I use the term
Narrative Tense to mean a combination of
• Tense — Past; Present; Future
• Aspect — Simple; Continuous; Perfect (Simple); Perfect Continuous
for events as described by an observer (
An event's content is defined by its choice of verb.
Aspect refers to the relationship of the observer to the event, as depicted on a timeline.
Tense refers to a point or period of time relative to
now i.e. before / at / after.
The meaning of a narrative tense is largely determined by its aspect, however its tense also plays a role.
Simple aspects (action verb) refer to an entire event —
as seen on a timeline, the viewer is
outside the event.
Continuous aspects refer to a partial / incomplete event —
as seen on a timeline, the viewer is
inside the event.
Simple aspects: To reconcile
an entire event with
a point in time,
in a clause the
point in time (if specified) is of longer duration than the event.
I watched a movie [2½ hours] on the weekend [48 hours].
World War I [4 years] happened [in history].
Present Simple narrative tense is usually used for habits and states,
however it can be used for narrative (usually in the 3rd person).
I often play football. I like pizza. Messi kicks a goal!
Perfect aspects add a period of time (
duration), up to a point of time in: the past / the
present (i.e. now) / the future. (Without a Perfect aspect, a clause refers to a point in time.)
Perfect Continuous aspects add a period of time to a continuous action.
I am watching television; I have been watching television all morning.
Multiple events refer to multiple partial (incomplete) events, which sum to an incomplete event.
• Quantity: 0.0 < # < 1.0
We have been painting our house all week. [One or more partial events; the painting is not complete.]
Perfect Simple aspects have different meanings for state verbs and action verbs.
For a state verb, the meaning of duration is obvious.
She had lived in London for 10 years. I haven't ever liked pizza.
For an action verb, the period of time contains multiple individual (complete) events.
• Quantity: # = 1, 2, 3, …
I have visited my parents 5 times this year. I have done my homework.
Simple & Simple:
For all tenses, this combination is used for a sequence of events in time (A then B then C …).
For the Present tense, it is usually only used in the 3rd person for a spectacle e.g. a sports event.
I woke up; I took a shower; I dressed; I ate breakfast.
Messi lines up for goal; Messi kicks the ball; Messi scores; Messi is great!
I will clean my room; I will do my homework; I will feed the dog.
Past Perfect Simple & Past Simple:
Past Perfect Simple narrative tense is used to describe an event in the
compared to the Past Simple narrative tense for the main narrative.
We had phoned [earlier] the hotel before we arrived [main] there.
Past [Perfect] Continuous & Past Simple:
This combination is used to refer to an event which is in progress (Continuous, with or without a duration — Perfect) at the time another event occurs (Simple).
I was watching television when the phone rang.
The plane had been flying for 6 hours when the bomb exploded.
Diagrammatic representation and Table of Auxiliary Verbs.
Some examples of using common verbs — regular (
wash) and irregular (
and auxiliary verbs —
have — in all Aspects, Tenses, and Voices.
You can use these tables to make all 3 types of sentence — Affirmative & Negative statements, plus direct Questions.
Use your own imagination when inventing the Subject and Object parts of a Clause.
Q. Have you done your homework?
Y. I have done my homework.
N. I have not done my homework.
Active Voice table and Passive Voice table.
Click here to see my own version of BC's Phonemic chart.