tense [O.Fr., from Lat.,=time], in the grammar of many languages, a category of time distinctions expressed by any conjugated form of a verb. In Latin inflection the tense of a verb is indicated by a suffix that also indicates the verb's voice, mood, person, and number. Tense specifies whether the verb refers to action in the past, present, or future. A tenselike distinction found in many languages (e.g., Russian and Hebrew) is that of aspect, by which verbs specify whether or not the action has been completed; thus, he is risen might be translated by a verb in the perfective aspect, and he is rising by the same verb in the imperfective aspect. Aspect also refers to the distinction that a verb can make between repeated or ongoing action (he ran daily) and an event represented as occurring at a single point in time (he ran that race). Some terms borrowed from Greek grammar into English suggest aspectlike differences of meaning; these are imperfect (I was reading when …), perfect (I've read the book), and aorist (I read it last year). English tenses can also be classified as simple (e.g., look and looked) or compound (e.g., have looked, am looking, and will look). Any conjugated form of a verb that indicates tense is said to be finite; the infinitive is a special verb form that lacks all tense (as well as mood, person, and number), although it may indicate the active (to read) or passive (to be read) voice.

In grammar, an inflected form of a verb indicating the time of a narrated event in relation to the time at which the narrator is speaking. Time is often perceived as a continuum with three main divisions, past, present, and future, defined in relation to the time when the event is described. Other categories, including mood and aspect, may further specify the action as definite or indefinite, completed or not completed, lasting or nonlasting, and recurring or occurring once.

Learn more about tense with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Tense may refer to:

  • Grammatical tense, the inflection of a verb to indicate whether past, present, or future time is intended
  • Tenseness, a phonological quality frequently associated with vowels and occasionally with consonants
  • Tense, a state of muscle contraction

See also

Search another word or see tenseon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature