What is Tense? Definition of Tense.

What is Tense?

tense (noun): a form of a verb used to indicate the time, and sometimes the continuation or completeness, of an action in relation to the time of speaking. 
Tense is a method that we use in English to refer to time - past, present and future. Many languages use tenses to talk about time. Other languages have no tenses, but of course they can still talk about time, using different methods.
So, we talk about time in English with tenses. But, and this is a very big but:
  • we can also talk about time without using tenses (for example, going to is a special construction to talk about the future, it is not a tense)
  • one tense does not always talk about one time (see Tense & Time for more about this)
Here are some of the terms used in discussing verbs and tenses.
Definition of Tense
The time of a verb's action or state of being, such as present or past.
Many contemporary linguists equate tenses with the inflectional categories of a verb. English maintains an inflectional distinction only between the present (for example, laugh or leave) and the past (laughed,left). (See Observations, below.)
For a discussion of the relation of tense and aspect, see Observations, below.
See also:
Tense and Aspect: Present, Past, and Future
·         A Broader Definition
"Some grammarians define a 
tense as an inflection of the verb--a change of meaning you achieve by altering the form of the verb. So the past tense of win is won. In this sense, English has only two tenses, present and past. But for everyday use--especially for those who are studying foreign languages--this strict definition of tense is not very helpful. There is a broader use of the word [tense]: a form of the verb phrase which gives information about aspect and time."
(John Seely, Grammar for TeachersOx pecker, 2007)

Misleading Labels
"In discussing 
tense, labels such as present tense, past tense, and future tense are misleading, since the relationship between tense and time is often not one-to-one. Present and past tenses can be used in some circumstances to refer to future time (e.g. If he comes tomorrow . . ., If he came tomorrow . . .); present tenses can refer to the past (as in newspaper headlines, e.g. Minister resigns . . ., and in colloquial narrative, e.g. So she comes up to me and says . . .); and so on."
(Bas Aarts, Sylvia Chalker, and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2014) 

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