Are the 12 aspect combinations helpful for EAP?

This is the third and final lesson about Verb Aspect. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Review the 12 tense, aspect and modality combinations

– Focus on the uses of the present simple, past simple and present perfect in academic writing

– Discuss the uses of the other tense, aspect and modality combinations in English such as the future progressive

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Lesson 3

Having explored the four English aspects (simple, progressive, perfect and perfect progressive) in some detail, we should now recognise that verb aspect is used to express periods of time and time relations. This final lesson on the subject therefore next looks at the twelve aspect, tense and modality combinations in more detail to assist students with their studies. We will remind you of how these combinations are used in general English contexts and explore how they may also be used in academic contexts too, such as in essays and presentations.

What is EAP?

EAP stands for English for Academic Purposes. This is the formal style of English that is used to conduct academic discourse and that possesses different rules and regulations to general English.


What are the 12 aspect combinations?

By combining aspect with tense (fixed points in time) and modality (possibilities and hypotheticals), there are twelve possible combinations in English:

The common functions of each of these twelve combinations in general English (discussed in detail in Lesson 2) have been included for review purposes below:


  • the simple aspect expresses completed events that happened in the past, timeless generalisations, facts and truths, and events which will be completed in the future
  • the progressive aspect expresses continuous past events (often in relation to another event), temporary events which are currently ongoing, and events which are predicted to continue for a period of time
  • the perfect aspect details events that happened in the past before other events, events which began in the past but are relevant to the present, and events which will be completed between now and a future point
  • the perfect progressive aspect details events which started and ended in the past and continued over a period of time, events which started in the past but continue into the present, and events which are expected to continue up to a specific future point

Which combinations are common in academic writing?

By far, the three most common tense/aspect combinations used in academic contexts are the present simple, the past simple and the present perfect. Although there are twelve combinations in total, these three alone account for over 90% of all expressions in academic publications and assignments and as such should be learned comprehensively.

The six most common academic uses of the present simple aspect are:


1. forming thesis statements

“This paper evaluates the impacts of second-hand smoking on the vulnerable population.”

2. referring to tables or figures

“The graph in figure four clearly demonstrates this increase.”

3. explaining the results of an experiment

“What these results tell us is that smoking is clearly having a damaging effect.”

4. introducing relevant source-based opinions

“Jones (2012) claims that this decrease is likely due to government campaigns.”

5. writing definitions, explanations and implications

“Tobacco smoke is a complex mixture of carcinogens and impurities.”

6. describing the findings or general ideas of a source

“Bowie’s (2020) analysis indicates a global decrease in smoking among all ages.”


The six most useful academic functions of the past simple aspect are:


1. referring to research results

“The results of the investigation were not as significant as hypothesised.”

2. introducing historical events

“In 1945, the second world war finally came to an end and the fighting stopped.”

3. reporting research processes

“Every participant was provided with a checklist that they had to complete.”

4. using words that indicate a past time

“After the publication, Smith (2020) continued his investigation into these high rates.”

5. providing topical background information

“The concept was coined in 1997 when Johnson published his first paper.”

6. providing the discredited opinions of a source

“Johnson (1997) argued that manufacturers should be blamed for the increased results, but it was later found that the responsibility lay squarely in government policy.”


Finally, the six most common academic uses of the present perfect aspect are:


1. summarising published research

“Many studies have reported an increase in pollution over the years.”

2. restating the thesis statement in the conclusion

“This paper has discussed the reasons for the increase in pollution over the last 50 years.”

3. indicating that something has changed over time

“Over the last few decades, this issue has increased to significantly detrimental levels.”

4. describing research that took place over an unspecific period of time

“Both Johnson and Smith have investigated these issues in significant detail.”

5. emphasising the importance of previous research to the situation today

“Why Johnson’s (2020) research is critical is that it has demonstrated a gap in the research.”

6. describing findings without citing the paper that conducted the research

“It has been clarified over the years that such high levels are unsustainable for human health.”


While the past simple, present simple and present perfect aspects may account for over 90% of all academic expressions, it is still worth mentioning a few other aspect, tense and modality combinations. In particular, students may find themselves needing to use the future simple aspect, especially when forming predictions (“there will be a strong correlation between…”), offering intentions (“the study will investigate…”) or providing hypotheses (“this may have a significant impact on…”).

Likewise, though the progressive aspect is rarely used in academic writing due to its informal tone, it is possible that its past-, present- or future-tense forms may still be required by academics when attempting to offer narrative descriptions (“While John Proctor is arriving at the court with Mary…”) or when relating events to each other in time (“Americans were still recovering from the attacks when…”).

Very well done on completing this short three lesson course on verb aspect. Don’t forget to unlock, download and complete our related worksheets on this topic and to consider studying other short courses on verb functions too such as our courses on subject-verb agreement or verb transitivity.

3 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons in this short course about Verb Aspect, you might then wish to download our Lesson Worksheets to check your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Lesson 1 explores the topic: Is verb aspect different to tense and modality? Our Lesson 1 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 2 explores the topic: What are simple, progressive and perfect aspects? Our Lesson 2 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

Lesson 3 explores the topic: Are the 12 aspect combinations helpful for EAP? Our Lesson 3 Worksheet (containing guidance, activities and answer keys) can be accessed here at the click of a button. 

To save yourself 2 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our Verb Aspect Lesson Worksheets. This All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson, activity and answer key related this topic in one handy and professional PDF.


There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.

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Summer 2021