Topic 18 – Location in time: temporal relations. Frequency.

Topic 18 – Location in time: temporal relations. Frequency.






1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.


2.1. Linguistic levels involved in the notion of time reference.

2.2. On defin ing time reference: what and how.

2.3. Grammar categories involved: open vs. closed classes.


3.1. Morphology and time reference.

3.1.1. Verbs.

3.1.2. Nouns.

3.1.3. Adjectives.

3.1.4. Adverbs.

3.1.5. Prepositions.

3.1.6. Conjunctions.

3.1.7. Specific clause structures.

3.2. Syntax and time reference.

3.2.1. Main syntactic structures.

3.2.2. Word order at sentence level.

3.3. Semantics and time reference.

3.3.1. When -temporal relations: time position.

3.3.2. Duration and span.

3.3.3. Time frequency.

3.3.4. Other time -relationships.


4.1. When temporal dimension: verbal tenses.

4.1.1. Tense. Present tense. Past tense.

4.1.2. Aspect. Progressive be. Perfect have.

4.1.3. Modality and mood. The modal operators. Modality in relation to time and tense.

4.2. When time adjuncts: time position.

4.2.1. Time position: a point of time.

4.2.2. Time position: a boundary of time.


5.1. Duration and span: verbal tenses.

5.1.1. Backward span: since and the perfect tense.

5.1.2. Forward span: until and till .

5.2. Duration and span: time adjuncts.


6.1. Definite frequency: How many times…?

6.2. Indefinite frequency: How often…?


7.1. Two-time relationships.

7.2. Similar time duration adjuncts: yet, already, still.





1.1. Aims of the unit.

Unit 18 is prima rily aimed to examine in English the different ways of expressing time reference in terms of temporal relationship and frequency , namely achieved by means of prepositions, and also by adverbs, adjectives, noun phrases and other clause structures. In doing so, the study will be divided into nine chapters.

Thus, Chapter 2 provides a theoretical framework for the notion of time reference, first, by examining the linguistic levels involved; second, by introducing the notion of time reference in terms of how it is achieved and what it is; and finally, by presenting the grammatical categories involved in it. Once this key terminology is defined in syntactic terms, the reader is prepared for the descriptive account on the expression of time localisation in subsequent chapters.

Chapter 3, then, presents and defines the notion of time reference with respect to three relevant fields: morphology, syntax and semantics in order to provide a framework for the notions of temporal relationship and frequency. Thus, in the first place, we examine morphology and time reference by reviewing the formation of verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and specific clause structures and idiomatic expressions involved.

Secondly, the expression of temporal dimension is classified according to syntactic terms, thus main syntactic structures and word order at sentence level; and finally, we shall review the semantic function, whose classification includes different temporal dimensions, among which we shall point out: when-temporal relations, duration and span, and frequency.

Once the notion of time reference is established within the linguistic framework, we are ready to examine the notion of temporal dimensions individually. Therefore, Chapter 4 offers a descriptive account of the expression of when-temporal relationships by means of, first, verbal tenses through tense, aspect and mood; and second, by means of when time adjuncts, regarding a point of time and a boundary of time.

Similarly, Chapter 5 introduces the expression of duration and span by examining the expression of verbal tenses and time adjuncts. And finally, Chapter 6 does the same on the expression of frequency by examining first, definite frequency, through the question ‘How many times…? ’; and second, indefinite frequency, through the question ‘How often…?’ Finally, Chapter 7, then, provides an account of other time relationships under the heading of first, two-time relationships, and second, similar time duration adjuncts (yet, already, stil l).

Chapter 8, then, provides an educational framework for the expression of time localisation within our current school curriculum, and Chapter 9 draws a conclusive summary of all the points involved in this study. Finally, in Chapter 10, bibliography will be listed in alphabetical order.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

In order to offer an insightful analysis and survey on the expression of time reference in English, we shall deal with the most relevant works in the field, both old and current, and in particula r, influential grammar books which have assisted for years students of English as a foreign language in their study of grammar. For instance, a theoretical framework for the expression of time localisation is namely drawn from the field of sentence analysis, that is, from the work of Flor Aarts and Jan Aarts (University of Nijmegen, Holland) in English Syntactic Structures (1988), whose material has been tested in the classroom and developed over a number of years; also, another essential work is that of Rodney Huddleston, English Grammar, An Outline (1988).

Other classic references which offer an account of the most important and central grammatical constructions and categories in English regarding the expression of time localisation, are Quirk & Greenbaum, A University Grammar of English (1973); Sánchez Benedito, Gramática Inglesa (19759; Thomson & Martinet, A Practical English Grammar (1986); and Greenbaum & Quirk, A Student’s Grammar of the English Language (1990).

More current approaches to notional grammar are David Bolton and Noel Goodey, Grammar Practice in Context (1997); John Eastwood, Oxford Practice in Grammar (1999); Sidney Greenbaum, The Oxford Reference Grammar (2000); Gerald Nelson, English: An Essential Grammar (2001); Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002); and. Angela Downing and Philip Locke, A University Course in English Grammar (2002).


Before describing in detail the different ways of expressing time reference in English, it is relevant to establish first a theoretical framework for this notion, since it must be described in grammatical terms. In fact, this introductory chapter aims at answering questions such as, first, where this notion is to be found within the linguistic level; second, what it describes and how and, third, which grammar categories are involved in its description at a functional level.

2.1. Linguistic levels involved in the notion of time reference.

In order to offer a linguistic description of the notion of time reference, we must confine it to particular levels of analysis so as to focus our attention on this particular aspect of language. Yet, although there is no consensus of opinion on the number of levels to be distinguished, the usual description of a language comprises four major components: phonology, grammar, lexicon, and semantics, out of which we get five major levels: phonological, morphological and syntactic, lexical, and semantic (Huddleston, 1988).

First, the phonology describes the sound level, that is, consonants, vowels, stress, intonation, and so on. Secondly, since the two most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, the component of grammar involves the morphological level (i.e. simple and complex prepositions, adverb formation ) and the syntactic level (i.e. word order in the sentence). Third, the lexicon, or lexical level, lists vocabulary items, specifying how they are pronounced, how they behave grammatically, and what they mean.

Finally, another dimension between the study of linguistic form and the study of meaning is semantics, or the semantic level, to which all four of the major components are related. We must not forget that a linguistic description which ignores meaning is obviously incomplete, and in particular, when dealing with the notions of time localisation, since they often overlap with those of place and manner.

Therefore, we must point out that each of the linguistic levels discussed above has a corresponding component when analysing the notion under study. Thus, phonology deals with pronunciation of prepositions (i.e. throughout, in the evening, etc) and help distinguish those cases in which they are emphasized (i.e. He ‘stayed from ‘five to ‘six in the house vs. He ‘stayed ‘from five ‘to six in the house ); morphology deals with compound words (i.e. throughout; until/till, etc); and syntax deals with which combinations of words constitute grammatical strings and which do not (i.e. NOT: she came at summer BUT in summer).

On the other hand, lexis deals with the expression of time reference regarding the choice between different types of prepositions (i.e. in vs. on vs. at; since vs. for, and so on), the use of specific prepositions (i.e. for or during?), and other means such as other formal realizations of these notions (i.e. a noun phrase, a verbless clause, a finite clause, etc ); and finally, semantics deals with meaning where syntactic and morphological levels do not tell the difference (i.e. ‘He came on time =exactly at the right time vs. He came in time=before the time arranged).

2.2. On defining time reference: what and how .

On defining the term ‘time reference’, we must link this notion (what it is) to the grammar categories which express it (how it is showed).

Actually, on answering What is it?, the term ‘time reference’ is intended to add information about ‘When?’, ‘How long? ’ and ‘How often?’ a situation has happened in order to locate time by means of temporal dimensions (i.e present, past, future ). In fact, the given answers would provide, respectively, details about the ‘exact point of time’, ‘duration’ and ‘frequency’ of the action by delimiting exactly what type of time we are referring to. These expressions would reflect then a concept of time that, as analogous to space, is enclosed in terms of dimensions.

Regarding how time dimension is expressed, we must address to lexically specific and labelled ‘areas’ and ‘locations’ which are known as time relators, in other words, different grammatical categories which have in this field an institutionalized and hence quasi-grammatical use. Like space, time units are conceived as elements in clause structure which provide clear lexical meaning in the constant process of keeping track of when actions took place.

2.3. Grammar categories involved: open vs. closed classes.

So far, in order to confine the notion of time relations to particular grammatical categories, we must review first the difference between open and closed classes since time cues involve both. Yet, grammar categories in English can be divided into two major sets called open and closed classes. The open classes are verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs, and are said to be unrestricted since they allow the addition of new members to their membership, whereas the closed classes are the rest: prepositions, conjunctions, articles (definite and indefinite ), numerals, pronouns, quantifiers and interjections, which belong to a restricted class since they do not allow the creation of new members.

Then, as we can see, when taking time relations to phrase and sentence level, we are dealing with both classes. Thus open word classes, such as verbs since they refer to present and past actions and modal auxiliaries to express future; along with open-class nouns, some of them, like places, are treated as proper nouns: year, century, decade, 1978, week, day, Monday, morning, night, etc; regarding adjectives, they refer to temporal ordering in terms of previous, simultaneous and subsequent time reference: ‘former, simultaneous, next’. Similarly, adverbs refer to the same time reference: ‘earlier, meanwhile, afterwards’.

Moreover, it is very often possible to replace open classes by an equivalent expression of closed classes: prepositions and conjunctions among others. Thus, regarding prepositions , they are classified depending on the time cue they answer, for instance, position time (in, at, on), duration (from…to ) or frequency (in the mornings); regarding conjunctions, which belong to the category of adverbial conjuncts, they express order from the beginning of a set, middle terms and final markers (first/firstly/in first place; second/secondly/next/then/later/afterwards; finally/lastly/eventually ).

Finally, it is worth noting that apart from gramma tical categories, we may find other specific clause structures, such as wh- clauses (i.e. I was studying when she came ) and idiomatic expressions which also indicate time reference (i.e. ‘Once upon a time…’, ‘once in a while’, ‘once in a lifetime’, ‘for a while’, ‘for ages’, etc).


Once we have established a theoretical framework for the notion of time reference within a linguistic, notional and lexical level, the expression of time comes into force in this section as a descriptive approach of the localisation of time regarding morphological, syntactic and, mainly, semantic fields since they shall lead us to the expressions of temporal relationships and frequency as spacial dimensions.

In the following sections, then, we shall examine the main issues that will provide the base for the whole unit. Thus, (1) time reference in terms of morphology; (2) time reference in terms of syntax, and (3) time reference in terms of semantics.

3.1. Morphology and time reference.

As stated before, time reference is expressed by both open or closed classes, thus by means of verbs , modal auxiliaries, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, specific clause structures and also idiomatic expressions. Hence, in this section we shall briefly establish a link between the morphology of these grammatical categories and time reference so as to provide a more relevant framework for our study.

3.1.1. Verbs.

Regarding verbs, they generally add four inflexional morphemes to the base (Aarts, 1988) in order to form the main verbal forms (present and past tenses) and their uses. Thus, present tense: base + – s/-es for the 3rd person singular present tense indicative (i.e. He lives in London ); and past tense: base + -ed for past tense (i.e. regular verbs: He lived in London ). Other verbal forms, such as progressive tenses are formed by base + –ing present participle for progressive aspect (i.e. He is living in London); and base + -ed past participle, for perfect tenses (i.e. He has stayed in my house for two days).

It is worth pointing out that future tenses are not included in the above classification, but considered to belong to the class of modal auxiliaries (can, may, must, shall, will) since they cannot stand on their own and must be followed by a lexical verb, except when the latter is understood. For instance, ‘Harry will come tonight, won’t he?

3.1.2. Nouns.

Along with open-class nouns referring to time reference, some of them, like places, are treated as proper nouns: year, century, decade, 1978, week, day, Monday, morning, night, etc, and therefore, subjected to spelling rules when dealing with plural formation. Thus, we find ‘one year vs. for two years’, ‘in 1978 or in the 1970s’, ‘that night vs. those nights ’, and so on.

It is worth noting that the addition of the plural morpheme may affect the meaning of time expressions. For instance, compare ‘I saw her on Monday ’ (=last Monday) vs. ‘I saw her on Mondays’ (=regularly, every Monday). Also, nouns of more general meaning are still more firmly harnessed for grammatical use or idiomatic expressions: ‘I’ve been studying a long time’, ‘Cristine is going abroad for a while’ or ‘I haven’t seen Tom for ages ’.

3.1.3. Adjectives.

Regarding adjectives, it must be borne in mind that this open-class category is invariable (i.e. the previous day, a simultaneous meeting, the following year ) when dealing with time expressions. However, we may find some exceptions when the definite article ‘the’ precedes the adjective in order to form nouns. Compare ‘The former group arrived five minutes before the other cyclists’ vs.

The formers arrived five minutes before the other cyclists’.

Note that in subsequent temporal ordering, the ordinals constitute a temporal series of adjectives (i.e. first, second, third …) with next as a substitute for any of the middle terms when moving up the series, and final or last as a substitute for the term marking the end of the series (i.e. First, … Second, … Next… Last).

3.1.4. Adverbs.

Regarding adverbs, they share similarities with adjectives in terms of temporal ordering since they have the same time reference: previous, simultaneous and subsequent one: ‘earlier, meanwhile, afterwards’. Moreover, affixation and compounding are the most straightforward type of creating an adverb by morphological processes, apart from those adverbs which are not related to any other word (simple adverbs).

Then we may distinguish different types of time adverbs: (1) simple adverbs (i.e. already, yet, ever, now, still, then, today, tomorrow, tonight, yesterday, never, often); (2) adverb formation by means of affixation, either by the derivational suffixes, -ly (i.e. finally, eventually, presently ) and –wards (i.e. forwards, backwards ); (3) adverb formation by means of compounding: here + preposition (i.e. hitherto ), beforehand, forthwith, henceforth, nowadays); and (4) adverb formation by means of other constructions, such as prepositional phrases, which keep the same properties as adverbs. For instance, ‘meanwhile’ (adverb) meaning the same as ‘from the time specified up to the present’ (prepositional phrase).

It is in this open-class category that we distinguish a specific type of adverbs called ‘adjuncts’, and in particular, those adjuncts which refer to time, used when referring to spatial dimensions figuratively. It is worth noting that adjuncts of time are predominantly realized by prepositional phrases, with figurative adaptations of the prepositional meanings. For instance, compare: ‘At midnight, the party started’ (adverbial phrase) vs. ‘The party started at midnight’(prepositional phrase).

3.1.5. Prepositions.

As stated above, reference to time is predominantly realized by the closed-class of prepositions, which are classified depending on the time dimension they describe: position time (in, at, on ), duration (from…to) or frequency (in the mornings). Morphologically speaking, we may distinguish two main types of prepositions: first, simple, which consist of one word (i.e. at 10 o’clock, between

5 and 6, by the end of the day, from 6 to 8, in the morning, on Saturday, etc ); and second, complex, which are multi-word combinations, historically formed from the monosyllabic ones (i.e. throughout, meanwhile) or derived from participles (i.e. during ).

The number of prepositions has been increased by mainly combining prepositions with other words to form ‘complex prepositions’, and from those combinations, we have found one referring to the expression of time: (a) first, a simple preposition preceded by an adverb or preposition (adverb/preposition + preposition), as in ‘up to, within’.

3.1.6. Conjunctions.

Following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), conjunctions belong to the category of adverbial conjuncts, whose function is that of providing peripheral information in the sentence, just as a connecting link (i.e. First of all, later on, then, to continue with ). Morphologically speaking, conjuncts may be simple (i.e. So far=Up to now), follow affixation rules (i.e. final-finally ), be set out in prepositional phrases (i.e. on the one hand, on the other hand ) or specific clause structures, such as non-finite clauses (i.e. to end up with, to start with) and –ing clauses (i.e. By starting with …) in order to express order from the beginning of a set, middle terms and final markers (first/firstly/in first place; second/secondly/next/then/later/afterwards; finally/lastly/eventually ).

3.1.7. Specific clause structures.

Moreover, time reference may also be drawn from other means rather than open and closed-class categories. Therefore, it is worth noting that we may also find specific clause structures, such as wh- clauses (i.e. I was studying when she came), idiomatic expressions (i.e. ‘Once upon a time…’, ‘once in a while’, ‘once in a lifetime’, ‘for a while’, ‘for ages’, etc) and non-finite clauses, such as subjectless –ing clauses (i.e. since leaving school) so as to indicate time reference.

3.2. Syntax and time reference.

With respect to the relationship between syntax and time reference, we shall mainly deal with the notions of phrase structure since, as stated above, the expression of time is predominantly realized by prepositional and adverbial phrases when using the language of spatial dimensions figuratively. Therefore, in this section we shall review: (1) main syntactic structures and (2) word order at sentence level.

3.2.1. Main syntactic structures.

As stated before, the main syntactic structures related to time reference are mainly given by: (a) prepositional phrases (i.e. in the morning, for three years, at night),which share similarities with (b) adverbial phrases (i.e. until five o’clock, since last summer). Yet, we may distinguish two syntactic types within adverbial phrases, thus first, closed-class adverb phrases, enclosed in the sentence (i.e. She always comes home at the same time ) and open-class adverb phrases, functioning as conjuncts either in initial or final position (i.e. He told me about it quite recently).

In addition, a wider range of structures are available for time than for any other type of adjunct. For instance, (c) noun phrases (i.e. two centuries, every month, last night); (d) finite verb clauses introduced by such subordinators as after, before, since, until, when (i.e. Stay in bed until your temperature goes down ); moreover, (e) infinitive clauses of ‘outcome’ may be placed among temporal clauses (i.e. She awoke one morning to find her husband was not there).

Furthermore, (f) non-finite clauses (i.e. Wandering around the city , I missed the last train), where we distinguish three main types. First, the –ing clause which is introduced by after, before, since, until, when(ever), and while (i.e. He wrote his novel while walking along the river); second, -ed clauses by once, until, when(ever), and while (i.e. Once published, he disappeared); and third, verbless clauses introduced by as soon as, as often as, once, whe(ever), and while (i.e. She visits me as often as possible).

In addition, – ing clauses without a subject are also used to express time relationship, as in ‘Nearing the entrance, I shook hands with him’ meaning ‘When/As I neared the entrance..’. and in ‘The postman, having delivered the parcel, went away’ meaning ‘After he had delivered the parcel’.

3.2.2. Word order at sentence level.

When dealing with the expression of time at sentence level, it is relevant to review the placing of it within the whole structure. For instance, adverbial clauses, like adverbials in general, are capable of occurring in a final, initial, or medial position within the main clause (generally in that order of frequency, medial position being rare). It is worth noting that where adjuncts cluster in final position, the normal order is first, process, second, place, and finally, time (i.e. He was working with his tools (process) in the workshop (place) until late at night (time).

Three other general principles apply to relative order whether within a class or between classes. However, attention must be drawn to modifications of this general statement. Thus, (1) the normal relative order can be changed to suit the desire for end focus (i.e. In 1969 she was born ); (2) a clause normally comes after other structures, since otherwise these would be interpreted as adjuncts of the clause (i.e. She stood talking for a long time where the fire had been); and (3) longer adjuncts thend to follow shorter adjuncts (i.e. Charles was studying earlier in the university library).

Adjuncts that can occur initially are often put in that position for reasons of information focus, but also to avoid having too many adjuncts in final position. We might, therefore, have moved the time adjunct in any of the examples to initial position for the sake of emphasis. It is not usual for more than one adjunct to be in initial position, but time and place adjuncts sometimes co-occur there, as in ‘In London , after the war, many people travelled abroad’. Also, other adjuncts, such as those of viewpoint, may co-occur with those of time (i.e. Economically, in this century, our country has suffered many crises).

But why do we focus on adjuncts and not on conjuncts or verbs? Adjuncts, more than other adverbials, have grammatical properties resembling the sentence elements subject, complement and object and as such, can be the focus of a cleft sentence, irrespectively of their word order position. This means that adjuncts function like other post-operator elements in coming within the scope of predication ellipsis or pro-forms. Compare: ‘He arrived in Spain in 1996’ vs. ‘In 1996 he arrived in Spain’. As we can see, functioning as pro-forms does not change the meaning of adjuncts.

In fact, there are four main syntactic features of adjuncts (Quirk & Greenbaum, 1973): First, they can come within the scope of predication pro-forms or predication ellipsis, as seen above. Second, they can be the focus of limiter adverbials such as only (i.e. They only want the car for an hour= for an hour and not for longer ). Third, they can be the focus of additive adverbials such as also (i.e. They will also meet afterwards = afterwards in addition to some other time ). And fourth, they can be the focus of a cleft sentence (i.e. It was when we stayed in Miami that we saw Julio Iglesias).

3.3. Semantics and time reference.

As we may see, morphological and syntactic levels offer important information for the analysis of temporal relations, but in fact, the relationship between semantics and time reference is the most relevant for an appropriate classification of figurative spacial dimensions. Mainly based on the category of verbs, adverbs, nouns and prepositional phrases, time reference will be classified according to four main semantic classes: first, when temporal relations referring to time position, second, duration and span; third, time-frequency; and finally, other time -relationships.

3.3.1. When-temporal relations: time position.

When temporal relations refer to the so-called ‘time-position’(Quirk, 1990), which answers to the question When? by means of specific points of time (in 1965, at half past two ) and also boundary of time (afterwards, now). Therefore, When-temporal relations shall be analysed by means of, first, verbal tenses, and second, time adjuncts since it is directly related to the open-class category of verbs, nouns, adverbs and prepositions, known as time adjuncts.

It is worth noting that only When -dimension shall be approach from the category of verbs, not being the case of the rest of the semantic classification, which will be mainly analysed by means of other grammatical categories.

3.3.2. Duration and span.

Duration and span shall be analysed in terms of duration spatial dimensions, such as length of time

(briefly, shortly, broadly ), and from some preceding point in time (since, from).

3.3.3. Time frequency.

When analysing frequency, we shall approach this spatial dimension in terms of definite and indefinite periods. First, definite frequency will cover periods of time (daily, yearly) and number (once, twice, three times); second, indefinite frequency will examine frequency from the highest level to the lowest one, thus (a) usual occurrence (usually, normally ), (b) continuous frequency (always, very often ), (c) high frequency (often), (d) low or zero frequency (never, seldom).

3.3.4. Other time relationships.

Other spatial dimension analysed by means of other relationships include adverb phrases which normally appear in middle position and other phrases in final position, such as afterwards, eventually, finally, first, and so on. Moreover, another group includes adjuncts similar to those of time duration adjuncts in assertive (already, still), non-assertive (yet, any more) and negative forms (no more, no longer).

So far, once time reference has been framed within a linguistic, notional, lexical, morphological, syntactic, and the most relevant of all, semantic field, we are ready to examine the spatial dimensions of temporal relationship and frequency in depth, together with those of duration and other relationships.


As stated before, When-temporal relationship will be addressed from two main perspectives: first, When temporal relations mainly expressed by verbal tenses, and second, When-temporal relations mainly expressed by time adjuncts, referring to time position, thus specific points of time (in 1965, at half past two) and boundary of time (afterwards, now ).

Note how both temporal dimensions answer to the question When? but by means of two different grammatical categories. Therefore, When-temporal relations shall be analysed by means of, first, verbal tenses, which belong to the open-class category of lexical verbs (go, come, drink, listen ) for present and past tenses (inflectional), and modal operators (shall, will) for the future (pro-forms); and second, time adjuncts, which include both the open-class category of adverbs and nouns, and the closed-class category of prepositions, together with other type of cla uses.

4.1. When temporal dimension: verbal tenses.

According to Huddleston (1988), the expression of When-temporal relationship may be drawn from verbal tenses, since the field of semantics will approach this dimension in terms of tense inflections and of certain aspectual and modal catenatives. In addition we will consider, in the light of this semantic discussion the nature of tense, aspect and mood/modality as general linguistic categories.

4.1.1. Tense.

It is worth mentioning before starting that we must distinguish clearly between the grammatical category of ‘tense’ and the semantic category of ‘time’, since the fairly complex relation between them shows the importance of distinguishing between language –particular and general definitions. The general terms ‘past’ and ‘present’ tense have been labelled on the basis of their primary use.

Huddleston states that ‘a language has tense if it has a set of systematically contrasting verb inflections where the primary semantic function is to relate the time of the situation to the time of the utterance’. Tense thus involves the grammaticalisation of time relations when ‘situation’ is understood as a general term covering ‘states, actions, processes or whatever is described in the clause’ by means of the inflectional category of tense. Therefore, we shall examine in turn the various uses of the present and past tenses in English. Present tense.

Within the inflectional category of present tense, the following uses may be distinguished: (1) present time situations, (2) present time schedules of future situations, (3) and futurity in subordinate clauses.

(1) Regarding present time situations, the primary use of the present tense is, according to Huddleston (1988), ‘to locate the situation in present time’, where the term ‘situation’ must be understood as the time of the utterance describing states, actions, processes or any other situation in the clause. The mentioned situations may be classified as either static or dynamic. Thus:

(a) Static situations refer to states of affairs which continue over periods of time with a non-defined beginning or end (i.e. He is an architect) or relations (i.e. She is married). Static situations shall be understood to extend beyond the moment of utterance, as in ‘Kim’s living in Berlin’ which, in this case, has much more duration than ‘Kim’s washing her hair’. In this type, habitual actions are to be included since they are understood as a state of affairs characterised by the repeated or habitual behaviour, and again this state of affairs etends beyond the time of utterance, just like the more obviously static situation (i.e. Kim washes her hair with Clarins shampoo ).

(b) or dynamic situations, referring to actions or events happening as a single occurrence with a definite beginning and end (i.e. Nicole Kidman is on a new project at the moment). This type of situations are by contrast understood to be effectively simultaneous with the utterance. The use of the present tense for dynamic situations is fairly restricted: it is found mainly in running commentaries, demonstrations (i.e. I add a pinch of sugar in a cookery demonstration) and for certain kinds of act performed precisely by virtue of uttering a sentence that describes the act (i.e. I promise to be back before ten ).

(2) Regarding present time schedules of future situations, in a sentence like ‘The match starts tomorrow’, a dynamic situation is presented in future time, not present time. There is nevertheless a present time element in the meaning, in that we are concerned with what is presently arranged.

(3) Finally, regarding futurity in subordinate clauses, we find it when a present tense verb refers to a future situation (i.e. I want to arrive before the baby wakes up). This use of present tense occurs most often after such temporal expressions as after, before, until, and conditional expressions like if, unless, provided. It is thus a temporal interpretation of the main clause (i.e. the baby wakes up). Past tense.

The past tense, according to Huddleston (1988) has the following uses: (1) past time situations, (2)

past time schedule of future situations, (3) factual remoteness, and (4) backshifting. Thus:

(1) Regarding past time situations, compare the sentences: ‘Kim lived in Frankfurt, Kim played defensively forward, and Kim used to eat spaguetti carbonara’. The past tense serves straightforwardly to locate the situation in past time. Static situations may again extend beyond the time at which they are said to obtain (first sentence) whereas dynamic situations will be wholly in the past, although the past can accommodate longer situations than the present (second sentence), and can be as salient as the habitual situations (third sentence).

(2) Past time schedule of future situations , where there is no change in the time of the starting: what has changed is the time at which the arrangement/schedule is said to hold (i.e.The party started tomorrow). This use of the past tense is vastly less frequent than the corresponding use of the present tense.

(3) Factual remoteness is given by conditional sentences where we find present verbs (i.e. If Ed comes tomorrow, we can play bridge vs. If Ed came tomorrow, we could play bridge). When we have past tenses, both actions are still future and present respectively. The tense difference thus signals a difference not in time, but in the speaker’s assessment of the likelihood of the condition’s being fulfilled: the past tense presents it as a relatively remote possibility, the present tense as an open possibility.

Past vs. present tenses have a contrast between unreal vs. real conditional constructions. An unreal conditional has a past tense in the subordiante clause with this factual remoteness meaning and a modal operator in the main clause. A past tense in the subordinate clause of a real condition, by contrast, will serve to locate the state or event in past time in the usual way: ‘If Edward was at yesterday’s meeting, he will have seen her’.

The factual remoteness meaning of the past tense is not restricted to unreal conditional constructions. It is also found in subordinate clauses after wish or it + be time (i.e. I wish/It is time they were here ). In main clauses it occurs only with modal operators.

(4) Backshifting is what is known as indirect reported speech , indirect in that one gives only the content expressed, not the actual words used. Compare ‘Jane said that James had two cats’ vs. Jane said that James has two cats ’. In the first sentence, we have a past tense instead of the original present tense: this shift from present tense to past tense is known as backshifting.

In the second sentence, by contrast, there no backshifting. The difference is then taht in the first sentence the state of James’s having two cats is temporally related to a point in the past whereas in the second sentence, it is temporally related to a point in the present, the time of one’s utterance. The term ‘indirect reported speech’ is actually too narrow, for backshifting occurs equally in the report of feelings, beliefs, knowledge, etc.

4.1.2. Aspect.

Following Huddleston (1988), the terminological distinction between tense and time has no well- established analogue in the domain of aspect. The term ‘aspect’ as we know it, refers to the manner in which a situation is experienced, that is, as a completed action or in progress. The term ‘aspect’ then is widely used both for a grammatical category of the verb (present, past, present perfect) and for the type of meaning characteristically expressed by that category (action in progress vs. completed action). This is what Huddleston defines it as the ‘grammatical and semantic aspect’: progressive and perfect.

In English there are quite a number of items that express the aspectual meanings of ‘progressive’. Most of them are catenative verbs, that is, lexical verbs which express beginning or end such as begin, finish, commence, start, stop, cease, use, start, continue, be, have, carry on and keep on. Aspectual meaning involves not the temporal location of the situation, but rather its temporal flow or segmentation, in other words, focusing in the initial and final segments: beginning (begin ) and end (stop).With some other verbs indicate the situation is presented as ongoing, usually with repetition (keep, be, carry on, keep on, etc).

According to Huddleston (1988), English does not have grammatical aspect since, for a language to have grammatical aspect, it must have a system of the verb, marked inflectionally or by such analytic devices as auxiliaries, where the primary semantic contrast between the terms is a matter of aspectual meaning. We can talk of aspectual verbs but they do not form a grammatically distinct class and are not dependents of the verbs with which they enter into construction. We talk about the two most frequent and difficult ones: ‘progressive’ be and ‘perfect’ have. Progressive be.

Progressive be, in its aspectual use, takes a present-participial complement when it is catenative (i.e. writing a letter: she is writing a letter ), by means of the structure of progressive construction be + present participle inflection (- ing). Progressive be is so called because its basic meaning is that it presents the situation as being ‘in progress’. This implies that it is conceived of as taking place, thus as having a more or less dynamic character, rather than being wholly static. The situation is seen not in its temporal totality, but at some point or period within it.

However, we find special cases when, although the verb is non- progressive, as in ‘rain’ (i.e. It rained ), it denotes a dynamic situation and is presented in its totality, as an event. On the other hand, presents it as in progress at some intermediate point or period, as in ‘It was raining when I woke up ’. A different type of special cases appears in the sentences ‘Kate is living in Paris’ vs.

‘Kate lives in Paris’.

Here, the progressive suggests a situation of limited duration, something relatively temporary whereas wiht the present tense the dynamic situation has to be short enough to be effectively simultaneous with the utterance. However, in the exa mples they denote a basically static situation and would thus neutrally occur in the non-progressive, noting that in the non-progressive the present tense is less readily used for dynamic situations located in present time than the past tense.

Finally, we should note that certain verbs denoting clearly static situation are virtually excluded from heading the complement of progressive be, such as belong, consist, contain, possess, etc. Thus while ‘It belongs to me ’ is perfectly natural, ‘It is belonging to me’ is not, and so on. Perfect have.

Regarding the aspectual meaning of ‘perfect’ have, we must point out that the verb ‘have’ enters into a variety of catenative constructions, under the perfect construction of the single complement (have/has/had) + the form of a past-participial clause (-ed/written). such as ‘She had written the letter, She had to write the letter, She had her daughter write the letter, She had her daughter writing the letter, She had the letter written by her daughter’.

We need to distinguish two cases of the perfect construction: the ‘present perfect’ where ‘have’ carries a present tense inflection (has gone, have gone, etc) and the ‘non-present perfect’, where ‘have’ either carries the past tense inflection or else is non-tensed (i.e. had gone, to have gone, may have gone, having gone, etc). Like the past tense in its primary use, the present perfect locates the situation in past time but with a certain connection to the present. Compare ‘Kate is ill’ vs. ‘Kate was ill’ vs. ‘Kate has been ill’.

The difference is that the past non-perfect involves a point or period in the past that is exclusive of the present, whereas the present perfect involves a period that is inclusive of the present as well as as the past. This is why certain types of temporal expressions cannot occur with one or other of them. For instance, yesterday, last night, four weeks ago and the like indicate times that are entirely in the past and are hence incompatible with the present perfect, which is complemented by at present, as yet, so far, since my birthday .

Because the present perfect involves a past inclusive of the present it is well suited to situations beginning in the past and lasting through to the present (i.e. Markus has lived in Madrid since 1980 = He is still living there). Here, the situation of Markus covers the period from 1980 to the present. But this explanation is not restricted to such cases but many others. For instance, in the sentence ‘I have lost my key’, the loosing took place in the past but the sentence refers to a present state of affairs resulting from it. Also, we use it to refer to past events related to the present by their recency and current news value (i.e. The euro has been devalued by 30% this year).

One final point should make reference to the perfect have in that it cannot head the complement of various other aspectual verbs, such as begin, stop, progressive be, etc. Thus we cannot reverse the direction of dependency in ‘She has begun/stopped/been reading the letter’.

4.1.3. Modality and mood.

Following Huddleston (1988), as we must distinguish between tense, a category of grammatical form, and time , a category of meaning, it is relevant as well to distinguish grammatical mood from semantic modality . Modality is expressed by a variety of linguistic devices, lexical, grammatical and prosodic. In this section we shall review these devices, among which we find the modal operators, and then, we shall review the relationship between modality and time and tense. The modal operators.

Yet, there are a considerable number of lexical items with modal meanings, among which we include the class of modal operators: may, must, can, will, shall, should, ought, need , and also be and have in some of their uses (i.e. You are to be back by ten or You’ll have to work harder). These modal operators are used to convey a considerable range and variety of meanings which will provide a basis for the general semantic category of modality.

Modal operators are to be grouped under three headings although we must bear in mind that in the three uses, lots of sentences out of context, allow more than one interpretation: (1) epistemic uses, (2) deontic uses and (3) subject-oriented uses.

First, regarding (1) the term ‘epistemic’, it derives from the Greek word ‘knowledge’ and therefore, its use involves implications concerning the speaker’s knowledge of the situation in question: possibility (He may come tonight), certainty (She must be his girlfriend ) and prediction (He will have finished by ten ).

(2) The term ‘deontic’ derives from the Greek word for ‘binding’, and in these uses we are concerned with obligation (must, have to), prohibition (mustn’t, don’t have to), permission (can) and the like. Thus, those most typically used to give permission are ‘can/may’ (i.e. You can have a chocolate); we have ‘must’ to impose an obligation (i.e. You must be in bed before midnight); and we have ‘shall’ to put oneself under an obligation (i.e. You shall have your money back).

(3) Subject-oriented uses involve some property, disposition or the like on the part of whoever or whatever is referred to by the subject, as in ‘She can run faster than me’ , concerning her physical capabilities, and ‘She wouldn’t lend me the money I need’, concerning her willingness. Modality in relation to time and tense.

It should be borne in mind that in the relationship of time and tense regarding modality, we are dealing with just two tenses in English: past and present: unlike such languages as French and Latin, English has no future tense. This means that in English there is no verbal category so as to locate any situation in future time. Yet, futurity is of course very often indicated by the modal operator will (i.e. He will see her tomorrow).

It is worth mentioning that the will construction, however, does not satisfy the conditions for analysis as a future tense. Grammatically will is a catenative, not an auxiliary, hence not the marker of a verbal category. Moreover, will would belong grammatically to the category of modal operators, which would be mood markers. Like them, it has no non-tensed forms and shows no person-number agreement with the subject, but carries either the past tense inflection (would ) or the present (will).

And finally, from a semantic point of view, will involves ele ments of both futurity and modality, and has the sense of ‘remoteness’ from the present, thus not immediately accesible. This association is reflected in the use of the past tense to indicate factual remoteness as well as past time.

4.2. When time adjuncts: time position.

Once we have examined When-temporal relationship from the perspective of verbal tenses, we shall focus on the When-temporal relations by means of time adjuncts, which express temporal relations by referring to time position, by means of, first, specific points of time (in 1965, at half past two) and second, boundary of time (afterwards, now). These temporal dimensions answer to the question When? by means of the open-class category of adverbs, nouns, the closed-class category of prepositions and other clauses.

Semantically, time adjuncts play a part in specifying the time reference of the verb phrase when this is not stated (i.e. He is singing, present or future?) . Thus, ‘now’ determines that the reference in

He is singing now ’ is present, and ‘tomorrow’ that it is future in ‘He is playing tomorrow’. Some time adjuncts cannot co-occur with particular forms of the verb phrase, as for instance ‘He played tomorrow’, except in an apparent exception such as those verbs of saying, arranging, expecting or wanting whose object has future reference (i.e. She wanted the book tomorrow).

These figurative spacial dimensions are mainly realized by means of adverbial, noun, prepositional and specific phrases, with figurative adaptation of the prepositional meaning. Time adjuncts expressing time position generally add extra information to the action or process by means of descriptions about time (yesterday morning ), on specifying first, (1) points of time (in 1965, at half past two ) and second, (2) boundary of time (afterwards, now ).

4.2.1. Time position: a point of time.

First, we shall deal with time position in terms of denoting a point of time. This time expression is mainly drawn from adverbs, prepositions, nouns and specific phrases. Thus:

(1) Common time position adverbs, are: again (on another occasion), just (at this very moment), late (at a late time), now (at this time), nowadays (at the present time), presently (at the present time), then (at that time), and today’. Most of them normally occur in fina l position, but there are some exceptions. Thus, ‘just’ is restricted to middle position (i.e. He has just come), ‘nowadays’ and ‘presently’ are common in initial position (i.e. Presently, many teenagers have long hair).

(2) Regarding time position prepos itions, we find three of them, at, on, and in, which are used in expressions answering the question When? They reflect a concept of time as analogous to space although in the time sphere there are only two ‘dimension-types’ (point and period of time) whereas in space there are three (position, surface, and volume).

Therefore, (a) ‘at’ is used for points of time, chiefly clock time (at five o’clock, at 7.20 pm, at noon), when time is conceived as dimensionless (i.e. The concert starts at 10 o’clock ). However, it is not only instants that can be considered, but other points of time regarded as idiomatic expressions for holiday periods (i.e. at the weekend, at Christmas, at Easter) and for other phrases (i.e. at night, at that time ). Note that in ‘at night’ we may also view it as a period and then, we use

in the night’.

In expressions referring to days, the preposition is (b) ‘on’ (i.e. on Monday, on any other day, on August the third). Also, with an interval that is specifically part of a day (i.e. on Sunday afternoon, on Friday night). Note that this is an exceptional use of ‘on’ with a complement referring to a part of a day, rather than the whole day. But with phrases like ‘early morning’, ‘late afternoon’, it is normal to use ‘in the late afternoon’.

Where time is regarded as a period, the usual preposition is (c) ‘in’, reflecting analogy with two- or three-dimensional space, as in ‘In the afternoon, I listened to my new CDs’, ‘I visited her in March/in 1998/in the following year’. Note that future expressions like ‘in five days’, it may indicate either duration (i.e. I’ll do it in five days) or a point of time five days hece (i.e. He’ll take five days to do it).

In addition, (3) noun phrases are closely related to the category of prepositions of time, s ince nouns stand alone in the prepositional phrase, due to absence of prepositions, when adjuncts include, first, the deictic words last, next, this and that; the quantifying words some and every ; and nouns which have last, next, this as an element of their meaning (yesterday/today/tomorrow), for instance: ‘I saw him last Saturday’ or ‘I’ll mention it next time’.

Normally, the preposition is usually optional with deictic phrases referring to times at more than one remove from the present, such as (on) Tuesday week, (in) the March before last, (on) the day after tomorrow. Also, with phrases which identify a time before or after a given time in the past or future: ‘(in) the previous spring’, (at) the following week, (on) the next day’. We also find informal types of omission, such as ‘I’ll see you Monday’ where the preposition precedes a day of the week or is in initial position preceding a plural noun phrase: ‘Saturdays we go to the beach’.

Yet, time position is also drawn from (4) specific type of clauses which are usually found in initial position. Thus, finite adverbial clauses introduced by such subordinators as after, before, since, until, when (i.e. When I saw you last time you looked older); -ing clauses, introduced by after, before, since, until, whenever and while (i.e. When in difficulty, call me); subjectless –ing clauses (i.e. Nearing his old house, he started to cry ); -ed clauses, introduced by once, as often as, as soon as, whenever and while (i.e. Once he confessed, he went to prison ).

4.2.2. Time position: a boundary of time.

When answering to the time position question When? in terms of boundary of time, we must consider mainly prepositions (i.e. before, after, since, until, till), adverbs (afterwards, beforehand, previously, until then, afterward s, subsequently, after that) and wh- clauses (i.e. When you finish, we will leave).

(1) Prepositions are to be regarded first since these occur almost exclusively to locate a boundary of time as prepositions of time followed by temporal noun phrases (i.e. before next week, until summer, after the party ); non-finite clauses and noun phrases with a deverbal noun or any other noun phrase interpreted as equivalent to a clause (i.e. until the fall of Rome=until Rome fell, after the party=after the party finished, and so on); and finally, subjectless –ing clauses (i.e. since leaving school).

Note that the preposition ‘until’ establishes a certain boundary of time by which the initial point has a negative sense whereas the terminal point has positive implications (i.e. We could not sleep until midnight=negative at the beginning but positive in the end ).

Moreover, there are other group of prepositions of time which indicate boundary of time (i.e. between, from … to, by, up to ), as in ‘We’ll pick you up between ten and eleven o’clock’ and ‘Up to last week, I hadn’t received your e-mail’. Note how the preposition ‘by’ specifies a starting point (i.e. By the time you had arrived, he got asleep ). This means that by-phrases do no co-occur with verbs of durative meaning (i.e. He lay there by midnight, but ‘until’ midnight).

(2) Adverbs also indicate a boundary of time by referring to temporal ordering previous to a given time reference (i.e. before, earlier, first, formerly ), simultaneous (i.e. at this point, concurrently, simultaneously), and subsequent (i.e. after, afterwards, finally, immediately, later, next, then ). Also, by means of adverbial phrases, such as ‘before then, by then, in the meantime, after this, on the morrow’.

(3) And finally, wh- clauses, which establish a boundary by setting a given point in time (i.e. When the film finishes, we’ll go and have a pizza ).


The temporal dimension of duration (i.e. for several years) answers the question How long…? and more specifically, Till when…? and Since when…? in terms of time adjuncts, where duration is defined in terms of forward span (i.e. for three weeks, until five o’clock ) and backward span (i.e. since we arrived ).

Time adjuncts are mainly realized by means of prepositional phrases and some adverbial phrases. In fact, the temporal dimension of duration and span is given by prepositions like since, until and till. Yet, span may be also specified by others, such as ‘from, up to, over, by, before’, and by noun phrases like ‘this past (month), these last (years), this next year’.

Again, as with When -temporal relationship, we shall address this temporal dimension from two main perspectives: first, duration and span mainly expressed by verbal tenses; second, duration and span expressed by time adjuncts, that is, prepositional and adverbial phrases.

5.1. Duration and span: verbal tenses.

According to Huddleston (1988), the expression of duration and span temporal relationships may be drawn from verbal tenses (past, present, future, present perfect) since the field of semantics will approach this dimension in terms of tense inflections, aspect and modality. In addition we will consider, in the light of this semantic discussion the nature of tense, aspect and mood/modality as general linguistic categories so as to clarify this point.

In order to precise duration, backwards or forwards, we need to relate the beginning or end of the periods mentioned to the speaker’s ‘now’, that is, to a fixed point of orientation which, in our case, would be ‘the present tense’. From this point, we distinguish two main movements, thus backward span, which is particularly associated with since and the perfect aspect (i.e. She has been in her office since seven o’clock ) and forward span, which is particularly associated with till and until (i.e. She will be in her office until five o’clock ).

5.1.1. Backward span: since and the perfect tense.

Following Greenbaum & Quirk (1990), a temporal since -clause generally requires the present perfect in the matrix clause when the whole construction refers to a stretch of time up to the present (i.e. I have lost my keys and I haven’t found them yet) or the simple past when the since-clause refers to a point of time marking the beginning of a situation (i.e. She has been swimming since she was four years old ).

But there are other uses, as when the present perfect is used in both clauses because the since-clause refers to a period of time lasting to the present (i.e. Since he has arrived, he has not said a word ). Also, when the whole period is set in past time, the past perfect or the simple past is used in both clauses (i.e. Since he has gone to university, he has become more independent). However, note that especially informally, and in particular in American English, where the main clause refers to the present, backward span can be expressed without the perfect (i.e.Things are much better since you left).

5.1.2. Forward span: until and till.

On the other hand, forward span is drawn by the prepositions until and till. For instance, in a sentence like ‘Nina will be in her office until six o’clock’, the beginning of the time span is fixed in relation to the speaker’s orientation point, but its ending is as indicated by the adjunct only if the clause is positive (i.e. He waited until she finished ).

By contrast, in the sentence ‘He did not wait until she finished’, we realize that with negative clauses and verbs of momentary meaning, on the other hand, the span indicated by the adjunct marks the extent of the nonoccurrence of the momentary action (i.e. He did not arrive at home until she returned).

5.2. Duration and span: time adjuncts.

As seen above, the temporal dimensions of duration and span are mainly expressed by time adjuncts, that is, mainly by prepositions such as since, until and till, and also by ‘before, by, from, after, up to’ when specifying only a starting point or a terminal point (i.e.‘She will be there by Friday night/before Friday night/from nine o’clock onwards, after eight o’clock or since eight o’clock ). However, span may be also specified by other prepositions, such as ‘for, during, throughout, from…to, and between’ when expressing emphasis on the duration.

First, the preposition ‘for’ expresses duration (i.e. We rented an appartment for the summer). The same meaning, with some emphasis on the duration, can be expressed with ‘throughout’ and ‘all through’. By contrast, ‘during’ indicates a stretch of time within which a more specific duration can be indicated (i.e. During the summer, we rented an appartment for a month ). Here, ‘for a month’ means ‘at some time during the summer’.

Duration expressions with ‘over’ carry the implication of a period containing some division or ‘fences’ (i.e. overnight, over the weekend, over the Easter period). Note that in these cases, first, over normally accompanies noun phrases denoting special occasions, such as holidays or festivals, and second, refers to a shorter period of time than ‘all through’ and ‘throughout’.

Duration can also be specified by reference to the beginning and ending by means of ‘from … to’ (i.e. They play tennis from Monday to Wednesday ). It is worth noting that while ‘from…to’ corresponds to ‘for’ (i.e. They play tennis for three days), ‘between…and’ can be used in the more general sense of ‘during’ (i.e. They play tennis between Monday and Wednesday = for a period within the stretch specified). Finally, note certain idiomatic expressions, such as ‘for ever’ and ‘for good’.

Just remember that when referring to position of time adjuncts at sentence level, generally, although like other adjuncts, time adjuncts occur most frequently in initial position (i.e. In 2002, the economy started to recover; For many years, I was wrong; Even after this, I feel happy), but middle position is also common for time adjuncts, especially those realized by adverbs (i.e. She has just arrived; we may not often travel under this weather ).

Where time adjuncts co-occur in the same sentence, time duration tends to be most ‘central’, time postion most ‘peripheral’, so that if the three main types all occurred at final position, they would most likely be ordered as duration +frequency+position (i.e. She was there for a long time every day or so last year).


Most time frequency adjuncts are addressed by the questions How often…? which refers to the frequency of period within which occasions take place (i.e. always, never, sometimes) and How many times…? referring to the frequency of occasion (once, twice, three times, everyday). The former (How often…?) refers to indefinite frequency and is mainly expressed by predication adjuncts; the latter (How many times…?) refer to indefinite frequency, mainly expressed by sentence adjuncts.

At sentence level, both are placed in the more peripheral position, usually in initial or final, and in some cases, as with frequency adverbs, they take middle position. So far, the given answers then are mainly drawn from adverbial phrases (which correspond to the category of frequency adverbs: always, never, often, etc ) and noun phrases (three times, every day). Yet, the temporal dimension of frequency will be examined semantically from its two major subclasses: definite and indefinite frequency.

6.1. Definite frequency: How many times…?

Definite frequency is addressed from the question How many times…? which makes reference to the frequency of occasion, that is, definite frequency periods which can be measured. This notion is answered by sentence adjuncts, which are usually placed in peripheral positions in the sentence, initial or final (i. e. Veronica came to see me twice ).

The main definite frequency occasions are classified in two types: first, (1) period frequency , which is mainly expressed by adverbs (i.e. weekly, hourly, daily, monthly, annually) and less often by prepositional phrases (i.e. per week, per month); and secondly (2), number frequency, usually expressed by noun phrases (i.e. once, twice, three times, etc; every day/year/week; each year; again ) or prepositional phrases (i.e. on five occasions).

6.2. Indefinite frequency: How of ten…?

On the other hand, indefinite frequency is addressed from the question How often…? which makes reference to the frequency of period, that is, indefinite frequency periods which cannot be measured unless we establish a ranking of occurrence, from the most usual to low frequency (i.e. from always to never). This notion is to be answered by predication adjuncts, which are usually placed in peripheral positions in the sentence, initial or final (i.e. Veronica came to see me daily).

The main indefinite frequency periods are classified on both semantic and grammatical grounds, distinguishing four main subsets, which range from usual occurrence to low frequency, thus usual occurrence, continuous frequency, high frequency and low or zero frequency.

(1) Usual occurrence is expressed by the following adverbs: normally, generally, ordinarily commonly, invariably, usually ; and some prepositional phrases (i.e. as usual, as a rule ), being normally placed in middle position (i.e. They normally play hockey in the afternoons). However, since one can speak of something normally not occurring, it is a characteristic of these adjuncts to be sentential and to be capable of preceding a clausal negative, being placed in initial position (i.e. Usually, Jenny does not get the bus on time).

(2) Continuous occurrence or universal frequency is expressed by the following adverbs: always, continually, constantly, continuously, permanently, incesantly (i.e. She always cleans her house early in the morning).

(3) High frequency is expressed by the following adverbs: often, regularly, repeteadly, frequently, many times, time and again (i.e. He often plays video games ) and some prepositional phrases (i.e. on several occasions, at all times, now and again ).

(4) Low or zero frequency is expressed by the following adverbs: occasionally, rarely, seldom, sometimes, never, ever, infrequently, hardly ever, scarcely (i.e. We never walk alone at night).


And finally, we shall deal with other time relationships by means of time adjuncts again, which express some relationship in time other than in those specified before. We shall distinguish two main groups:

7.1. Two-time relationships.

First, one group consists of adjuncts concerned with the sequence within the clause of two time relationships, and they co-occur with When time adjuncts. Many of the same items are also used as correlatives to denote temporal sequence between clauses or between sentences. Common adverbs in this group include afterwards, eventually, previously, finally, first, later, once more, next, originally, subsequently, then.

These adverb phrases normally appear in middle position (i.e. He was finally introduced to her), though other phrases are placed in final position (i.e. I did not know what to do later).

7.2. Similar time duration adjuncts: yet, already, still.

The second group consists of adjuncts that are similar to time duration adjuncts in that they express duration up to or before a given or implied time (i.e. He is still here ). They are rela ted by assertive and non-assertive contrasts. For instance, assertive forms include already, still, by now ; non- assertive forms include yet, any more, any longer; and negative forms include no more and no longer. Note that most of these adjuncts occur either in middle position (i.e. He has already found her car key ) or finally (i.e. She has not arrived yet).

Within this group, we must highlight three items which are particularly related to each other: yet, already, and still. In contrast to non-assertive yet, already and still cannot lie within the scope of clause negation except in questions. Still, unlike already , can precede negation. We therefore may classify them into the following classes: (1) declarative positive, (2) declarative negative (adverb + negation), (3) declarative negative (negation + adverb), (3) interrogative positive and (4) interrogative negative.

(1) Declarative positive class includes ‘already’ and ‘still’, but not ‘yet’. Compare ‘I already like him’ and ‘I still like him’ to ‘I yet like him’ (wrong).

(2) Declarative negative class, with the adverb preceding the negation, includes ‘still’ but not ‘already’ and ‘yet’. Compare the wrong sentences ‘I already haven’t spoken to him’ and ‘I yet haven’t spoken to him’ to ‘I still haven’t spoken to him’ meaning ‘I haven’t spoken to him so far’.

(3) Declarative negative class, with the adverb following negation, includes ‘yet’ but not ‘already’ and ‘still’. Compare the wrong sentences ‘He can’t already drive’ and ‘He can’t still drive’ to ‘He can’t drive y et’ meaning ‘He can’t drive up to this time’.

(4) Interrogative positive class includes the three of them ‘still, already and yet’. Observe the right usage of the following sentences ‘Have you already seen him?’, ‘Have you sseen him yet?’ and ‘Do you still see him?’

(5) And finally, the interrogative negative class includes again the three items. Note: ‘Haven’t you seen him already?’, ‘Haven’t you seen him yet?’ and ‘Don’t you still see him?’.


The two aspects of the expression of time reference, that is, temporal relationship and the expression of frequency dealt with in this study is relevant to the learning of the vocabulary of a foreign language since differences between the vocabulary of the learner’s native language (L1) and that of the foreign language (L2) may lead to several problems, such as the incorrect use of place adjuncts expressions, especially because of the syntactic, morphological, and semantic processes implied in these categories.

This study has looked at the expression of time adverbs, prepositions, and nouns within lexical semantics, morphology and syntax in order to establish a relative similarity between the two languages that Spanish-speaking students would find it useful for learning English if these connections were brought to their attention, especially when different categories may overlap (in/at/on as both time and place prepositions ).

According to Thomson & Martinet (1986), a European student may find especially troublesome the use of prepositions when communicating in English since, first, he has to know whether in any construction a preposition is required or not (i.e. He came Monday or on Monday?) and, second, which preposition to use when one is required (i.e. He arrived on/in time).

This choice becomes problematic for our Spanish students when they try to find a certain construction in his own language which requires a preposition whereas a similar one in English does not. For instance, the most common mistake for Spanish students, both at ESO and Bachillerato level, is to express time position reference in English (i.e. in the afternoon, at night, at two o’clock ) since in Spanish it is expressed by means of other prepositions (i.e. por la tarde, por la noche ) and do not correspond literally to the translation the students make.

It has been suggested that a methodology grounded in part in the application of explicit linguistic knowledge enhances the second language learning process. In the Spanish curriculum (B.O.E.2002), the expression of time by means of prepositions is envisaged from earlier stages of ESO in terms of simple descriptions of temporal situations and frequency of habitual actions, such as describing what they do in a normal day, up to higher stages of Bachillerato, towards more complex descriptions of temporal situations, addressing not only to prepositions but also to the use of adverbial, noun, and non-finite clauses (i.e. preposition + -ing clauses).

The expression of time reference implying the use of the discussed prepositions has been considered an important element of language teaching because of its high-frequency in speech. We must not forget that the expression of time adjuncts is drawn from a wide range of grammatical categories, from open class categories, such as prepositions, to closed class categories, such as adverbs, adjectives, nouns, and other specific clause structures.

Hence, the importance of how to handle these expressions cannot be understated since you cannot communicate without it. Current communicative methods foster the ‘teaching’ of this kind of specific linguistic information to help students recognize new L2 words. Learners cannot do it all on their own. Language learners, even 2nd year Bachillerato students, do not automatically recognize similiarities which seem obvious to teachers; learners need to have these associations brought to their attention.

So far, we have attempted in this discussion to provide a broad account of the expression of time reference in order to set it up within the linguistic theory, going through the localization of time adjuncts in syntactic structures, to a broad presentation of the main grammatical categories involved in it. We hope students are able to understand the relevance of handling correctly the expression of time adjuncts in everyday life communication.


Although the questions When are you going tonight? or How often do you go out? may appear simple and straightforward, they imply a broad description of the time and occasions you are going out. The appropriate answer suitable for students and teachers, may be so simple if we are dealing with ESO students, using simple grammatical structures and basic vocabulary, or so complex if we are dealing with Bachillerato students, who must be able to describe things within a temporal frame using the appropriate prepositions according to their dimensional characteristics.

So far, in this study we have attempted to take a fairly broad view of the expression of time since we are also assuming that there is an intrinsic connexion between its learning and successful communication. Yet, we have provided a descriptive account of Unit 18 dealing with Time reference, whose main aim was to introduce the student to the different ways of expressing temporal relationship and frequency in English.

In doing so, the study provided a broad account the notion of time reference, starting by a theoretical framework in order to get some key terminology on the issue, and further developed within a grammar linguistic theory, described in morphological, syntactic and semantic terms. Once presented, we discussed how adverbs, prepositions, and other syntactic constructions also reflected this notion.

In fact, lexical items and vocabulary, and therefore, the expression of time preposit ions, is currently considered to be a central element in communicative competence and in the acquisition of a second language since students must be able to use these prepositions in their everyday life in many different situations. As stated before, the teaching of time expressions comprises four major components in our educational curriculum: phonology, grammar, lexicon, and semantics, out of which we get five major levels: phonological, morphological and syntactic, lexical, and semantic.

In fact, for our students to express time reference properly, they must have a good knowledge at all those five levels. First, on phonology which describes the sound level. Secondly, since the two most basic units of grammar are the word and the sentence, they must have good grammatical knowledge, which involves the morphological level (i.e. simple and complex prepositions, adverb formation, etc ) and the syntactic level (i.e. where prepositions of time are placed at sentence level).

Third, the lexicon, or lexical level, lists vocabulary items, that is, different prepositions (temporal relationship and frequency), and other expressions to denote time, specifying how they are pronounced, how they behave grammatically, and what they mean. Finally, another dimension between the study of linguistic form and the study of meaning is semantics, or the semantic level, in which students must be able to distinguish the overlapping of semantic fields within the same preposition (in/on/at for time and place), and so on.

Therefore, it is a fact that students must be able to handle the four levels in communicative competence in order to be effectively and highly communicative in the classroom and in real life situations. The expression of time reference proves highly frequent in our everyday speech, and consequently, we must encourage our students to have a good managing of it.


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