How To Master Complex Tenses In English

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Complex, not complicated. The characteristic of the Complex tenses

A Tense is a tricky yet simple grammar category that, though used regularly, doesn’t have a common fixed definition up to now. The existing approaches to grammar show different understanding of a Tense notion and thus, provide different Tense classifications. What they agree on, is that Tense is connected with the category of time and that it is presented by Verbs.

The traditional grammar implies there are only two Simple Tenses in English: Present Simple (or Present Indefinite) and Past Simple (Past Indefinite). This approach can be named morphological as the Simple Tenses are marked basis their ability to represent Tense in a single word (Verb in the corresponding form):

I write the essays for the college every week. – Present Simple

Lindsey wrote a message to her friend. – Past Simple

The Complex Tenses, by this classification, are all the other ones as they require an auxiliary verb to form a Tense:

The elephants will arrive to the valley tomorrow. – Future Indefinite

Garey had been eating his breakfast before the telephone rang. – Past Perfect progressive

As we see, this method of Tense’ classification is rather a formal one, and doesn’t take into account the implied meaning of the Tense. For example, Future Indefinite, though formed by means of an auxiliary verb, is often called Future Simple as it describes an idea of an event, that is going to happen after the designated moment (a moment of speech, mostly) without specification, just as Present Simple and Past Simple do.  Yet, the possibility of the Present Simple to substitute Future Simple in certain constructions still leaves a room for its ranging as a complex Tense:

My grandfather will arrive tomorrow by the 5 pm train. - Future Indefinite

 My grandfather arrives tomorrow by the 5 pm train. – Present Simple

The Complex Tenses often make a problem for the non-native English speakers. Many languages in the world do not have such categories in their grammar and it becomes difficult to shape your thoughts into the correct grammar and syntactic form. In case your deadline is pressing you may use the assistance of the professional linguists to edit documents, proofread essays and adjust the Complex Tenses in your paper.

To find out more about Complex Tenses, let us analyze the way of their formation. As we already mentioned, the Complex Tenses are represented by the main Verb in some of its forms (a Participle sometimes) and the auxiliary Verb. There are three types of the auxiliary Verbs:

  • To be – this Verb can be quite an alone-standing Verb, and it also makes an auxiliary one. In such capacity it matches the Subject (Noun, Pronoun, Gerund) in the person’ (am/is) and number (is/are). It reflects the sense of a Tense in its form (is/was/will be). It is used in all the Continuous tenses where it is followed by the Verbal form ending with –ing  (Present Participle):

The kids were running across the yard to catch the sparrows. – Past Continuous

I will be waiting for you tomorrow at this very place. – Future Continuous

It also serves to form a Passive Voice:

I was surprised with this unusual gift and didn’t know what to say at the moment. – Past Simple, Passive Voice.

  • To have – another self-sufficient Verb that serves as an auxiliary one to form the Perfect Tenses. It also matches the form of the Subject (that can be expressed by different part of speech) in person (have/has) and number (have/has). It also changes with regard to the Tense category (have/had). The main Verb undertakes a Verbal form of the Past Participle:

The teacher has been angry with the students for not being prepared to the exam. – Present Perfect

You will have been sleeping for a long by this time. – Future Perfect Continuous

  • Shall/will – is participating in forming Future Tenses and, in their second form, the Conditional ones. It corresponds the Subject in person and number (shall/will). It can also reflect the Tense by undertaking different forms (shall/should):

Lennox should have known better than leaving all the tools in the open space, under the rain. – Conditional Perfect

I will check your essay and let you know the outcome. – Future Indefinite

The Complex Tenses are often used in the Fine Literature as they serve to outline the particular aspects of the action or event – whether it has been completed or still going, was it meant to be completed or not and so one. However sometimes the academic papers also require that these tints of meaning would be considered and expressed. For assistance on the matter, you can always consult the websites offering the professional thesis editing online.

Thus the Complex Tenses are formed on the ground of the Simple Tenses by means of the auxiliary Verbs. By traditional grammar, the Complex Tenses are:

  1. Future Indefinite – describes the event that will take part some time after the moment of speech. Formed by the auxiliary Verb shall/will: We shall prove our theory as soon as we conduct the analysis.
  2. Present Perfect – describes the events that took place in the past and have not been exhausted until the moment of speech. Formed by the auxiliary Verb have that is followed by the main Verb in the Past Participle’ form: A cat has jumped onto the shelf.
  3. Past Perfect – used to outline the events that unfolded in the past and were rounded up before the moment of speech. This construction is built by the accessory Verb had (Past of to have), linked to the main Verb that is represented in the form of the Past Participle:  The family had finished their meals by the time the bell has started to chime.
  4.  Future Perfect – represents the events that are to take place after the period of speech and are to round up by that period as well. The accessory Verb will is complemented by the one of have, form this Tense, together with the main Verb in its infinitive stem: I will not have finished the work by 7 pm.
  5. Present Conditional – describes the events that have the possibility to happen. That’s where the second form of will is used, followed by the Infinitive stem of the Verb: The substances would represent themselves provided the reagent was chosen wisely.
  6. Conditional Perfect – describes the possible events with emphasizing on their finality. The accessory Verb shall/will undertakes its second form (should/would), while the main Verb is placed into the Present Perfect: I would have cleaned this dish if it hadn’t been outside my view.

We see that the list of the Complex Tenses is not long. Knowing the principle of their use wouldn’t take long but it would most certainly enrich your language. However, the Complex Tenses are not always agreeable. Sometimes their excessive use just complicates the text with the bulky constructions and intricate meaning. In this case it is advisable to alternate the Complex Tenses with the Simple ones. If you need a support for checking and correcting of  your paper, have a look at one of the recent posts in our blog

Now as we know what the Complex Tenses look like and explored the formal side of their formation let us proceed to the depths of grammar to see what categories can influence the Complex Tenses.

Scary words with simple meaning – the Progressive Aspect and Co

Above we have studied the Complex Tenses from the grammar point of view. However these Tenses possess another category that is connected with syntax – the Aspect.

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If we have a closer look at all the listed Complex Tenses we shall see that they can reveal or conceal the sense of the way the action unfolds: whether it has been going on for some time (Past Perfect Progressive) or it has been finished already (Present Perfect):

I was watching the new video on YouTube on the subject when someone called my cell phone.  – Past Progressive

The workers have held a meeting in the factory yard. – Present Perfect

The Aspect is a syntactic category of the sentence that “works together” with the Tense by describing the additional details of the time and timing of the situation. It is always represented by means of grammar, though. The Aspect implements its meaning by means of the opposition “completed – in development” and has two representatives:

1. Progressive Aspect – represents the notion of an unfolding action, whether presently or at another time (e.g. Future Progressive). Its constructions are formed by means of the auxiliary Verb to be in the corresponding form and the Present Participle with the –ing ending:

The lettuce is growing rapidly in the Mediterranean climate. – Present Progressive

I will be leaving London tomorrow for a short trip to France. – Future Progressive

Randall has been writing his paper when the electricity suddenly turned off. – Present Perfect Progressive

2. Perfect Aspect – represents the notion of an action that used to unfold before, but have rounded up at present. It is constructed by means of the auxiliary Verb to have placed in the form matching the Subject in person and number. The main Verb’s Infinitive stem follows:

They will have written their papers until 11.00 am. – Future Perfect

The lid has been opened and kids were already munching the candy in their thoughts. –  Present Perfect

The melody would have been less annoying, be it a little quieter. – Conditional Perfect

The aspects may seem a difficult material to overcome, however learning the basics will let you use them much more freely. To make sure your paper has all the Tenses and aspects in place, or maybe to correct it a bit, use the tips from our article

As we see the Aspect may be used in both of its representations in one sentence. Such sentences are called Perfect Progressive ones:

The landlady has been cleaning her room assiduously. -  Present Perfect Progressive

The exotic flowers had been growing on this spot last year. – Past Perfect Progressive

You would have been running away with horror, were you at the scene! – Conditional Progressive

In a month, I will have been working at this company for 5 years already. – Future Perfect Progressive.

If brought together, the two aspects describe the events that originated and has been going on until some definite moment, at some time (Present, Past, Future, Conditional). Some of the constructions (e.g. Future Perfect Progressive) are rather complicated ones and are used rarely in the written texts (if ever used at all).  

The Aspect, thus, is a category influencing the particulars of the Tense and reflecting such factors as the character of action, its duration and the relation to the starting point of time (that can coincide with a moment of speech or make some other control point). The use of Aspect enriches the phrases, making them more specific and precise.

If you feel your text would benefit from using the Complex Tenses however hesitate to implement them yourself, it may be reasonable to consult a dedicated specialist for the professional rewording of your paper. It will bring your text a touch of elegance while the authentic meaning will be carefully preserved.

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How to introduce Complex Tenses into your speech

Now that we are clear as to the ways the Complex Tenses are formed, it’s time to overcome another challenge – to implement them into your speech. In grammar, the theory is worth only when it can be applied practically, i.e. when you start to talk English more freely and fluently.  

While mastering the Tenses is grounded on the general rules of learning and practicing English grammar, the specific features of this particular category require the approach that is more subjective.

So when you wish to train your skills of making a Complex Tense, you should:

1. Ascertain the particulars of the situation you are going to describe: the starting point in the terms of time (some moment in the past, future, at present), the time of the action in accordance to the starting point, the character of action (progressive / completed). Combine these data and figure out what Tense you need.

For example, you’d like to tell about your suggestions as to the political situation in Europe, grounding on the present conditions. You Tense would be the Future one, the starting point will be the Present time, and the action will be a developing one. Future Progressive is your Tense!

I am not certain that the political situation in Europe will be improving within the next two years.

2. While you are reading a novel, watching TV or some movie, recalling the dialogue you have recently had with your friend, take a pain of writing down a record of a dialogue. Then take all the simple Tenses’ constructions and modify them into the Complex ones. Go Tense by Tense: the first one is to be changed to Future Indefinite, the second – to the Present Perfect and so on. Or you can change the first sentence only and to adjust the others to match it:

I ran into Irene yesterday. She seemed excited. She was asked to apply for the higher position in her company. – I will run into Irene yesterday. She will have seemed excited. She will have been asked to apply for the higher position in her company.

3. Speak to your friends or write down the situations that:

  1. Will happen some time in the future: I will apply to Cambridge in two years;
  2. Have already happened: My friend has moved to another country;
  3. Have been developing and completed in the Past: The nearby café had been serving the best coffee in the area, but it has closed recently;
  4. Will happen in the future and will last for a specific time: The professor will be asking tricky questions at the exam;
  5. Are possible to happen: If the weather would be rainy I’d better take my umbrella along with me;
  6. Are possible to happen if the action would be finished in a certain way: I would have written a novel myself if I had a better knowledge of English.

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4. Separate the training and the live language. While it is undoubtedly wholesome to master the aspects and different kinds of the Complex Tenses and introduce them into your speech, be sure not to overcharge your language with bulky and complicated constructions. Learn the Complex Tenses and the syntax Aspects, modify the sentences, practice your skills. However do not forget that a routine or intimate communication is mostly built on the simple patterns.

Do not say I will have considered this theory before starting to write my paper. It is most likely that you will sound to pretentious and pompous. Just use Future Indefinite: I will consider this theory before getting down to my paper.

The traditional English grammar suggests the functioning of the eight Tenses: two Simple and six Complex ones. The formation of Tenses can be also affected by application of other categories of grammar and syntax, such as Aspect. Learning the theoretical background of these categories and implementing them into your speech will elevate your English skills onto a new level.

Are you looking for the creative ways to master the English language in its diversity? Check our professional articles on the topic:

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