Tenses and their uses
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Tenses and their uses always offer a tough time. We have learned to identify them in our last class and here we will discuss how to use them properly.
Even Though there are twelve tenses, only ten of these are frequently used. The future perfect and the future perfect continuous tenses are rarely used. How to use a few of them is explained below.
1. He got a job. He applied for it.
This sounds like he applied for the job only after he got it. This cannot be true.
This error, a sequential error, can be corrected either by changing the order of the sentences, or by changing the second sentence to past perfect.
He got a job. He had applied for it.
See, now it sounds correct. This is how the past perfect (with a had in it) is mostly used. Whenever there is an error in sequence (and in English there is always this error) use past perfect to talk about what happened first even if it is mentioned last.
2. He was looking for his keys. He hasn’t found them. He is still looking for the keys. It has been an hour.
All these ideas can be expressed in one sentence if we use the right tense.
He has been looking for his keys for an hour.
This sentence carries the meaning of all the four sentences.
So, when we want to talk about what was happening and what is still happening, we should always use this tense.
(‘For’ and ‘since’ are often found in such sentences.)
3. Look at these sentences:
1. A dog is standing near the gate.
2. A man is standing near the gate.
3. A tree stands near the gate.
4. A memorial stands in the center of the city.
5. A policeman is guarding it.
6. Two men are standing near the memorial.
Why are 1, 2, and 5 different from 3,4 and 6?
The difference is that a dog, a man, a policeman or two men will not continue to stand there for long. But the tree will be there for long and so will be the memorial.
(So, an action which will not continue is talked about using the present continuous tense. Funny! Wrong name.)
Thus, those that will continue to be the way they are for long are talked about using the present simple tense.
See, hear, smell, feel and taste are usually used in the present simple. But, what you understand from such sensations are talked about in the present continuous tense.
I hear thunder but I do not see any rain. It is surely raining somewhere.
I smell some delicious spice. Some one is cooking.
4. What tense do we see in history text books?
India achieved independence in 1947.
The Second World War ended in 1945.
Right, the past simple.
The past simple contains raw information about happenings at a certain time or on a certain date or in a certain year. It is very straight forward. Nothing to guess or figure out.
5. But, a happening can also be mentioned in the present perfect.
The summer has come to an end.
The country has achieved independence.
These events are over but since we are using the present perfect, the time or date or year cannot be mentioned. Present tense with a past time reference? No.
Not just that. These sentences do not mean what they say. They mean something else. They, in fact, do not refer to the events as such, but to the consequences of those events.
Thus when we say,
I have a built a house.
We are actually implying or suggesting that we have the experience of having built a house, we don’t have to live in a rented house or pay rent, that we have reasons to be proud as the owner of a house and so on. The actual house building which happened in the past is the last thing we express here. If we wanted to say just that, we should have chose the past simple tense.
I built a house last year. Done.
Look at this conversation:
We achieved Independence is 1947
Before 1947, we used to give customs duty to the British.
Now, we don’t. Why?
Because we have achieved independence.
Why such a sudden change in the choice of tense?
Why does it sound better? It sounds better because the choice of tense (present perfect) suggests that ‘we don’t pay customs duty to the British as a consequence of our becoming independent’.
In our every day life, as different from the history text book, we are more concerned about the results or consequences of our past actions rather than the actions themselves. So, the present perfect is used more than the past simple to refer to what we did or what happened.
6. Suppose you plan to write a novel and you are sure you will finish writing it in 2019.
You can express this accurately as:
By 2019, I will have written a novel.
Of course, the future perfect tense which is used to refer to an action which will be completed on a certain time in the future.
7. What if you already started writing the novel in 2010.
Answer this question:
When you finally finish that novel, how long will you have been writing.
(By 2019, I will have been writing that novel for nine years.)
Of course, the future perfect continuous tense, an elder brother of the present perfect continuous. It is used to talk about the time taken for an action which began in the past and ended in the future. Thank god we don’t need it so often.
8. I will talk about two other tenses now. I am going to tell you how to predict.
The future simple is used for predictions. But there are two other tenses which you can use for this purpose.
The present simple can be used if you want to sound formal and sure and the present continuous (with reference to time) can be used if the prediction is informal and not so sure.
The school commences on June 2.
I am going abroad next week.
Fill in the blanks with the right tense forms:
Once there lived a monk who 1 (decide) to make his followers always laugh. People flocked to him to listen to his jokes and 2 (return) home laughing. The monk would make fun of himself and of others, 3 (make) sure that there 4 (be) not a single gloomy face in the crowd. After some years when he 5 (die) and yet cheerful, his followers asked him how he 6 (manage) to be happy even on his deathbed. He did not reply but made a last wish that he should be cremated with his clothes on. He wished that he should be kept on the funeral pyre with the same clothes he 7 (wear). His wishes were carried out, and to every one’s surprise, when the pyre was 8 (light) it was found that the old monk had 9 (hide) firecrackers under his clothes. Even on his cremation pyre, he 10 (entertain) people.