By Goke Ilesanmi

When we talk about any form of verbal communication, the issue of tenses is very important because tense is any of the verb forms relating time to action. This time is basically divided into past, present and future. There is actually a problem when we cannot accurately relate time to action and use the appropriate tenses in a given business situation.

 

Tense and aspect

   Aspect refers to the verb form, which relates activities to the passage of time. In a way, aspect is a restatement of tense. According to the dictionary, there is an aspectual difference between “I saw him cross the road” and  “I saw him crossing the road”. What this means is that “cross” used in the first sentence is a simple past tense though without “-ed”.Verbs used in this form are called bare infinitive, that is, infinitive without the preposition “to”. And being an infinitive, “cross does not need “-ed” to show past.

     It is an intrinsic or implicit past. In the second sentence, “crossing” is a present  participle, an -ing form of the verb. At the notional level, the first sentence means that the first person saw the other person complete the action. That is why “cross” is used. But in the second sentence, “crossing” is used to show that the first person only saw the action halfway, he did not see the end of the action of crossing the road by the other person.

 

Simple Present Tense

 This tense refers to habitual or permanent actions, e.g. “I read every day”; “I go to the office every day”, etc. The third person singular pronouns (that is, “He”, “She”, “It”) take verb-“s” when used in the simple present tense, e.g. “He/She/It eats every day”. So it is not the case that it is a plural {pro}noun that uses a verb that has an “s” .

  Note: “It”, a pronoun that is used for inanimate objects and non-human creatures, is grouped with third person singular pronouns because it is also used for a baby or child, especially when the sex is unknown,e.g. “This is Bola’s baby, what sex is it?” If you use “He” or “She” in place of “It”, then you do not need to ask about the sex of the baby again since you have already made a conclusion about it. 

 

Reinforcement

  It is said that the verbs used with the third person singular pronouns take an “s”, but we still hear the expression God bless you”, despite the fact that the noun “God” is equal to a third person singular pronoun. The reason for not using “Blesses” is that this expression is an elliptical or cut-off one. So at the deep-structure level, what we have is “May God bless you”. But the modal auxiliary verb “May” disappears at the surface-structure level.

   The simple present tense is also used in (football) commentary. It can be used to express certainty in the future time, e.g. “The plane lands in Nigeria tomorrow morning”; “The president arrives the country next week”, etc. The simple present tense is used in place of present continuous tense when an automatic verb describing reflex or involuntary action is involved. Let us explain this area. There are some verbs that are basically not used in the continuous or progressive form. These verbs describe automatic or reflex actions. They are mostly verbs of perception, feeling or sense. So instead of using the progressive or continuous tense form of these verbs, it is the simple present tense that is used, e.g. “I hear what you are saying” (or “I can hear what you are saying”), not “I am hearing what you are saying” or “He is hearing what you are saying”. You also say “I see a snake there, it is looking at me”, not “I am seeing a snake there, it is looking at me” or “He is seeing a snake there, it is looking at him”.

 

Note

Note that we cannot control what we SEE unless we close our eyes, but we can only control the direction at which we are LOOKING, so “Looking” is NOT a reflex action.

However, we can have some of these automatic verbs in the verbal-noun form technically called Gerund, e.g. “Seeing is believing”; “Sense of seeing”, “Sense of hearing”, “Sense of smelling”, etc. The verbs here are used as nouns; that is why they are called Verbal Nouns.

   But what is being emphasised here is that they are not usually used in the progressive or continuous-tense form (that is, combination of a primary auxiliary verb such as “Is” or “Are” and present participle or –ing form of the verb such as “Seeing”, “Hearing”, etc., to form “Is seeing” or “Is hearing”. Other verbs that are not usually used in the continuous or progressive form are “smell”, “remember”, “recollect”, “forget”, “know”, “understand”, etc.

 

Simple Past Tense

This is used for expressing an action that took place before the present time, e.g. “I went to school yesterday”; “I saw him in the morning”, etc.

 

Present Continuous Tense

Structurally, this tense is formed through combination of any of the auxiliary verbs or verb “to be” (is, am, are, etc) and the present participle (-ing) form of the verb involved. This tense is used for expressing actions taking place at the present time, e.g. “I am writing”; “They are singing”; “She is laughing”, etc. It is equally used with other forms of present tense in sport commentary. However, it is not commonly used in the real-life situation for actions that are shortlived, that is, actions that are not happening gradually, but start and end quickly, e.g. fall, drop, break, etc.

   However, this tense can be used for the short-lived actions if they are happening repeatedly. By extension, this tense is equally not always used for involuntary actions as already said. That is, actions that are not within the range of our control. The present continuous tense is also employed to express futurity, e.g. “We are going there tomorrow”.

 

Past Continuous Tense

This is the past form of the last tense. It is used in a situation where one past action was completed while another was still in progress. In this type of situation, it is used for the longer unfinished action while simple past tense is used for the shorter one, e.g. “We saw him when he was going to school”. It is also used in a situation where two actions were taking place at the same time in the past, e.g. “Segun was reading while Gbenga was writing”.

Present Perfect Tense

  This is formed through the combination of has or have and the past participle form of the verb involved, e.g.  “I have written the note”. This tense tells us about a completed action with present relevance. The past participle form of a verb is its third form. For instance, a verb such as “Go” has “Went” as past tense and “Gone” past participle. For “Write”, we have “Wrote” as past tense and “Written” as past participle.

    Different forms of each verb are written against it in the short forms “pt” and “pp” in the dictionary. You also have these different forms of every verb at the end (or beginning) of any standard dictionary. Present Perfect Tense is a form of present tense, especially that it does not mention the time that the completed action took place but only expresses its relevance to the present time. Note that when you mention a specific date or time in the past, you cannot use present perfect, e.g. “I have seen him in the morning”. This is wrong. The correct form should have been “I saw him in the morning”. However, it is possible to say “I have seen him this morning” if we are still in the morning time.

 

Past Perfect Tense

  This is the past form of the present perfect. It is formed through the combination of had and the past participle form of the verb involved. This tense is otherwise called pluperfect, remote past or past before past. It is used for the earlier of two actions that took place in the past, while the simple past is used for the one that happened later, e.g. “I had gone before he came”. Like the present perfect, past perfect tense is not used when a specific date or time is mentioned in the past. However, this rule is broken, especially if two actions took place in the past with one happening earlier, and the speaker wants to emphasise the date or time of the earlier action.

   In this type of situation, commas are usually employed to separate the area of time, to make it look like an intrusive element, that is, something that can be removed. An example of this can be drawn from preface to the first edition of Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases by Betty K. MA: “…Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classified catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as Thesaurus now published….”

 

Journalism

  It is common in (Nigerian) journalism to misuse past perfect tense. Look at this sentence, for example: “President Goodluck Jonathan had on Tuesday confirmed the matter”. If it is the case that the president confirmed the matter again on Wednesday, it is correct to use past perfect tense like this for that of Tuesday that was earlier. Similarly, if the president denied the matter on Wednesday, then we can use this statement like this, but commas will still be required to separate On Tuesday.

    However, if it is the case that the president only confirmed this on Tuesday alone, without re-confirmation or denial after this day, it is wrong to write the above expression in past perfect tense. Instead, it is more grammatically correct to use simple past tense and change the position of “On Tuesday”, e.g. “President Jonathan confirmed the matter on Tuesday”.

  *Note: it is “You had better do…. not “You had better done”. This is because “Had” here means “Should”.

 

Simple Future Tense

  This tense is used to express simple futurity. Here, the first person singular pronoun I and plural “We” make use of the modal auxiliary verb “Shall” to express simple futurity, e.g. “I/We shall go today.” However, second-person singular and plural “You”, third person singular pronouns “He”, “She” and “It” and third person plural pronoun “They” use “Will” to express their simple futurity, e.g. “He/She/It/You/They will go today.”

   In spoken English, it is “Will” that is more commonly used for all persons. But the implication of this indiscriminate use of “Will” is that a listener may not know whether a speaker is expressing simple futurity or expressing a promise, especially when Will is used with “I” and We.

    The reason being that when it comes to expressing a promise, I and We make use of “Will”, while other pronouns employ “Shall”. Another way of expressing futurity is by using “going-to” with an infinitive. This is called Future of Intention, e.g. “I am going to see him tomorrow.”

 

Future Perfect Tense

 This tense is formed through the combination of simple future tense and present perfect tense. It tells us about an action that will be completed by a particular future date. Here, the assignment of “Shall” and “Will” is just as applicable in simple future tense. A lot of people wrongly use “Would have” for all persons while using this tense, even in the present-tense case, probably because the phrase is phonetically pleasant. The standard way of using this tense is: “By next month, I/we shall have worked here for five years”; “By next month, they will have worked here for five years”, etc.

Note: You can confirm this usage from any standard dictionary, especially Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 2000 edition (page 1310) or just check “Future Perfect Tense” in any edition of any standard dictionary.

 

Future Perfect Continuous

 This is formed through the combination of simple future tense, present perfect tense and present continuous tense. It tells us about an action that will have been completed for a duration of time at some future time and then still continue, e.g. “By next month, I shall have been working here for five years.”

   The difference between future perfect tense and future perfect continuous is that here, it is additionally expressed in the Future Perfect Continuous Tense that working here will continue even after this period, a notion that is embedded in the present participle “Working”.

 

Future Continuous Tense

  This is made up of simple future tense and present continuous tense. It is used for an action that is progressing at some future time, e.g. “We shall be discussing tomorrow.”

 

Present Perfect Continuous Tense

  This tense reflects the integration of present perfect tense and present continuous tense. It is more commonly used with verbs that have long duration, e.g. “Wait”, “Walk”, “Work”, “Sit”, “Stand”, etc. This tense is used to express an action that started at some time in the past and is still in progress now, e.g. “I have been writing since morning.”

    Some grammarians say this tense can also be used when an action is not actually in progress. But I think this flexibility or deliberate infringement is better restricted to spoken English alone, because, strictly considered, as soon as an action that started in the past and is progressing to the present time ends, it is better expressed in past perfect continuous tense.

 

Past Perfect Continuous Tense

 This is formed through the combination of past perfect tense and the continuous tense. It is the past form of the present perfect continuous tense. This tense is used to express an action that is no longer taking place, but continuing in the past, e.g. “I had been writing since yesterday, but stopped an hour ago.”

  

Last words

Finally, when we talk about any form of verbal communication, the issue of tenses is very important because tense is any of the verb forms relating time to action. This time is basically divided into past, present and future. There is actually a problem when we cannot accurately relate time to action and use the appropriate tenses in a given business situation.

   For any speaker of English aspiring to attain a respectable level of proficiency in the deployment of the language, mastery of tenses is not only a matter of necessity but also that of compulsion. Therefore, endeavour to achieve respectable proficiency in your (business) communication today through commendable mastery of proper application of various types of tenses.

   Concluded

  PS: For those making inquiries about our Public Speaking, Business Presentation and Professional Writing Skills programme, please visit the website indicated on this page for details. Till we meet on Monday.

GOKE ILESANMI, Managing Consultant/CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Certified Public Speaker/MC, Communication Specialist, Motivational Speaker and Career Management Coach. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant.

Tel: 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com

Filed under: Business Language and Communication

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