Resolved Tenses

So far I have only covered the present tense and simple past tense and given you a brief introduction to the tenses in Modern English. The remainder of the tenses in Old English are somewhat different from those in Modern English and also changed during the Anglo-Saxon period. To understand them, we need to know more about the Modern English tenses and about the use of auxilliary words (like the use of "has" in "has been") to express different things about a verb. To do this let's consider some of the ways we can use the verb "to move":

it has been moving
it has been being moved (?)
it is moving
it is being moved
it has moved
it has been moved
it moves
it is moved

it had been moving
it had been being moved (?)
it was moving
it was being moved
it had moved
it had been moved
it moved
it was moved

it will have been moving
it will have been being moved (?)
it will be moving
it will be being moved
it will have moved
it will have been moved
it will move
it will be moved

As you can see there are a lot of ways we can talk about something moving, and the above list isn't even complete as it omits questions and orders. Some of these are very clumsy andit is questionable whether they are really grammatical. However, the list does show all the ways we indicated when an action occured and whether "it" was performing the action or the action was performed on "it". In fact, from this list, there are three types of thing we can say about a verb.

Tense, Aspect and Voice

The tense of a verb the describes whether the action of the verb occured in the past, now, or in the future.

The aspect of a verb describes whether the action of the verb is continuing or not-continuing and whether it has finished or not. In "it has been moving", the movement continued for some time but has now finished, whereas in "it is moving" the movement continued for some time and has not yet finished. These properties -- Continuing and Finished -- are known as the aspect of a verb.

The voice of a verb describes whether the action of the verb was done bythe subject or was done to the subject. In "it moved", "it" did the
moving. This is known as the "active" voice. In "it was moved", something else moved "it", and this is known as the "passive" voice.

This might seem like a long-winded way of stating the obvious, but in Modern English the words like "will", "have", etc modify the verb to give these meanings but in an inflected language like Latin there is no need for these auxilliary words as the ending of the verb provide the necessary information. In Old English, which is more inflected than Modern English but less so than Latin, some auxilliaries are needed but the endings of the verbs provide some of the meaning. To understand how Old English differs from Modern English we still need to understand which a parts of the full meaning are provided by which auxilliary.

The verb endings provides some of the information: "-ing " denotes the continuing aspect. The preterite denotes the past tense and the finished aspect unless the verb is immediately preceded by a form of the verb "to be" in which case it denotes the passive voice and the finished aspect but is neutral in time.

The various forms of "to be" and "to have" provide information on the voice, aspect and tense:

If you examine the list above, "be" only occurs in future tense forms, however, it is always accompanied by "will". For this reason it isn't thought of as proving information about when the action occurs -- i.e. it has a neutral time displacement. However it does show the Passive Voice.
Provides information that the action is happending now i.e. the Present tense.
neutral, Continuing
Past, Finished

<to do: expand explanations in table above; discuss weak v strong verbs (took v take / active v passive)>

Old English Tenses

<to do>


<to do>


<to do>


<to do>

There are a few types of thing we can say about verbs, but as they introduce something that strikes terror into many hearts -- the Subjunctive, I'll defer them until later. For now, let's put this all together.

<to do: examples>


<to do>


<to do>

Tony Jebson <> 16th May 2001