Past Time Level vs. Present Time Level

Term Paper 2003 15 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1. Introduction

2. Present time level
2.1 Present Tense
2.2 Pre-Present Tense
2.3 Future Tense
2.4 Pre-Future Tense

3. Text study

4. Results

5. References

6. Appendix

1. Introduction

In this paper I am going to write about the present time level (present tense, pre-present tense, future tense, and pre-future tense) – the tenses of involvement and nearness. Therefore, I will have a closer look at the form and usage of the particular tenses. In order to do so I have used the following grammar books: Praktische Englische Grammatik, English G: Grammatik, Englische Grammatik: Regeln und Übungen für die Klassen 5 bis 13, A University Course in English Grammar, Tense, and Englische Verbformen: Bedeutung und kommunikative Leistung.

At the end I am going to go through three different texts in order to find examples of the use of present tense, pre-present tense, future tense, and pre-future tense. One text is about language and literature: Language and Empowerment by Ronald Carter out of Keywords in Language and Literacy, the second text is a cultural text by David Punter and is called Fictional maps of Britian (Theoretical frames) out of Studying British Cultures – An Introduction, and the last text is an historical one out of An Outline of American History by Keith Olson.

2. Present time level

According to Batstone, present tense represents nearness and past tense is used to express distance (Batstone: 1994, 22). This can be shown by different possibilities to use tenses.

First of all, there is the social aspect. Everyone has needs but to get along in groups one has to manage two things: first, to full-fill ones own request and, second, to take the wishes of others in consideration. In that case, language offers some possibilities to solve this problem. We let our requests depend on the others cooperation by saying, “Could I…?” or “Would you mind…?” (Batstone: 1994, 17). In other words we use language to show a polite distance between our person opposite of us and ourselves. An example can be shown if we want to use someones book. Here we have got several ways to ask for it:

1. Book!
2. Give me your book!
3. Can you give me your book?
4. Could you give me your book?
5. I was wondering if it might be possible for you to give me your book.

(Cf. Batstone: 1994, 17)

As one can see, by asking for a book, one may use present or past tense. One can show an amount of social distance by using present such as “Can you give me….?”. However, if we want to be more respectful “ we switch to past forms, as with ‘I was wondering…?’ […] The more polite and socially distant, the more likely it is that we will shift from present to past forms.” (Batstone: 1994, 17). But in the context with politeness present and past are not the right words, those are terms of time. However “there is a connection which has to do with distance” (Batstone: 1994, 17):

past ® distance (temporal distance) present ® closeness

great politness ® distance (social distance) directness ® close

(Cf. Batstone: 1994, 17).

As stated by Batstone there is also a psychological distance. “The choice of past or present forms can be influenced by subjective perspectives on events” (Batstone: 1994, 19). In brief, one choses present tense to express that something is yet near to him/her and still “part of [his] current mental world” (Batstone: 1994, 19). If someone says, My cat likes fish., eventhough the cat is death, than the cat is still part of the person’s mental world. By saying, My cat liked fish the person uses past tense and expresses that the cat has no longer relevance. “Using the past tense to signal that both objectively and subjectively [the cat lived] truly in the past.” (Batstone: 1994, 19).

Last, there is the hypothetical distance. Batstone states that past tenses are used to demonstrate something which is unrealistic and fictitious.

Example: If I were you, I`d think very carefully before making a decision.

(Batstone: 1994, 21).

In contrast, by using present tense one emphazises a statement which is true and definite (Batstone: 1994, 22).

As well as Batstone, Kirsten distinguishes between nearness and distance. Kirsten argues that present tense, pre-present tense, future tense, and pre-future tense represent nearness and past tense, pre-past tense, future-in-the-past tense, and pre-future-in-the-past tense express distance (Kirsten:1994, 15). In the following pages I want to have a closer look on the first four tenses I have just mentioned.

2.1 Present Tense

The formation of the present tense is quite simple:

Infinitive ® with he, she, it + ” -(e)s”

Example: I look – he/she/it look s – they look

Negative sentences and questions are formed with do (with he/she/it does).

Example: I don’t like hamburgers.

He doesn’t like hamburters.

Do you watch TV?

Does he go to school?

(Henrichs-Kleinen: 15)

In the opinion of Comrie,



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Past Time Level Present




Title: Past Time Level vs. Present Time Level