Present and Past Tenses… and the idea of time!
Any given language consists of three systems: words system, sound system, and grammar. English grammar has two distinctive tenses: Present and Past tenses. A Tense would be the syntactic identification of event’s location in time. This is done by the speaker deciding the event time according to their world experience . Most of grammarians and linguists agree that there is no direct relation between the “form” of the verb and the “tense” of the action. The issue of time-form is the backbone in categorizing the verbs into finite and non-finite verbs: Non-finite verbs show that a verb does not indicate tense. This is the reason why tensed verbs are considered to be central members of the verb lexemes. This is mainly due to their inflectional paradigms and the functional potential of their forms that non-finite verbs lack . These verbs show what is known as syncretism.
Present tense, in general terms, denotes an action that happens in present time. This statement proves to be inaccurate. Present tense can be used to denote past actions as in I have met David Beckham. The present perfect can be used for a past happening which is seen in relation to a later event or time. It means “past-time-related-to-present-time ” as in He’s been in France for ten years. Present tense also can be used to refer to an action that will take place in the future I am flying next week to Bangkok. We can also use the present (instead of the past) to tell a story. It helps the action seem more direct, as it is happening now: I’m standing outside the bank, and a man comes up to me and grabs hold of my arm. We also use the present for actions in films, plays and books Macbeth murders the King of Scotland, who is staying at his castle .
While past tense in English locates an action or a state in the past and situates them at a “temporal distance” from the moment of speaking, yet the past tense can refer to time frames other than past. Closed conditional exhibit the potential present reference of past tense as in If we had enough time… Other hypothetical subordinate clauses like He talks as if he owned the place and I often wish I were someone else also have present reference despite the use of past tense . We often use the past tense in polite requests in order to distance the action in order to make the impact on the listener less direct: Did you want to speak to me now? And I wondered if you need anything now.
As many other languages, English language has the grammatical categories of past and present tenses, future time, and different aspects. All these concepts encourage the false assumption that that present tense talks about present events or states and so on. Unfortunately, this assumption is wrong. It is obvious that there is no one-to-one relation between time and tense, nor time and form of the verb.