© 2017 Steve Campsall

verbs: tense, voice, aspect and mood

The drunken young man slipped awkwardly into a ditch although he seemed unhurt.

Verbs are able to give a good deal more information about their subject than merely tell of action or state; they can do this without further modification through changes in TENSE, VOICE, ASPECT and MOOD.

A verb can give an idea about the time of its action and whether the action occurred before or after another action in the sentence. This is achieved by the way the verbs in the sentence are 'marked' to show tense.

In the sentence above slipped and seemed are said to be 'marked' for past tense by being grammatically inflected by the suffix '-ed'. Here are two other ways that verbs can show the time of an action:

Verbs can be used with what are called different voices. There are two voices called active and passive. If a verb is in the active voice, the grammatical subject performs its action:

Here is the same sentence in the passive voice:

In the second sentence, the object now occupies the position of the grammatical subject (which is now called the agent or logical subject). Importantly, in a passive construction the agency of the sentence becomes less clear and can even be removed completely:

The action of a verb may be complete (this is called the 'perfect aspect') or incomplete (this is called 'progressive', 'continuous' or 'imperfect' aspect).

Look at these two sentences:

In the second, the continuous aspect of the verb is shown by the inflection -ing and suggests that the action continued over a period of time.

An important aspect of verbs relates to whether the action they tell of is actual or potential. The use of a modal auxiliary verb will create the sense of a degree of certainty of action or the obligation or freedom to act.