What are simple, progressive and perfect aspects?
This is the second of three lessons about Verb Aspect. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Explore in detail the four aspects of the English language
– Provide form, function and examples of each aspect
– Complete worksheets to check progress and understanding
In Lesson 1 of this short course on verb aspect, we identified the main differences between tense, aspect and modality and discussed how these three verb functions could be combined to create twelve different time-based patterns in English. Aspect is the expression of periods of time or other time relations, and in Lesson 2 we next focus on identifying, forming and using its four variations: simple, progressive, perfect and perfect progressive. While some general uses for each aspect has been provided in this lesson, for guidance about using the most common aspects in academic contexts (the simple past, simple present and present perfect) continue on to Lesson 3.
The Simple Aspect
The simple aspect may be combined with the past and present tenses and the future modality to form three useful patterns: the simple past, present and future:
The simple aspect is considered to be the default aspect as it’s the most commonly used. As can be seen in the above examples, this aspect functions in three ways:
- the simple past expresses completed events that happened before the present
- the simple present expresses timeless generalisations, facts and truths
- the future simple introduces events which will be completed after the present
To form the simple past aspect, students should follow the below four rules:
- add the suffix ‘-ed’ to the end of the verb: [learn > learned]
- if the verb already ends in ‘e’, simply add ‘-d’: [perceive > perceived]
- if the verb ends in ‘y’, simply delete ‘y’ and add ‘-ied’: [vary > varied]
- if the verb is irregular, learn its pattern individually: [choose > chose; lead > led]
To form the simple present aspect, there are three rules:
- for third-person singular subjects (‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’), add the suffix ‘-s’ to the end of the verb: [he learns / she learns]
- for first– and second-person singular subjects (‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’) and third-person plural subjects (‘they’), do not make any changes to the verb: [I learn / they learn]
- for verbs ending with ‘sh’ and ‘ss’ add the suffix ‘-es’ and for verbs ending with ‘y’, replace ‘y’ with ‘-ies’: [assess > assesses / imply > implies]
Finally, there is only one rule that needs learning to form the simple future:
- add a modal verb such as ‘will’ to the beginning of the verb phrase: [I learn / I will learn].
The Progressive Aspect
While the simple may be the default aspect used when expressing the past, present and future, the progressive aspect has useful functions too. Generally speaking, this aspect is used to express a period of time between two often undefined points:
As these examples highlight, the progressive aspect functions in three ways:
- the past progressive expresses continuous past events, often in relation to other events
- the present progressive expresses (often) temporary events which are still ongoing
- the future progressive expresses events which are predicted to continue for a period of time
To form the progressive aspect, students should follow the three instructions below:
- to the form the past, use ‘was/were’ + a present participle (a verb with an ‘-ing’ suffix)
- to form the present, use ‘am/is/are’ + a present participle
- to form the future, use a modal verb + ‘be’ + a present participle
Please note that the ‘present participle’ is an older grammatical term that may sometimes be called the ‘progressive participle’ today. This is because the present participle is not only used to express continuous actions in the present.
The Perfect Aspect
Unlike the simple and the progressive aspects, the perfect aspect is commonly used to expresses actions which are already completed but which retain some relevance to the present situation:
What these examples show is that the perfect aspect has three helpful functions:
- the past perfect details events that were completed in the past before other events
- the present perfect details events which began in the past but are still relevant to the present
- the future perfect details events which will be completed between now and a future point
To form the perfect aspect, students should:
- use ‘had’ + a past participle (a verb with an ‘-ed/en’ suffix) to form the past
- use ‘have/has’ + a past participle to form the present
- use a modal verb + ‘have’ + a past participle to form the future
Please note that the ‘past participle’ is an older grammatical term that may more often today be called the ‘perfect participle’. This is because the past participle is not only used to express completed actions in the past.
The Perfect Progressive Aspect
Finally, by combining both the progressive and perfect aspects, we can create what’s known as the perfect progressive aspect. This aspect is generally used to express events which are both continuous and completed:
The three common functions of the perfect progressive aspect are therefore:
- the past perfect progressive details events which started and ended in the past and which continued over a period of time
- the present perfect progressive details events which started in the past but continue into (and have relevance to) the present
- the future perfect progressive details events which are expected to continue up to a specific point in the future
To form the perfect aspect, students should:
- use ‘had’ + ‘been’ + a present participle (a verb with an ‘-ing’ suffix) to form the past
- use ‘have/has’ + ‘been’ + a present participle to form the present
- use a modal verb + ‘have’ + ‘been’ + a past participle to form the future.
Great work. Hopefully you now feel much more confident about identifying and using the twelve aspect, tense and modality combinations in English. Continue studying with Academic Marker’s third and final lesson on verb aspect to find out about how to use these patterns specifically in academic contexts such as essays and presentations.
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