Were the verb forms and structures named after their most typical / common use?

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Were the verb forms and structures named after their most typical / common use?

Post by sinh » Thu Nov 23, 2017 6:51 pm

A verb form like "went" is called a "past tense". However, it is not only used to talk about past events (e.g. We went to Morocco last January), but also about unreal or uncertain present or future events (e.g. It would be better if we went home now).

The verb form which is called the "present tense" can also refer to another time than the present time. For example, in the sentence "When he sees his car, he will be surprised" the verb form "sees" in the subordinate clause refers to a future time. But this verb form is called a "present tense" even though it can refer to a future time.

A structure like "I'm going" is called a "present progressive". It can refer to a present time like in "I'm going to work now" or to a future time like in "I'm going to London tomorrow".

Even though there is no "future tense" in English, a structure like "will be" is called a "(simple) future". It can refer to a future time like in "It will be cold in the winter" or to a presen time like in "That will be the postman".

I know that there is no one-to-one-relationship between tense and time in English, i.e. a verb form like "went", which is called a "past tense", does not always refer to a past time. In other words, time and tense don't correlate exactly in English.

So what was the reason for naming a verb form like "went" "past tense" even though it can refer to another time than a past time? Or more general, were the verb forms and structures named after their most typical / common use?

Naming a verb form / structure after what it is most often used for is a good reason. So my guess is that the verb forms were named after their most typical / common use, which is the past time for the "past tense", the present time for the "present tense" and so on. Would you agree?

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Re: Were the verb forms and structures named after their most typical / common use?

Post by Alan » Mon Nov 27, 2017 6:40 am

We're not really here for the purpose of philosophical speculation, but, put very simply, grammatical structures are generally named for their most basic/common purpose (in this case, the expression of past events). The fact that they might additionally serve other functions is not necessarily important...

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