a more abstract way. Even then, though, there is a reference to time being made, albeit in a somewhat negative fashion. There is simply no way to avoid this state of affairs: tense is intrinsic to the very structure of language. 

In this context, it becomes easy to understand why religious mystics, when they have experiences of eternity or timelessness, tend to say that their experiences are ineffable. This is likely true in the literal sense that language is simply not equipped to express an experience or event that transcends any and all concept of time or tense. The only way to express such things would likely be to rely on poetry, where the structures of language (including tense) are used to subvert those structures themselves. 

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