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

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

In this topic I am going to deal with the expression of time. I am going to divide my topic into four different sections. First, I will look at the expression of time through verbs. In my second section I will deal with the expression of time position. The third section will be devoted to the expression of duration and span. Finally, my fourth section will look at the expression of frequency.

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 (present, past or future). There are several ways of expressing time reference. I am going to begin by looking at verbs. English verbs add four inflectional morphemes to their base form to in order to form the main verbal forms (present and past):

  • Base + -s / -es for the third person singular present tense indicative. Ana Obregón hates Victoria Beckham
  • Base + -ed for the past tense. Victoria tried to attacked Ana.
  • Base + -ing present participle for the progressive aspect. Ana was running in the gym
  • Base + -ed past participle for the perfect tenses. Ana has denounced Victoria.

Modal auxiliaries, such as WILL, also contribute to express time, for instance, future time. Victoria will protect Beckham from Ana.

It is important to take into account that there is not always a one-to-one correspondence between tense and time. For instance, present simple tense may refer to future situations. Beckham’s plane leaves tomorrow at five towards Beckhimgam palace. When dealing with the expression of time it is important to pay attention to the time the verb tense is expressing. Sometimes, this may be difficult for Spanish speakers, as different tenses may have different uses in both languages.

After dealing with the expression of time by means of verbs, I will move to my second section, dealing with the expression of time position by other means. Apart from verbs, time can be expressed by means of time adjuncts which express temporal relationships by referring to time positions. These temporal adjuncts answer the question “When?” by means of different categories, such as nouns, adverbs, prepositions, clauses, etc. Semantically, time adjuncts play a part in specifying the time reference of the verb phrase when this is not stated. For instance, if we say He is singing, we may be referring to the present or to the future. We can clarify this by adding “now”, “tomorrow”, and so on.

Common type position adverbs are AGAIN, JUST, LATE, NOW, PRESENTLY, THEN, TODAY… Regarding time prepositions, we find three of them: AT, ON and IN, which are used in expressions answering the question “When?” AT is used for points of time, chiefly clock time (at five o’clock, at noon). However, it is also used with other points of time regarded as idiomatic expressions for holiday periods (at weekends, at Christmas) and for some other phrases such as at night, at that time, etc.

In expressions referring to days we use the preposition ON (on Monday, on August the third). We also use ON with an interval that is specifically a part of the day (on Monday morning). However, with phrases such as ·early morning” or “late afternoon” it is common to use IN (In the late afternoon).

When time is regarded as a period, the usual preposition is IN (In the morning, in March, in 1989).

The use of prepositions to signal time points is a extremely difficult aspect for Spanish learners of English and is a source of serious error. The reason for this is that in Spanish we do not have such a variety of prepositions to indicate time point; instead we tend to use EN. For this reason, we must point out the differences for our students, drawing their attention to the most difficult uses of the prepositions and providing them with appropriate examples. Practice and contact with real language in context will be vital for the correct use of these prepositions.

Let’s look at noun phrases expressing time. Noun phrases are closely related to the category of prepositions of time. Sometimes noun phrases stand alone without a preposition. For instance, when the adjunct include the words LAST, NEXT, THIS, THAT, SOME and EVERY (I saw her last year / every day).

Sometimes the use of prepositions is optional. This is the case of phrases referring to times at more than once removed from the present. E.g. (ON) Monday week, (IN) the March before last…The same happen with phrases that identify a time before or after a given time in the past or future. (IN) the previous spring; AT the following week, and so on.

Time position can be also expressed through specific types of clause which are usually found in initial position. We find adverbial clauses introduced by subordinators such as AFTER, BEFORE, SINCE, UNTIL, WHEN… (When Victoria came Ana was doing gym), idiomatic expressions (once in a lifetime, once in a while…). We also may find and non-finite –ing clauses, introduced by WHENEVER, WHILE, SINCE… (While doing gym, Victoria attacked her); subjectless –ing clauses (Nearing his old house, he started to cry); and –ed clauses introduced by ONCE, AS OFTEN, AS SOON AS… (Once she confessed, she went to prison).

Up to this point I have been dealing with the expression of time in terms of time position. Now I am going to move on to deal with the expression of time in terms of boundary of time.

  • We often find prepositions of time followed by a temporal expression to signify boundary of time (before next week, until summer, after the party). Prepositions can be also followed by a subjectless –ing clause to express boundary of time (After leaving London, Victoria has never been happy)

The preposition UNTIL may establish a certain boundary of time by which the initial point has a negative sense whereas the terminal point has positive implications (Victoria could not find glamorous clothes until she went shopping in London).

Other prepositions which indicate boundary of time are BETWEEN, FROM…TO, BY, UP TO… (I’ll pick you up between ten and eleven). The preposition BY indicates a starting point (Victoria will have found a new baby-sitter by June).

ALREADY, STILL, YET and ANY MORE are related in meaning to BY-Phrases. Already and yet require the perfect aspect when referring to a single event. (they have already left / have you left yet?). With state verbs and with the progressive aspect, they can occur with the present tense. I know that already / He is not working yet. ALREADY, YET and STILL are also a very difficult area for Spanish students. Again, they do not have an Spanish equivalent, so students tend not to use them. We should encourage them and provide them with opportunities to put them into practice.

  • Adverbs also indicate a boundary of time by referring to temporal ordering previous to a given time reference (before, earlier, first). The temporal ordering may also be simultaneous to the time reference (currently, simultaneously) and subsequent (after, then next…)

Before Victoria came to Spain, she bought a pair of shoes everyday

  • When clauses also establish a boundary by setting a given point in time.

When David finishes his contract, Victoria will leave Madrid

Up to this point I have dealt with time position and boundary of time. Now I am going to move to my third section, in which I am going to deal with duration and span. The temporal dimension of duration answers the question “How long…?”, and more specifically, “Till when…?” and “Since when…?” in terms of time adjuncts. Time adjuncts are mainly realized by means of prepositional phrases and some adverbial phrases. In order to precise duration, we need to relate the beginning or end of the periods mentioned to the speaker’s now. From this point of view, we distinguish two movements: backward span and forward span.

Backward span is particularly associated with since and the perfect aspect (Victoria has been in Spain since 2004). On the other hand, forward span is drawn by the prepositions UNTIL and TILL. (Beckham will play for the Real Madrid until he retires).

Span may be also specified by other prepositions such as FOR, DURING, THROUGHOUT, FROM…TO, and BETWEEN, when expressing emphasis on the duration.

The preposition FOR expresses duration (He rented an apartment for the summer). The same meaning, with some emphasis on the duration, can be expressed with throughout and all through (he rented an apartment all through the summer). By contrast, DURING indicates a stretch of time within which a more specific duration can be indicated (During the summer, he rented an apartment for a month).

Duration expressions with OVER carry the implication of a period containing some division. OVER normally accompanies noun phrases denoting special occasions, such as holidays or festivals, and refers to a shorter period of time that ALL THROUGH or THROUGHOUT. (I will see you over the weekend/ over the Easter holidays). OVER is other preposition which Spanish students tend not to use. They usually prefer DURING, because it is very similar to Spanish “durante”, and are not able to grasp the differences in meaning between during and over.

Before finishing with this section I would like to point out that, when time adjuncts co-occur in the same sentence, time duration tends to be most central, and time position more peripheral (Victoria was in London for a long time last year)

Up to this point I have dealt with time position and with duration and span. Now I am going to move to my third section, in which I will deal with time frequency. Most time frequency adjuncts are addressed by the question “How often…?”, which refers to the frequency of period within which something takes place. The question “How many times…?” refers to the frequency of occasions, and is known as definite frequency.

Definite frequency occasions are classified into two types:

  • Period frequency, which is mainly expressed through adverbs (weekly, hourly, daily…) and less often by prepositional phrases such as per week, per month, and so on. Victoria goes shopping daily.
  • Number frequency, usually expressed by noun phrases (once, twice, three times, every day…), or prepositional phrases (on five occasions). Last week Victoria went out for dinner on five occasions.

On the other hand, indefinite frequency is addressed by the question “How often?” and makes reference to periods which cannot be measured unless we establish a ranking of occurrence, from the most usual to low frequency (from always to never). Usual occurrence is expressed by adverbs such as USUALLY, GENERALLY, NORMALLY… and some prepositional phrases such as AS A RULE, AS USUAL. Continuous frequency or universal occurrence is expressed by means of ALWAYS, CONTINUALLY, CONSTANTLY, INCESANTLY…High frequency is expressed by OFTEN, REGULARLY, FREQUENTLY… and some prepositional phrases such as ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, AT ALL TIME… Low or zero frequency is expressed by OCCASIONALLY, RARELY, SELDOM, HARDLY EVER, NEVER…

When three time adjuncts co-occur in the same sentence, time duration tends to be most central, followed by the frequency adjunct, and time position is the most peripheral (Victoria was in London for a long time every month time last year).

To sum up, in this topic I have dealt with the expression of time. I have divided my topic into four different sections. First, I have looked at the expression of time through verbs. In my second section I have dealt with the expression of time position. The third section has been devoted to the expression of duration and span. Finally, my fourth section has looked at the expression of frequency. As a final word I would like to say that expression of time can be done in a big number of different ways. It is important to remark this in our English classes, so that our students may expand their vocabulary and resources and acquire as many communicative strategies as possible in order to achieve effective communication, which is our main aim when teaching a foreign language.