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This page pertains to UD version 2.

Tense: tense

Values: Fut Imp Past Pqp Pres

Tense is typically a feature of verbs. It may also occur with other parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, adverbs), depending on whether borderline word forms such as participles are classified as verbs or as the other category.

Tense is a feature that specifies the time when the action took / takes / will take place, in relation to a reference point. The reference is often the moment of producing the sentence, but it can be also another event in the context. In some languages (e.g. English), some tenses are actually combinations of tense and aspect. In other languages (e.g. Czech), aspect and tense are separate, although not completely independent of each other.

Note that we are defining features that apply to a single word. If a tense is constructed periphrastically (two or more words, e.g. auxiliary verb indicative + participle of the main verb) and none of the participating words are specific to this tense, then the features will probably not directly reveal the tense. For instance, [en] I had been there is past perfect (pluperfect) tense, formed periphrastically by the simple past tense of the auxiliary to have and the past participle of the main verb to be. The auxiliary will be tagged VerbForm=Fin|Mood=Ind|Tense=Past and the participle will have VerbForm=Part|Tense=Past; none of the two will have Tense=Pqp. On the other hand, Portuguese can form the pluperfect morphologically as just one word, such as estivera, which will thus be tagged VerbForm=Fin|Mood=Ind|Tense=Pqp.

Past: past tense / preterite / aorist

The past tense denotes actions that happened before a reference point. In the prototypical case, the reference point is the moment of producing the sentence and the past event happened before the speaker speaks about it. However, Tense=Past is also used to distinguish past participles from other kinds of participles, and past converbs from other kinds of converbs; in these cases, the reference point may itself be in past or future, when compared to the moment of speaking. For instance, the Czech converb spatřivše “having seen” in the sentence spatřivše vojáky, velmi se ulekli “having seen the soldiers, they got very scared” describes an event that is anterior to the event of getting scared. It also happens to be anterior to the moment of speaking, but that fact is not encoded in the converb itself, it is rather a consequence of “getting scared” being in the past tense.

Among finite forms, the simple past in English is an example of Tense=Past. In German, this is the Präteritum. In Turkish, this is the non-narrative past. In Bulgarian, this is aorist, the aspect-neutral past tense that can be used freely with both imperfective and perfective verbs (see also imperfect).


Pres: present / non-past tense / aorist

The present tense denotes actions that are in progress (or states that are valid) in a reference point; it may also describe events that usually happen. In the prototypical case, the reference point is the moment of producing the sentence; however, Tense=Pres is also used to distinguish present participles from other kinds of participles, and present converbs from other kinds of converbs. In these cases, the reference point may be in past or future when compared to the moment of speaking. For instance, the English present participle may be used to form a past progressive tense: he was watching TV when I arrived.

Some languages (e.g. Uralic) only distinguish past vs. non-past morphologically, and then Tense=Pres can be used to represent the non-past form. (In some grammar descriptions, e.g. Turkic or Mongolic, this non-past form may be termed aorist, but note that in other languages the term is actually used for a past tense, as noted above. Therefore the term is better avoided in UD annotation.) Similarly, some Slavic languages (e.g. Czech), although they do distinguish the future tense, nevertheless have a subset of verbs where the morphologically present form has actually a future meaning.


Fut: future tense

The future tense denotes actions that will happen after a reference point; in the prototypical case, the reference point is the moment of producing the sentence.


Imp: imperfect

Used in e.g. Bulgarian and Croatian, imperfect is a special case of the past tense. Note that, unfortunately, imperfect tense is not always the same as past tense + imperfective aspect. For instance, in Bulgarian, there is lexical aspect, inherent in verb meaning, and grammatical aspect, which does not necessarily always match the lexical one. In main clauses, imperfective verbs can have imperfect tense and perfective verbs have perfect tense. However, both rules can be violated in embedded clauses.


Pqp: pluperfect

The pluperfect denotes action that happened before another action in past. This value does not apply to English where the pluperfect (past perfect) is constructed analytically. It applies e.g. to Portuguese.


Tense in other languages: [bg] [bm] [cs] [en] [fi] [fr] [ga] [hu] [hy] [it] [kpv] [myv] [pcm] [ru] [sl] [sv] [tr] [u] [uk] [urj]