1.1 Tense in English
The way we change verbs to indicate time is called tense. English has only two tenses: present and past. We can refer to the future in many different ways, but English doesn’t have a future tense in the same way that languages like French or Spanish do.
Here are just some examples of how we can refer to future events in English. The various ways give different shades of meaning to the verb, often about when you decided to do something, or how definite you think the future event is:
- I’ll do it tomorrow. (A spontaneous promise – which you might even keep!)
- I’m going to do it next. (You’ve thought about it and decided)
- I’m having a party next Saturday. (Something ‘on the calendar’)
- I leave in November. (It’s all planned, agreed and booked…)
- We are to meet soon. (It has been definitely arranged)
No doubt there are other possibilities. But none of them uses a form of the verb or a special morpheme which indicates the future, because there simply isn’t one. We can contrast this with French, where present je mange (I eat) contrasts with the future form je mangerai (I will eat/am going to eat), or Spanish, where the equivalent forms of the verb comer are como (I eat) and comeré (I will eat).
Activity 1 Into the past
Here is an extract from a letter where the writer, who has just moved to another country, describes their new situation:
We live in a small cottage near a lake. Every morning I am first up. I do the washing up from dinner and I prepare breakfast in the kitchen. After breakfast I walk directly to the nearby village. I buy things for lunch and dinner and walk back by a different route, usually along the lake shore. I watch the birds swimming on the lake and listen to the breeze blowing through the trees. It’s very peaceful!
Now imagine the writer has moved house to a different place, and is describing what life used to be like living in the cottage. Rewrite the paragraph to explain what daily life was like:
We lived in a small cottage…
There may be some slight variation in your answer, but you most likely wrote something similar to the following:
We lived in a small cottage near a lake. Every morning I was first up. I did the washing up from dinner and I prepared breakfast in the kitchen. After breakfast I walked directly to the nearby village. I bought things for lunch and dinner and walked back by a different route, usually along the lake shore. I watched the birds swimming on the lake and listened to the breeze blowing through the trees. It was very peaceful!
The simplest form of the past is used here (‘I prepared breakfast…’), but there are alternatives which you can use to emphasise the routine:
I used to prepare breakfast…
I would prepare breakfast…