Verbal Aspect

Verbs give information about the speaker's or writer's perspective on time (progressive and perfect). We call it aspect.

You know verbs tell us when the action happens (past, present, future). Verbs also tell us whether the action is already completed (perfective), or it is still ongoing (progressive). That is, verbs convey information about the internal temporal structure of an action or event. We call it aspect. 

Tense & Aspect

In English, verbal aspect and tense are two separate but related aspects of verb conjugation and they work together to convey the timing and duration of an action or event. Let's break down how they are combined:


Tense tells us the time when an action occurs, whether it's in the past, present, or future. In English, there are three primary tenses:

Present Tense: Used to describe actions or events happening now or actions that are generally true.

Past Tense: Used to describe actions or events that have already occurred.

Future Tense: Used to describe actions or events that will happen in the future.


PresentThey arrive in time every day.

PastThey arrived late yesterday.

Future: They will arrive early tomorrow.

Verbal Aspect

Verbal aspect, on the other hand, tells us whether the action is completed or ongoing nature. There are two primary aspects in English: perfect & progressive.

Perfect Aspect

This aspect indicates that an action or event is completed or has a specific endpoint in time. It is formed using the auxiliary verb "have" and the "past participle" of the main verb. The first verb of the verb phrase shows tense. 


Present Perfect: I have eaten breakfast. (The action is completed, and the focus is on the result.)

Past PerfectI had eaten breakfast before they came. (The action was completed before another past event.)

Future PerfectI will have eaten breakfast before they come. (The action will be completed before another past event.)

Progressive Aspect

This aspect indicates that an action or event is ongoing, in progress, or happening for a duration of time. It is formed using a form of "be" (am, is, are, was, were) and the "-ing" form of the main verb.


Present Progressive: I am eating breakfast. (The action is in progress right now.)

Past ProgressiveI was eating breakfast when the guests came. (The action was ongoing in the past.)

Future ProgressiveI will be eating breakfast. (The action will be ongoing in the future.)

Combining Two Aspects:

Perfect and progressive aspects are often combined in a verb phrase to convey both when an action occurred and whether it was ongoing or completed. Here are some examples:

Present Perfect Progressive: I have been eating breakfast. (The action started in the past, continues into the present, and is ongoing.)

Past Perfect Progressive: She had been walking to the store before it started raining. (The action was ongoing before another past event.)

Future Perfect Progressive: They will have been arriving tomorrow. (The action will be in progress in the future.)

Tense & Aspect Combination

In English verb phrases, the tense is typically indicated by the first verb in the phrase. This first verb is called "finite verb," and it carries the information about the time of the action or event. The subsequent verbs in the phrase (if any) usually contribute to aspects but do not carry the primary tense information.

For example:

She is eating lunch. [Present progressive tense = present tense + progressive aspect]

They had been studying for hours. [Past perfect progressive tense = past tense + perfect aspect + progressive aspect]

He will have finished the project by then. [Future perfect tense = future tense + perfect aspect]

In these examples, "is," "had," and "will" are the first verbs that indicate the tense of the sentence, while the verbs "eating," "been studying," and "have finished" contribute to aspect and completion but do not determine the primary tense.

In summary, English combines verbal aspect and tense to provide a more detailed picture of when an action or event occurred and whether it was completed or ongoing at that time. This allows for precise communication of timing and duration in sentences.