Publication Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)

First Advisor

Alex Silverman


The intent of the writer with this paper is to provide the ESL instructor with the knowledge necessary to effective planning for and teaching of lessons concerning the verb tenses of English.

The analysis given in the paper is an attempt at viewing the verb tenses as compromising a system which is basically symmetrical and surprisingly logical. As such, it is felt that through exploring the relationships tenses share with one another, we have found the key to demonstrating tense usage and meaning effectively for students and to planning drills and exercises which will zero in on the primary conceptual distinctions among the tenses.

Where one tense is, in form or meaning, analogous to another tense in another time frame, we can exploit that relationship to reinforce learning of both tenses. By the same token, where conceptual disctinctions between two tenses are subtle and a potential cause of learning interference, we can separate out the territory of each far better by viewing them in contrast to one another than by presenting and practicing each of them in isolation.

The writer deals with both form and meaning of a tense and hypothesizes that each tense form has a primary meaning and each tense meaning a primary form. Tense form is often changed due to limiting surface structure requirements in the language. For example, use of a modal inhibits a Past tense meaning from surfacing in a Past tense form; it must instead take a Present Perfect form.

At the same time, tense forms are called on to express secondary time-reference meanings. For example, Present Simple can be used, in addition to its more prominent use of expressing Present habit, as means of expressing future scheduled time, a concept more primarily associated with one of the Future (will or be going to ) tenses.

Here the writer recommends that instructors and students play "Percentage English". If this secondary usage is of relative unimportance and /or the concept can be expressed just as well with a more primary form and/or use of this secondary form can lead to interference in the student's ability to internalize basic tense usage, the writer feels it should be taught for recognition value at most and that students should be discouraged from producing it until they have mastered use of the basic system of tenses.


Curriculum and Instruction | First and Second Language Acquisition | Syntax | Teacher Education and Professional Development