We need tense to know if an event took place in the past, present, or future, but that's not all we need in order to know what happened. Aspect gives us additional information about a verb by telling us whether the action was completed, continuous, neither, or both.
"Aspect" refers to the flow of time. Does the action take place in a single block of time, does the action occur continuously, or is the action a repetitive occurrence? There are four main aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive.
Since all verbs have both tense and aspect, all combinations of tenses and aspects, such as past progressive and future perfect, are possible. Think about it this way: tense tells us when an action began, and aspect tells us whether that action was continuous, completed, or something else.
The simple aspect describes a general action, one that is neither continuous nor completed. It is usually used to describe an action that takes place habitually.
Verbs in simple past describe a normal or habitual action that began in the past, and used to happen but no longer does.
- June rode her bike to work every day that year.
- You had a dog when you were young, right?
Verbs in simple present describe a habitual action that still occurs in the present.
- My dad always enjoys novels about bakeries.
- Grandma drops me off at the bus stop every morning.
Verbs in simple future describe an action that will begin in the future, and occur with regularity or certainty. To describe an action that will happen in the future, precede your main verb with "will," "shall," or another word or phrase indicating that the action occurs in the future.
- The sun will rise at 6:38 AM tomorrow.
- She will call you back after dinner.
The progressive form expresses continuous actions that happen over a period of time. They almost always involve some combination of the verb "to be" paired with the main verb ending in -ing.
Past progressive verbs express actions that began in the past and were continuous, but did not continue into the present. In the past progressive tense, the main verb is paired with the past tense of the verb "to be" (was/were) to show that the action occurred continually in the past.
- She was always saying stuff like that.
- I was running late all morning.
Present progressive verbs express actions that are continuous, and are still happening at the present moment. In present progressive, the main verb is paired with the present tense of the verb "to be" (is/are) to show that the action is happening currently.
- Phil is running around the block.
- Are you enjoying your tacos?
Future progressive verbs express actions that will begin in the future and be continuous. In future progressive, the main verb is paired with the future tense of the verb "to be" (will be) to show that the action will begin in the future.
- I will be heading home around nine o'clock.
- He will be traveling around the Yukon later this year.
The perfect form refers to events that have been completed, but are still relevant to the speaker in the present moment. It almost always involves some form of the verb "have" combined with another verb.
Verbs in past perfect express an action that both began and was completed in the past. Use "had" paired with the main verb in simple past tense.
- We had left before the stadium got crowded.
- Don't worry, Emmett had already ruined the surprise.
Verbs in present perfect express actions that began in the past, and have just now been completed. Use "has" or "have" paired with the main verb in simple past tense.
- Omar has finished his dinner.
- Laura and Tomika have arranged the memorial.
Verbs in future perfect express actions that will be completed in the future. Use "will have" paired with the main verb in simple past tense.
- I hope you will have completed your report by then!
- They will have won over half their games by the end of the season.
The perfect progressive, just as you would expect, is a combination of the perfect and progressive aspects. Perfect progressive refers to the completed portion of an ongoing action. It almost always involves a form of the verb "have" and a form of the verb "to be" combined with a verb ending in -ing.
Past Perfect Progressive
Verbs in past perfect progressive express a continuous, completed action that had taken place in the past. Use "had been" combined with the -ing form of the main verb.
- She was tired because she had been running.
- I had been lying awake for hours when the alarm went off.
Present Perfect Progressive
Verbs in present perfect progressive express a continuous action that began in the past and continues into the present. Use "has been" or "have been" combined with the -ing form of the main verb.
- He has been working on his paper all morning.
- The librarians have been helping me with my research.
Future Perfect Progressive
Verbs in future perfect progressive express a continuous, completed action that will have taken place in the future. Use "will have been" combined with the -ing form of the main verb.
- By the time the winter ends, we will have been getting a foot of snow every week.
- This spring, I will have been working for Cool Stuff, Inc. for twenty years!