How many tenses - further discussion?

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How many tenses - further discussion?

Unread post by Brutnell210 » Wed Feb 07, 2007 1:15 pm

Thank you very much to all who replied. When I wrote the question, what I had in mind was, when you learn French, for example, you have things like "conditional" & "pluperfect" & I wondered if there was an English equivalent?
Thank you also for the " Verb Tense Tutorial" - food for thought indeed!
Tony Smith.

Kevin Vosper
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The conditional and the pluperfect

Unread post by Kevin Vosper » Thu Feb 08, 2007 10:52 am

Dear Tony

The short answer is yes. In English the conditional is usually formed with the word "if," although there are other ways of forming conditionals.

Some examples:

(zero condional) "If you want to find out how to make a fortune, read on."-Used to give instructions.

(First conditional) "If I work at a summer school this summer I will make lots of money."-Used to refer to real possibilities.

(Second conditional) "If I had lots of money I would travel round the world."-Used to talk about imaginary or unreal situations.

(Third conditional) "If I had worked harder at school I would be rich today."-Used to talk about events in the past that did not happen.

The important difference between the second and third conditionals is while it might be possible for me to be rich (however improbable) i.e. It's possible that I might buy a lottery ticket and win a million dollars, the third conditional is clearly totally impossible, unless you have a time machine.

Also note the use of verb forms. We move from simple forms to past tenses to the past perfect. At the same time modals such as "will" (the most common but not the only which can be used) changes to "would."
It is therefore easier often to think in terms of "distance" instead of time. This may be distance in time but equally it might be distance in formality, as in the difference between "Can you pass the salt?" (informal) and "Could you pass the salt."(formal). And in conditionals the difference between possibility, improbability and impossibility.

I must confess, not being a French speaker, I had never heard of the "pluperfect" and most of my grammar books did not include it, except one. Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik do mention it in "A Communicative Grammar of English(Longman, 1975). However, the text simply says "see Past Perfect." This seems to be the usually English term and would indicate a sentence such as:

"I qualified as a teacher in June 1993 but had been working as a teacher for a year before that."

e.g. A verb form which looks back to a time before that indicated by the past tense.

There is though a hugh amount about the Pluperfect on the internet. It seems to be a common term in most Indo-European languages, as you probably know, such as French, German, Latin, Italian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Ukrainian. Here in Poland it is regarded as old fashioned and little used. If there are any differences between it's use in French and the English version (Past Perfect) I would be very interested. Perhaps you (or someone else) could post a reply if you have time.

Best wishes


P.S. If you go to and use their search engine to search the web for "Pluperfect" you will find a large amount of imformation.

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Thank you so much for a very full & detailed reply

Unread post by Brutnell210 » Thu Feb 08, 2007 11:20 am

Dear Kevin,
Thank you for a wonderful reply - it is most informative & helpful! I notice that it takes a non native speaker to give the most detailed reply! Ah well, such is life!!! But having said that, we are not taught our own language in such technical way! Indeed, I quite often ask my Filipina wife, who has a very technical approach to English, how I should explain queries.

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Unread post by eric_p_m » Thu Mar 01, 2007 1:23 pm

Dear Tony,

Temporal perspectives are culturally based. Don't assume that all languages follow the same time line. Learn more about tense, aspect, voice, finiteness, modality, and mood.

Take a look at the outline I made on my Grammar page: click on "Verbs" and follow the links there, taking care not to get bitten by the dragon there. 8)


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Unread post by keith » Fri Mar 02, 2007 12:34 pm

Hi Tony

Just a follow up to Kevin's post to highlight another conditional form:

The third conditional example that Kevin gave is often referred to as a mixed conditional:

If I had worked harder at school I would be rich today.

Here, the first half of the sentence is referring to the past, and the result (i.e. not being rich today) is referring to now. The times of the condition and the result are therefore "mixed".

Compare this with

If I had done my homework, my teacher wouldn't have been angry with me.

In this example, the first half of the sentence is referring to the past, as is the result. Notice the use of would have and the past participle here to show that the times of the condition and the result are both in the past.


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