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Translation of Tenses
 

 

A brief reminder of terminology:
Tense refers to when an action took place; the three main tenses are present, past and future.
Aspect refers to different forms of the same tense that represent the duration of the action; the three main aspects can be described as complete, incomplete and continuous.

Primary Tenses

The Primary tenses are: Present, Future.

Present Tense – Something that is taking place at the moment. This is divided into the following aspects:

Present Simple – I do
action that takes place in the present, but not necessarily right now (e.g. I go to the gym on Saturdays – it is present tense, as it still happens, but what if it isn’t Saturday?);
continuous verb that doesn’t necessarily involve a particular action (e.g. ‘I know her’, ‘Yes, I have her number’)

Present Continuous – I am doing
action taking place in the present, right now (e.g. ‘I’m going to the gym’)

Perfect – I have done
describes an action that has been completed in the present (as the auxiliary verb ‘have’ is present) – e.g. ‘I’ve finished my homework’

Present Historic - I did
This is used in narrative; it is common in long poems like the Aeneid and Metamorphoses. It simply consists of using the present tense in a past tense narrative to make it sound more vivid. It is used colloquially in English, e.g. 'So get this: I'm walking down the street when I bump into this guy, and he goes: "Watch where you're going!" ...'

In Latin, there is no distinction between Present Simple and Present Continuous and the right translation must be inferred from the context. It is usually present simple. Genuine present tense is rare in Latin.

In Latin, there is no distinction between Perfect Tense and Past Simple (below), which in Latin is called Perfect. The right translation must be inferred from the context.

Future Tense Something that has not yet taken place and will take place. This is divided into the following aspects:

            Future Simple ­ - I will do
            action that has not yet taken place but that will take place e.g. ‘I will call you tomorrow’

            Future Continuous – I will be doing
            action that will be continually taking place in the future – e.g. ‘This time next year I’ll hopefully be working for a big firm’

            Future Perfect – I will have done
            action that has not taken place yet, but that will have taken place when the main action takes place – e.g. ‘I will have
           
finished my homework when you get in’ (you haven’t come in yet, but when you do, the homework will be finished)

In Latin, there is no distinction between future simple and future continuous. The right translation must be inferred from the context but it is usually future simple.

Note! The Future Perfect is sometimes hard to spot in English, but in Latin its use is very strict. For example, we will say, ‘I’ll give you the money when you give me the books I asked for’. In English ‘when you give me’ is present tense, but in Latin it would be Future Perfect as I will already have the books when I give you the money.

 

Secondary Tenses 

 

Past Tense Something that has already taken place. This is divided into the following aspects:

Past Simple (called ‘Preterite’ in Spanish, ‘Aorist’ in Greek and ‘Perfect’ in Latin) – I did
used to describe a completed action at that time – e.g. ‘I went to the cinema’

Imperfect (Past Continuous) – I was doing
used to describe an action in the past that was not completed at the time (‘There was a house being built on the hill’), or that was going on and did not need completion (‘There was a house on the hill’)

Pluperfect – I had done
action completed earlier in the past than main actions (as the auxiliary verb ‘have’ is past) – e.g. ‘When the lesson ended, I had already finished my homework’

In Latin, there is no distinction between Past Simple and Perfect and they are both referred to as Perfect. The right translation must be inferred from the context; generally speaking it is the past simple, but this is still called ‘perfect’ in Latin.

Note that in English, the Past Simple and Imperfect can sometimes look the same, especially in descriptions. For example, ‘There was a crash of thunder’ would be Past Simple (as it was a completed action), but ‘There was a tree on the hill’ would be Imperfect (as it is a continuous fact).

 

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