Saturday, February 28, 2009

Simple Present Tense: Frequently Asked Questions.

Why is Simple Present Tense called simple ?

The tag simple attached to the name of the tense indicates its verb-form. There are two kinds of verb-forms, simple and compound. When a verb-form consists of the main verb and one or more auxiliaries it is called a compound verb-form. When a verb -form has no auxiliaries but only the obligatory main verb, it is called simple verb-form. Simple Present Tense does not take any auxiliaries. The use of auxiliaries in negatives and questions is a later development in the history of the language. Old English was exactly like Modern German-negatives and questions were formed without auxiliaries

Spielen Sie Basketball/(play you basketball?)
Ich spiele nicht.(I play not)

What is inflection?

Changing the form of a word to indicate its grammatical relation with other words in the sentence is called inflection. Thus in Latin the word porta (door) is inflected as portam to indicate that it is the object of a verb or preposition.Old English was a highly inflected language.Modern English has shed most of these inflections. However, a few of them survive. For example, when the subject is third person singular the verb in Simple Present Tense is inflected by adding -s or -es .Inflection of verbs for number or persons is quite intriguing to Malayalam--speaking ESL learners because Malayalam verbs are never inflected for persons and number. Hence, Malayalam-speaking students may have difficulty in conceptualizing inflection in Simple Present Tense

Why does English still preserve inflection?

There was a time when English was a fully inflected language. It has retained only a few of these inflections. Most of these surviving inflections serve some purpose like indicating tense or degrees of comparisons Some of them,however, do not serve any purpose . These inflections will eventually disappear Does inflection in Simple Present Tense serve any purpose? I am oot quite sure!

How are questions and negatives formed in Simple Present Tense?

A yes/no question begins with an auxiliary followed by the subject and then by the verb .The elements that follow the verb are optional. Simple Present Tense does not have any auxiliary, and so the dummy auxiliary do/does is used.Remember does carries the inflection and therefore the main verb should not be inflected!


She plays tennis (statement)
Does she play tennis?\(question)

This train goes to Alleppey(statement)
Does this train go to Alleppey?)(question)

The standard practice in English to make a verb negative is by adding n't to the auxiliary of the verb. As Simple Present Tense does not have any auxiliary n't is added to the dummy auxiliary do/does.


Sita goes to the temple every morning (positive)
Sita doesn't go to the temple every morning.(negative)

Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you

. .

Saturday, February 21, 2009



I admit Simple Present Tense is not the ideal tense to begin with.I wish I could begin with Present Continuous which some call the real present. Simple Present is too complicated a tense for ESL learners to learn and use properly.It is too hard for them to conceptualize .For one thing Simple Present does not indicate present time as the name would have us believe.On the contrary, it involves the present , past and the future.When someone says "I read news -papers every day" , the person need not be reading any paper at the time of speaking.He simply means that he is in the habit of reading news-papers.

What does Simple Present actually indicate?According to traditional grammar it is used to indicate universal truths and habitual actions.These terms ,I am afraid, are too vague and inadequate to serve the needs of ESL learners.What they need is explicit statements.I think the traditional grammarians were so hypnotized by the beauty of Latin grammar that they sometimes forgot to see reason! Latin was not a spoken language and so its grammatical features lent themselves to rules succinctly expressed.English , on the contrary, is the living language of a dynamic people and so its linguistic features can not be fully expressed in rules.Only explicit statements can describe the grammatical features of English.These facts, alas , were ignored by traditional grammarians!

I would like to re-phrase the traditional grammarians' universal truths and habitual actions and re-state them as follows:

Simple Present tense indicates

1. quality, property or ability of persons or things
2.regularly repeating actions
3.fixed emotional attitudes.
5.eternal truths as in proverbs and aphorisms
6scientific truths and objective facts
7.behavioral patterns and tendencies of things ,both animate and inanimate.
8.uninterrupted actions and states
9.What one does as trade or profession
10.dramatized events as in news-paper captions.

I am giving below a few sentences by way of illustration:

1.Honey tastes sweet (quality)
2She sings sweetly(ability)
3.Christmas comes in December.(regularly repeating actions)
4Adog wags its tail to show friendliness.(behavior)
5She likes classical music.( attitudes)
6.Pride goes before a fall.(proverb)
7.The earth rotates on its axis.(fact)
8She teaches music in a school(trade)
9.He gets up at 6 o'clock(habit)
10.Hundreds perish in flash floods (news-paper caption)

Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you

Sunday, February 15, 2009

English Tense System and ESL Learners


Tense system of any language is profoundly colored by the way the people think in relation to time. ESL learners often find English tense system a hard nut to crack. Their difficulties can be due to the absence of corresponding forms of English tenses in their first languages ,or, even if corresponding forms do exist, they are differently used than in English. French learners of English may experience both kinds of difficulties. They have sometimes no corresponding forms in the French language. For example, there is no corresponding form in French for English present continuous tense. Thus the sentence Elle va au lycée may mean (1) She goes to schoor or (2)S he is going to school. The French sentence J'ai fini le travail may mean I finished the work or I have finished the work .The distinction between these pairs of sentences is a real one ., but it is lost on the French. As Malayalam is non-cognate with English ESL learners of Kerala experience difficulties of a conceptual nature. They fail to coceptualize English simple present tense.

Simple present still preserves inflection from Anglo-Saxon period in a limited way. The base forms of verbs are inflected by adding -s or -es when the subject is third person singular.While the French , German or Spanish learners of English are familiar with the phenomenon of inflection ,Malayalam-speaking learners find it rather intriguing because Malayalam verbs are never inflected for number and person. Every other grammatial feature may serve some useful purpose. but inflection merely serves to make the learning of English difficult!

Now I will discuss the applications of simple present tense.Generally speaking . it is used to indicate univeral truths and habitual actions.Regularlly repeating actions may come under habitual actions.Sometimes, the boundary between universal truths and habitual actions may be a bit blurred.

While learning simple present tense an important thing to be borne in mind is that native speakers use it to make a narrative vivid and interesting.From past tense they repeatedly make incursions into simple present tense to make the narrative interesting.You may be confused when you see such 'indiscriminate' mixing of tenses.I am quoting below a passage from Shakespeare's play Hamlet to show how native speakers of English mix past and simple present tenses. The speaker is Ophelia;

He took me by the wrist and held me hard
Then goes he to the length of his arms
And with his other hand thus over his brow
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it.Long stayed he so

Hamlet( Act 2, scene 1)
Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post
Thank you