© 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:
The drunken young man will slip into the ditch.
The drunken young man slips into the ditch.
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:
The cat chased the mouse.
Here is the same sentence in the passive voice:
The mouse was chased by the cat.
Can you see how an active sentence is turned into a passive?
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:
Consider these active and passive sentences. What happens to the meaning they create?
PC Smith arrested the criminal.
The criminal was arrested by PC Smith.
The criminal was arrested.
Your turn! Create three new pairs of active and passive sentences of your own.
What is the effect on the meaning, especially the emphasis each gives to the agency of the sentence?
Look in any edition of a daily newspaper, especially at the headlines. Can you spot any passive constructions? Why do you think passives are common in journalism?
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:
The cat sat on the mat.
The cat was sitting on the mat.
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.
'MOOD' - MODAL VERBS
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.
There are several modal auxiliaries: can, may, might, must, ought, would, will, shall, should.
The drunken young man
awkwardly into a ditch.
The young man might have drunk too much.
The drunken young man should learn to drink less.