Tense–aspect–mood, commonly abbreviated tam and also called tense–modality–aspect or tma, is the grammatical system of a language that covers the expression of tense (location in time), aspect (fabric of time – a single block of time, continuous flow of time, or repetitive occurrence), and mood or modality (degree of necessity, obligation, probability, ability). In some languages, evidentiality (whether evidence exists for the statement, and if so what kind) and mirativity (surprise) may also be included.
The term is convenient because it is often difficult to untangle these features of a language. Often any two of tense, aspect, and mood (or all three) may be conveyed by a single grammatical construction, but this system may not be complete in that not all possible combinations may have an available construction. In other cases there may not be clearly delineated categories of tense and mood, or aspect and mood.
For instance, many Indo-European languages do not clearly distinguish tense from aspect. In some languages, such as Spanish and Modern Greek, the imperfective aspect is fused with the past tense in a form traditionally called the imperfect. Other languages with distinct past imperfectives include Latin and Persian.
In the traditional grammatical description of some languages, including English, many Romance languages, and Greek and Latin, "tense" or the equivalent term in that language refers to a set of inflected or periphrastic verb forms that express a combination of tense, aspect, and mood. In Spanish, the simple conditional (Spanish: condicional simple) is classified as one of the simple tenses (Spanish: tiempos simples), but is named for the mood (conditional) that it expresses. In Ancient Greek, the perfect tense (Ancient Greek: χρόνος παρακείμενος, translit. khrónos parakeímenos) is a set of forms that express both present tense and perfect aspect (finite forms), or simply perfect aspect (non-finite forms).
Not all languages conflate tense, aspect and mood. However, some analytic languages such as creole languages have separate grammatical markers for tense, aspect, and/or mood, which comes close to a theoretically ideal distinction.
Creoles, both Atlantic and non-Atlantic, tend to share a large number of syntactic features, including the avoidance of bound morphemes. Tense, aspect, and mood are usually indicated with separate invariant pre-verbal auxiliaries. Typically the unmarked verb is used for either the timeless habitual or the stative aspect or the past perfective tense–aspect combination. In general creoles tend to put less emphasis on marking tense than on marking aspect. Typically aspectually unmarked stative verbs can be marked with the anterior tense, and non-statives, with or without the anterior marker, can optionally be marked for the progressive, habitual, or completive aspect or for the irrealis mood. In some creoles the anterior can be used to mark the counterfactual. When any of tense, aspect, and modality are specified, they are typically indicated separately with the invariant pre-verbal markers in the sequence anterior relative tense (prior to the time focused on), irrealis mode (conditional or future), non-punctual aspect.:pp. 176–9, p. 191;
Hawaiian Creole English (HCE), or Hawaiian Pidgin, is a creole language with most of its vocabulary drawn from its superstrate English, but as with all creoles its grammar is very different from that of its superstrate. HCE verbs have only two morphologically distinct forms: the unmarked form (e.g. teik "take") and the progressive form with the suffix -in appended to the unmarked form (teikin "taking"). The past tense is indicated either by the unmarked form or by the preverbal auxiliary wen (Ai wen see om "I saw him") or bin (especially among older speakers) or haed (especially on Kauai). However, for "to say" the marked past tense has the obligatory irregular form sed "said", and there are optional irregular past tense forms sin or saw = wen si "saw", keim = wen kam "came", and tol = wen tel "told". The past is indicated only once in a sentence since it is a relative tense.
The future marker is the preverbal auxiliary gon or goin "am/is/are going to": gon bai "is going to buy". The future of the past tense/aspect uses the future form since the use of the past tense form to mark the time of perspective retains its influence throughout the rest of the sentence: Da gai sed hi gon fiks mi ap ("The guy said he [was] gonna fix me up").
There are various preverbal modal auxiliaries: kaen "can", laik "want to", gata "have got to", haeftu "have to", baeta "had better", sapostu "am/is/are supposed to". Tense markers are used infrequently before modals: gon kaen kam "is going to be able to come". Waz "was" can indicate past tense before the future marker gon and the modal sapostu: Ai waz gon lift weits "I was gonna lift weights"; Ai waz sapostu go "I was supposed to go".
There is a preverbal auxiliary yustu for past tense habitual aspect: yustu tink so ("used to think so"). The progressive aspect can be marked with the auxiliary ste in place of or in addition to the verbal suffix -in: Wat yu ste it? = Wat yu itin? ("What are you eating?"); Wi ste mekin da plaen ("We're making the plan"). The latter, double-marked, form tends to imply a transitory nature of the action. Without the suffix, ste can alternatively indicate perfective aspect: Ai ste kuk da stu awredi ("I cooked the stew already"); this is true, for instance, after a modal: yu sapostu ste mek da rais awredi ("You're supposed to have made the rice already"). Stat is an auxiliary for inchoative aspect when combined with the verbal suffix -in: gon stat plein ("gonna start playing"). The auxiliary pau without the verbal suffix indicates completion: pau tich "finish(ed) teaching". Aspect auxiliaries can co-occur with tense markers: gon ste plei ("gonna be playing"); wen ste it ("was eating").
Modern Greek:pp. 50–76 distinguishes the perfective and imperfective aspects by the use of two different verb stems. For the imperfective aspect, suffixes are used to indicate the past tense indicative mood, the non-past tense indicative mood, and the subjunctive and imperative moods. For the perfective aspect, suffixes are used to indicate the past tense indicative mood, the subjunctive mood, and the imperative mood. The perfective subjunctive is twice as common as the imperfective subjunctive. The subjunctive mood form is used in dependent clauses and in situations where English would use an infinitive (which is absent in Greek).
There is a perfect form in both tenses, which is expressed by an inflected form of the imperfective auxiliary verb έχω "have" and an invariant verb form derived from the perfective stem of the main verb. The perfect form is much rarer than in English. The non-past perfect form is not a true perfect aspect in that it does not imply present relevance but rather simply past action, as in French or Italian.
In addition, all the basic forms (past and non-past, imperfective and perfective) can be combined with a particle indicating future tense/conditional mood. Combined with the non-past forms, this expresses an imperfective future and a perfective future. Combined with the imperfective past it is used to indicate the conditional, and with the perfective past to indicate the inferential. If the future particle precedes the present perfect form, a future perfect form results.
In all Slavic languages, most verbs come in pairs with one member indicating an imperfective aspect and the other indicating a perfective one.
Most Russian verbs:pp. 53–85 come in pairs, one with imperfective aspect and the other with perfective aspect, the latter usually formed from the former with a prefix but occasionally with a stem change or using a different root. Perfective verbs, whether derived or basic, can be made imperfective with a suffix.:p84 Each aspect has a past form and a non-past form. The non-past verb forms are conjugated by person/number, while the past verb forms are conjugated by gender/number. The present tense is indicated with the non-past imperfective form. The future in the perfective aspect is expressed by applying the conjugation of the present form to the perfective version of the verb. There is also a compound future imperfective form consisting of the future of "to be" plus the infinitive of the imperfective verb.
The conditional mood is expressed by a particle (=English "would") after the past tense form. There are conjugated modal verbs, followed by the infinitive, for obligation, necessity, and possibility/permission.
Romance languages have from five to eight simple inflected forms capturing tense–aspect–mood, as well as corresponding compound structures combining the simple forms of "to have" or "to be" with a past participle. There is a perfective/imperfective aspect distinction.
French has inflectionally distinct imperative, subjunctive, indicative and conditional mood forms. As in English, the conditional mood form can also be used to indicate a future-as-viewed-from-the-past tense–aspect combination in the indicative mood. The subjunctive mood form is used frequently to express doubt, desire, request, etc. in dependent clauses. There are indicative mood forms for, in addition to the future-as-viewed-from-the-past usage of the conditional mood form, the following combinations: future; an imperfective past tense–aspect combination whose form can also be used in contrary-to-fact "if" clauses with present reference; a perfective past tense–aspect combination whose form is only used for literary purposes; and a catch-all formulation known as the "present" form, which can be used to express the present, past historical events, or the near-future. All synthetic forms are also marked for person and number.
Additionally, the indicative mood has five compound (two-word) verb forms, each of which results from using one of the above simple forms of "to have" (or of "to be" for intransitive verbs of motion) plus a past participle. These forms are used to shift back the time of an event relative to the time from which the event is viewed. This perfect form as applied to the present tense does not represent the perfect tense/aspect (past event with continuation to or relevance for the present), but rather represents a perfective past tense–aspect combination (a past action viewed in its entirety).:pp. 144, 171
Unlike Italian or Spanish, French does not mark for a continuous aspect. Thus, "I am doing it" and "I do it" both translate to the same sentence in French: Je le fais. However, this information is often clear from context, and when not, it can be conveyed using periphrasis: for example, the expression être en train de [faire quelque chose] ("to be in the middle of [doing something]") is often used to convey the sense of a continuous aspect.
Italian has synthetic forms for the indicative, imperative, conditional, and subjunctive moods. The conditional mood form can also be used for hearsay: Secondo lui, sarebbe tempo di andare "According to him, it would be [is] time to go".:p.76 The indicative mood has simple forms (one word, but conjugated by person and number) for the present tense, the imperfective aspect in the past tense, the perfective aspect in the past, and the future (and the future form can also be used to express present probability, as in the English "It will be raining now").:p.75 As with other Romance languages, compound verbs shifting the action to the past from the point in time from which it is perceived can be formed by preceding a past participle by a conjugated simple form of "to have", or "to be" in the case of intransitive verbs. As with French, this form when applied to the present tense of "to have" or "to be" does not convey perfect aspect but rather the perfective aspect in the past.:p.62 In the compound pluperfect, the helping verb is in the past imperfective form in a main clause but in the past perfective form in a dependent clause.:p.71
Unlike French, Italian has a form to express progressive aspect: in either the present or the past imperfective, the verb stare ("to stand", "to be temporarily") conjugated for person and number is followed by a present gerund (indicated by the suffix -ando or -endo ("-ing")).:p.59
Portuguese has synthetic forms for the indicative, imperative, conditional, and subjunctive moods. The conditional mood form can also express past probability: Seria ele que falava "It_would_be he that was_speaking".:p.62 The subjunctive form seldom appears outside dependent clauses. In the indicative, there are five one-word forms conjugated for person and number: one for the present tense (which can indicate progressive or non-progressive aspect); one for the perfective aspect of the past; one for the imperfective aspect of the past; a form for the pluperfect aspect that is only used in formal writing;:pp. 57–58, 85 and a future tense form that, as in Italian, can also indicate present tense combined with probabilistic modality.
As with other Romance languages, compound verbs shifting the time of action to the past relative to the time from which it is perceived can be formed by preceding a past participle by a conjugated simple form of "to have". Using the past tense of the helping verb gives the pluperfect form that is used in conversation. Using the present tense form of the helping verb gives a true perfect aspect, though one whose scope is narrower than that in English: It refers to events occurring in the past and extending to the present, as in Tem feito muito frio este inverno ("It's been very cold this winter (and still is)").:p.84
Portuguese expresses progressive aspect in any tense by using conjugated estar ("to stand", "to be temporarily"), plus the present participle ending in -ando, -endo, or indo: Estou escrevendo uma carta ("I am writing a letter").:p.52
Futurity can be expressed in three ways other than the simple future form::pp. 61–62 using the present tense form of "to go" as in Vou ver João esta tarde "I_go to_see John this afternoon"; using the present tense form of one verb meaning "to have" as in Temos que ver João hoje "We_have that to_see John today"; and using the present tense form of another verb also meaning "to have" as in Hei-de ver João amanhã "I_have-of to_see John tomorrow".
Spanish morphologically distinguishes the indicative, imperative, subjunctive, and conditional moods. In the indicative mood, there are synthetic (one-word, conjugated for person/number) forms for the present tense, the past tense in the imperfective aspect, the past tense in the perfective aspect, and the future tense. The past can be viewed from any given time perspective by using conjugated "to have" in any of its synthetic forms plus the past participle. When this compound form is used with the present tense form of "to have", perfect tense/aspect (past action with present continuation or relevance) is conveyed (as in Portuguese but unlike in Italian or French).
Spanish expresses the progressive similarly to English, Italian, and Portuguese, using the verb "to be" plus the present participle: estoy leyendo "I_am reading".
Germanic languages tend to have two morphologically distinct simple forms, for past and non-past, as well as a compound construction for the past or for the perfect, and they use modal auxiliary verbs. The simple forms, the first part of the non-modal compound form, and possibly the modal auxiliaries, are usually conjugated for person and/or number. A subjunctive mood form is sometimes present. English also has a compound construction for continuous aspect. Unlike some Indo-European languages such as the Romance and Slavic languages, Germanic languages have no perfective/imperfective dichotomy.:p. 167
The most common past tense construction in German is the haben ("to have") plus past participle (or for intransitive verbs of motion, the sein ("to be") plus past participle) form, which is a pure past construction rather than conveying perfect aspect. The past progressive is conveyed by the simple past form. The future can be conveyed by the auxiliary werden, which is conjugated for person and number; but often the simple non-past form is used to convey the future. Modality is conveyed via conjugated pre-verbal modals: müssen "to have to", wollen "to want to", können "to be able to"; würden "would" (conditional), sollten "should" (the subjunctive form of sollen), sollen "to be supposed to", mögen "to like", dürfen "to be allowed to".
Danish has the usual Germanic simple past and non-past tense forms and the compound construction using "to have" (or for intransitive verbs of motion, "to be"), the compound construction indicating past tense rather than perfect aspect. Futurity is usually expressed with the simple non-past form, but the auxiliary modals vil ("want") and skal ("must"—obligation) are sometimes used (see Future tense#Danish). Other modals include kan ("can"), kan gerne ("may"—permission), må ("must"), and må gerne ("may—permission). Progressivity can be expressed periphrastically as in er ved at læse ("is in_process to read"), er i færd med at vaske ("is in process with to wash"), sidder og læser ("sits and reads"), and står og taler ("stands and talks"). The subjunctive mood form has disappeared except for a few stock phrases.
The simple non-past form can convey the progressive, which can also be expressed by the infinitive preceded by liggen "lie", lopen "walk, run", staan "stand", or zitten "sit" plus te. The compound "have" (or "be" before intransitive verbs of motion toward a specific destination) plus past participle is synonymous with, and more frequently used than, the simple past form, which is used especially for narrating a past sequence of events. The past perfect construction is analogous to that in English.
Futurity is often expressed with the simple non-past form, but can also be expressed using the infinitive preceded by the conjugated present tense of zullen; the latter form can also be used for probabilistic modality in the present. Futurity can also be expressed with "go" plus the infinitive: Hij gaat een brief schrijven "He goes a letter to_write", "He is going to write a letter". The future perfect tense/aspect combination is formed by conjugated zullen + hebben ("to have") (or zijn ("to be")) + past participle: Zij zullen naar Breda gegaan zijn ("They will have gone to Breda").
The conditional mood construction uses the conjugated past tense of zullen: Hij zou graag thuis blijven "He would gladly home to_stay", "He would gladly stay home". The past tense/conditional mood combination is formed using the auxiliary "to have" or "to be": Hij zou graag thuis gebleven zijn "He would gladly home stayed to_be", "He would gladly have stayed home". In contemporary use the subjunctive form is mostly, but not completely, confined to set phrases and semi-fixed expressions, though in older Dutch texts the use of the subjunctive form can be encountered frequently.
There are various conjugated modal auxiliaries: kunnen "to be able", moeten "to have to", mogen "to be possible" or "to have permission", willen "to want to", laten "to allow" or "to cause". Unlike in English, these modals can be combined with the future tense form: Hij zal ons niet kunnen helpen "He will us not to_be_able to_help", "He will not be able to help us".:pp. 45–65
As with other Germanic languages, Icelandic:pp. 135–164 has two simple verb forms: past and non-past. Compound constructions that look to the past from a given time perspective use conjugated "to have" (or "to be" for intransitive verbs of motion) plus past participle. In each voice there are forms for the indicative mood and the subjunctive mood for each of the simple past, the simple non-past, the perfect, the past perfect, the future, and the future perfect, and there are a non-past conditional mood form and a past conditional mood form, as well as an imperative mood. The perfect form is used for a past event with reference to the present or stretching to the present, or for a past event about which there is doubt, so the perfect form represents aspect or modality and not tense. The future tense form is seldom used. The non-past subjunctive form expresses a wish or command; the past subjunctive form expresses possibility. The indicative mood form is used in both clauses of "if [possible situation]...then..." sentences, although "if" can be replaced by the use of the subjunctive mood form. The subjunctive form is used in both clauses of "if [imaginary situation]...then..." sentences, and is often used in subordinate clauses. There are various modal auxiliary verbs. There is a progressive construction using "to be" which is used only for abstract concepts like "learn" and not for activities like "sit": ég er að læra "I am [at] learning".
The English language allows a wide variety of expressions of combinations of tense, aspect, and mood, with a variety of grammatical constructions. These constructions involve pure morphological changes (suffixes and internal sound changes of the verb), conjugated compound verbs, and invariant auxiliaries. For English tam from the perspective of modality, see Palmer; and Nielsen for English tam from the perspective of tense, see Comrie and Fleischman; for English tam from the perspective of aspect, see Comrie.
The unmarked verb form (as in run, feel) is the infinitive with the particle to omitted. It indicates nonpast tense with no modal implication. In an inherently stative verb such as feel, it can indicate present time (I feel well) or future in dependent clauses (I'll come tomorrow if I feel better). In an inherently non-stative verb such as run, the unmarked form can indicate gnomic or habitual situations (birds fly; I run every day) or scheduled futurity, often with a habitual reading (tomorrow I run the 100 meter race at 5:00; next month I run the 100 meter race every day). Non-stative verbs in unmarked form appearing in dependent clauses can indicate even unscheduled futurity (I'll feel better after I run tomorrow; I'll feel better if I run every day next month).
The unmarked verb is negated by preceding it with do/does not (I do not feel well, He does not run every day). Here do has no implication of emphasis, unlike the affirmative (I do feel better, I do run every day).
The aspectually and modally unmarked past tense is usually marked for tense by the suffix -ed, pronounced as /t/, /d/, or /əd/ depending on the phonological context. However, over 400 verbs (including over 200 with distinct roots – short verbs for features of everyday life, of Germanic origin) are irregular and their morphological changes are internal (as in I take, I took). (See List of English irregular verbs.) This aspectually unmarked past tense form appears in innately stative verbs ("I felt bad.") and in non-stative verbs, in which case the aspect could be habitual ("I took one brownie every day last week.") or perfective ("I took a brownie yesterday."), but not progressive.
This form is negated with an invariant analytical construction using the morphologically unmarked verb (I / he did not feel bad, I did not take a brownie). As with do and do not, no emphasis is imparted by the use of did in combination with the negative not (compare the affirmative I / he did take the brownie, in which did conveys emphasis).
For the morphological changes associated with the subjunctive mood, see English subjunctive.
There are two types of conjugated compound verbs in English, which can be combined.
Both of these morphological changes can be combined with the compound verbal constructions given below involving invariant auxiliaries, to form verb phrases such as will have been taking.
Aside from the above-mentioned auxiliary verbs, English has fourteen invariant auxiliaries (often called modal verbs), which are used before the morphologically unmarked verb to indicate mood, aspect, tense, or some combination thereof. Some of these have more than one modal interpretation, the choice between which must be based on context; in these cases, the equivalent past tense construction may apply to one but not the other of the modal interpretations. For more details see English modal verbs.
Although several verbal categories are expressed purely morphologically in Basque, periphrastic verbal formations predominate. For the few verbs that have synthetic conjugations, Basque has forms for past tense continuous aspect (state or ongoing action) and present tense continuous aspect, as well as imperative mood.
In the compound verbal constructions, there are forms for the indicative mood, the conditional mood, a mood for conditional possibility ("would be able to"), an imperative mood, a mood of ability or possibility, a mood for hypothetical "if" clauses in the present or future time, a counterfactual mood in the past tense, and a subjunctive mood (used mostly in literary style in complement clauses and purpose/wish clauses). Within the indicative mood, there is a present tense habitual aspect form (which can also be used with stative verbs), a past tense habitual aspect form (which also can be used with stative verbs), a near past tense form, a remote past tense form (which can also be used to convey past perspective on an immediately prior situation or event), a future-in-the-past form (which can also be used modally for a conjecture about the past or as a conditional result of a counterfactual premise), and a future tense form (which can also be used for the modality of present conjecture, especially with a lexically stative verb, or of determination/intention).
There are also some constructions showing an even greater degree of periphrasis: one for progressive aspect and ones for the modalities of volition ("want to"), necessity/obligation ("have to", "need to"), and ability ("be able to").
Hawaiian:ch.6; is an isolating language, so its verbal grammar exclusively relies on unconjugated auxiliary verbs. It has indicative and imperative mood forms, the imperative indicated by e + verb (or in the negative by mai + verb). In the indicative its tense/aspect forms are: unmarked (used generically and for the habitual aspect as well as the perfective aspect for past time), ua + verb (perfective aspect, but frequently replaced by the unmarked form), ke + verb + nei (present tense progressive aspect; very frequently used), and e + verb + ana (imperfective aspect, especially for non-present time).
Modality is expressed non-grammatically in Hawaiian::pp. 38–39 Pono conveys obligation/necessity as in He pono i na kamali'i a pau e maka'ala, "It's right for children all to beware", "All children should/must beware"; ability is conveyed by hiki as in Ua hiki i keia kamali'i ke heluhelu "Has enabled to this child to read", "This child can read".