Tense and Aspect - The Past Perfect

Term Paper 2011 13 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of content

1. Introduction: Tense and aspect

2. Theories of the Past Perfect
2.1. Meaning and the English Verb
2.2. A Student’s Grammar of the English Language
2.3. Longman Student Grammar
2.4. Comparison

3. Application of the Past Perfect
3.1 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
3.2 Analyse of text excerpt

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction: Tense and aspect

A foreign learner of the English language has to struggle with many tasks concerning vocabulary and grammar. Especially the correct usage of the verb phrase includes a highly difficult problem and has to be analysed very detailed. It includes not only the grammatical category of tense but as well the category of aspect, mood and voice.

This paper is supposed to concentrate on the grammatical categories tense and aspect.

Tense is used to express the location of an event or state in time. It can be divided into future, present and past tense. By contrast to that “aspect” expresses the way in which the action or the state is experienced. It reflects the meaning of the verb in relation to time. That means it shows whether the action is finished or is still in progress. The English verb system includes the perfective aspect, the progressive aspect, the simple aspect and the perfect-progressive aspect. (Quirk et al. 1979: 40)

In the following an overview of the tense past combined with the perfective aspect will be given. First of all the definitions of this tense and aspect will be compared in three different grammars: “Meaning and the English Verb” by Leech, “A Student’s Grammar of the English Language” by Quirk and Greenbaum and “Longman Student Grammar of spoken and written English” by Biber et al.. In the second part of the paper the application of the past perfect will be analysed in an excerpt of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” written by Joanne K. Rowling.

2. Theory of the Past Perfect

2.1 Meaning and the English Verb (Geoffrey N. Leech)

The grammar “Meaning and the English Verb” by Geoffrey N. Leech is clear structured and a very detailed reference book. It provides much information about different grammatical categories and is filled witch a huge number of examples to emphasize the definitions. Concerning the past perfect, which is equivalent to the meaning of the past and the perfect, it supplies the following definition:

“The Past Perfect Tense (I had written, etc.) has the meaning of past-in-the-past, or more accurately, ‘a time further in the past, seen from the viewpoint of a definite point of time already in the past’.” (Leech 1987: 47)

Like that it is firstly necessary to define a point of reference which is already established in the past. It is distinguished between the ‘then’ (T) as the regular past point of reference and the ‘before then’ (B) as the earlier point of time. The (T) is as a matter of course a definite point in time while the (B) can be as well indefinite. According to that the past perfect is adequate to both terms which can be expressed in the following example (Leech 1987: 47):

(1) The family had moved to London on May 20th. (T) (Fabricated)
(2) The family had already moved to London. (B) (Fabricated)

Furthermore, Leech names the parallels between the Past Perfect and the Present Perfect. The function of both can be classified into four categories: the “state-up-to then”, the “indefinite past-in-past”, the “habit-up-to-then” and the “resultative past-in-past” (Leech 1987: 47f).

The first function describes a state in the past which extends up to a certain point of time which lies in the past as well (Leech 1987: 48). This fact can be realised in the example:

(3) “She had been single until she married last summer.” (Fabricated)

The “indefinite past-in-past” describes an action or a state of an indefinite point in time. This is often realised by a before, ever or never (Leech 1987: 37) and can be seen in questions like:

(4) “Had you ever visited the Air Force Space Museum?” (Fabricated)

In fact, this usage describes a single event while the third function describes a certain habit of someone in the past. This habit was interrupted at a certain point in the past (Leech 1987: 39):

(5) “She had been training for the iron man for two years.” (Fabricated)

The event “iron man” is seen at this point as a past event as well – the then (T) and the training for it took place at (B) – the before then and lasted until (T) as a habit.



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tense aspect past perfect



Title: Tense and Aspect - The Past Perfect