Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Tentative Study of the English Tense from a Metaphorical Perspective

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Tentative Study of the English Tense from a Metaphorical Perspective

Article excerpt


The English tense system has always been one of the main subjects for linguists and grammarians. This paper adopts the metaphorical approach to study the English tense. By analyzing the prototypical uses of the present tense and the past tense, the author gives a convincing and reasonable explanation of these various uses of the English tense. The metaphorical approach used in this paper provides a new perspective for the study of the English tense. The metaphorical mapping processes of the past tense and the present tense reflect the universal cognitive mechanism of human beings, that is, learners acquire knowledge from known to unknown. The last but not least, the new interpretations of the different uses of the English tense offers a practical help for the teaching and learning of tense.

Keywords: tense, metaphor, mapping, image schema, the past tense, the present tense

1. Introduction

Tense in English originates from Italian (Tempo) and the Italian took it from the Latin word Tempos, whose literal meaning is time. The first person who confirmed the concept of tense is the philosopher Protagoras in the 5th century BC (Liu, 2002, p. 12). The ancient Greek grammarian Dionisius Thrax put forward a more detailed analysis of tense and he divided tense into three forms: present, past, future. The famous Latin grammarian Priscian carried out an analysis of Latin grammar on the basis of the grammatical system put forward by Thrax (Liu, 2002, p. 14). Later in 18 century, the famous English grammarian Harris claimed that the most obvious time distinction is past, present and future (Harris, 1968, p. 97). It is obvious that tense as time distinction in English grammar is profoundly influenced by ancient Latin grammatical framework.

With the development of linguistic research, the study of English grammar has become more and more comprehensive. There have been lots of arguments and debates as for the number of the English tense, which caused different definitions of tense. Poutsma (1926), Curme (1931), Alexander (1991) and Zhang (1995) are tense-advocators think that English has six tenses. There are four absolute tenses (present, past, present perfect and future), which express time from the standpoint of the moment at which the speaker is speaking without reference to any other act; and two relative tenses (past perfect and future perfect), which express time relative to the preceding absolute tenses. Quirk, et al. (1985, p. 175) state, "English has two tenses: PRESENT TENSE and PAST TENSE. As the names imply, the present tense normally refers to present time and past tense, past time." Zhang (1995, p. 406) claims, "Tense is a grammatical category of the verb, it is the verb form to express time distinctions. The English verb has two tenses with it, namely the PRESENT TENSE and the PAST TENSE". This paper will adopt the bi-tense view in order to make the relevant research and analysis easier.

2. Significance of the Study

The tense category is one of the subjects in which linguists and grammarians are interested. Most contemporary English grammarians have exerted many efforts to give a comprehensive description of the various uses of the English tense, but they fail to offer a coherent explanation for the fact that in English both the present tense and the past tense can be used to express events/states in the past, present and future, which makes the English tense difficult both to interpret and to learn. Chinese learners, whose foreign language is English, are often confused with the uses of the English tense because in Chinese language we do not have tense at all. There is no verb inflection in the Chinese language. What's more, the grammar books often teach rigid rules of tense use, which makes English tense study complicated.

Having realized the limitations of the previous studies, this paper will offer a unified and reasonable explanation of the various uses of the English tense, based on the conceptual metaphor theory under the guidance of cognitive linguistics. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.