Comparative Constructions 1 Weeks 3 and 4: Verbs, tense, and aspect
Objectives of the chapter • To study verb tense and aspect in Arabic and English, addressing similarities and differences between them • To study how differences between Arabic and English verb tense and aspect are resolved • To study the implications of these differences for writing and translating in Arabic and English
What is tense? • Tense is a linguistic construct used to represent time in reality, and includes in English the present and past tenses, with the future considered as a modality because it does not inflect for tense like the present and the past; • Arabic, however, includes two tenses: the past or perfect (الماضي) and the imperfect (المضارع), with the latter realizing the present and future times.
What is aspect? • In English, “the term ASPECT refers to a grammatical category which reflects the way in which the verb action is regarded or experienced with respect to time” (Quirk et al, 1985: p. 188). • The two aspectual contrasts are the progressive vs. non-progressive and the perfective vs. non-perfective aspects. • The progressive vs. non-progressive are concerned with the manner in which an utterance is performed (e.g. I heard the shutters slam all night vs. I heard the shutters slamming all night); • The perfective vs. non-perfective aspects give actions, states, and events a time orientation (e.g. What have you been doing since you graduated? vs. What did you do before you graduated?).
What is considered present? • The present simple is defined in “an inclusive rather than in an exclusive way: something is defined as ‘present’ if it has existence at the present moment, allowing for the possibility that its existence may also stretch into the past and into the future. Hence Paris stands on the River Seinemay be correctly said to describe a ‘present’ state of affairs, even though this state of affairs has also obtained for numerous centuries in the past, and may well exist for an indefinite period in the future” (Quirk et al, 1985: 175).
Uses of the present simple in Arabic and English • Arabic and English agree on the uses of the present simple:
Present progressive in English • The present progressive in Englishrefers to the present period or time span, and has four different uses:
How the progressive aspect is rendered in Arabic • For the first use, Arabic uses three different ways to express the progressive:
Temporary actions and states in Arabic and English • Concerning the 2nd use, English has a way of signaling permanent and temporary actions and states through the simple present and the present progressive, respectively: • Ali lives in Riyadh (permanent residence) vs. • Ali is living in Riyadh (temporary residence); • Arabic, however, does not signal such a distinction through tense (grammar) but through the addition of lexical items: • يقيم علي في مدينة الرياض. • يسكن علي بصفةمؤقتة (مؤقتا) في مدينة الرياض.
Annoying habits in Arabic and English • As to the 3rd use, statements expressing complaints about annoying habits in English are conveyed through the progressive aspect: • My neighbor’s daughter is always teasing my son. • Someone has been smoking in my office. • In Arabic, however, such a use is not conveyed through tense and aspect but through a lexical verb before the main verb, showing the speaker’s annoyance, or a comment clause after the main clause: • لمتنفك ابنة الجيران تغيظ ابني. • دائما ما تغيظ ابنة الجيران ابني وهذا يزعجني.
Conclusions on the present in Arabic and English • For both the present simple and progressive, Arabic only uses the simple present; • To express actions in progress (i.e. the present progressive), Arabic makes use of various instruments such as (i) the present tense with an optional marker “now”, (ii) a deverbal noun (مصدر), or (iii) an agentive noun (اسم فاعل); • English expresses various meanings through the progressive aspect, which is rendered in Arabic lexically, i.e. using lexical items to express those meanings;
Simple past in Arabic and English • Basically, the simple past is irreversibly cut off from any link with the present, and refers to an event, state, or habit that occurred at a definite point in past time (“then”): • Event: We visited Egypt last year; (زرنا مصر في السنة الماضية) • State. She was unmarried when they first met; (كانت غير متزوجة عندما قابلها أول مرة) • Habit: He visited us every Sunday/He used to visit us every Sunday/He would visit us every Sunday. • Thus, with events and states, Arabic uses the perfect tense (الماضي); to express habits in the past, Arabic uses the copula (كان) followed by the verb form in the imperfect tense (المضارع): (كان يزورنا كل يوم أحد)
Past progressive in Arabic and English • The past progressive in English is used: • To express two simultaneous activities in the past: e.g. While I was driving, she was knitting. • To serve as a background/temporal frame for a punctual activity: e.g. While I was driving, she slipped into a long talk about her ex-husband; • In Arabic, like habits in the past, the past progressive is rendered using the copula (كان) followed by the verb form in the imperfect tense (المضارع): • بينما كنت أقود السيارة كانتتحيك صدارا. • بينما كنت أقود السيارة انزلقت في حديث مطول عن طليقها.
Present perfect tense • The present perfect “differs from the simple past in relating a past event / state to a present time orientation.” • The implications are “(i) that the relevant time zone leads up to the present; (ii) that the event is recent; and (iii) that the result of the action still obtains at the present time” (Quirk et al, 1985: pp. 192-3).
Conclusions about the present perfect and simple past in Arabic and English • The simple past is rendered as a perfect in Arabic (الماضي); • The present perfect, depending on whether the action is complete or incomplete at the time of speaking, is rendered as (i) a perfect, plus an expression of recency (منذ زمن قريب or للتو), (ii) a perfect, plus an expression of completion at the time of speaking (قد), and an imperfect (مضارع) to show that the action is valid at the time of speaking or in the future of the past.
Uses of the present perfect progressive • Incomplete activities, which are likely to continue after the time of speaking: e.g. I have been working as a teacher for twenty years (أعمل بصفة مدرس منذ عشرين سنة). • Temporary states: e.g. I have been staying in a furnished flat, but I am moving to a house next to my work (أسكنمؤقتا بشقة مفروشة ولكني سأنتقل إلى بيت في الأسبوع القادم). • Statements expressing complaint: e.g. Someone has been smoking in my office. (إن أحدهم يدخن بالبيت وهذا يزعجني جدا.)
Uses of the past perfect • The past perfect tense is a past-within-the past, and draws attention to what happened BEFORE another point in the past. It, thus, presupposes another punctual past time, serving as a point of reference (“THEN”), and situating it as “BEFORE THEN.” • Before she left for Jerusalem, Fatin had sold her house (قبل سفرها إلى القدس، كانت فاتن قد باعت بيتها.). • I had already written the letter when you arrived (كنت قد كتبت الرسالة عندما وصلت.). • There is a sense in which a past perfect tense will not be counted as a past-within-the past, but as the equivalent of a simple past or a present perfect when they are back-shifted in reported speech/thought: • She said that she had sold her house (قالت إنها قد باعت بيتها).
Practice 1 • Put the verbs in brackets in the correct tense: • Look. That man (take) a photo of you. • Well, when we (drive) home last night, we (see) a strange object in the sky. • Most children (like) ice-cream. • I went to the box office at lunch-time, but they already (sell) all the tickets. • The aircraft just (land). • At the time of the incident, not many people (shop) in the store. • We once (own) a caravan. • We (wait) here for twenty minutes.
Practice 2 • Correct the verb tenses in the following sentences (not all verbs are wrong): • Before I cooked dinner, I have walked to the supermarket. • I am a student at King Saud University; I study there for the past two years. • Before he sprained his ankle, Charlie exercises in the weight room three times a week. • When she applied for the job at the airline, Diane stated that she has served in the US Air Force. • Last month, Louis has captured his third consecutive championship in a college swim meet. • There was a power cut while we watched the film on TV last night. • Mr. Wolf has worked at the bank for 25 years before his retirement last May.
Practice 3 • Explain the differences in form and meaning in each of the following pairs of sentences: • 1. a. Dan was leaving the room when I walked in. • b. Sam had left the room when I walked in. • 2. a. When the rain stopped, Gloria was riding her bicycle to work. • b. When the rain stopped, Paul rode his bicycle to work. • 3. a. Dick taught at this school for ten years. • b. Dick has taught at this school for ten years. • 4. a. A new shopping centre is being built not far from my house. • b. A new shopping centre has been built not far from my house. • 5. a. While he was washing the car, she was mowing the grass. • b. When I called her, she was mowing the grass. • 6. a. She makes her own dresses. • b. Water freezes at 32° Fahrenheit.
Course readings • Khalil, Aziz M. (1999). A Contrastive Grammar of English and Arabic. Jordan: Jordan Book Centre. • Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech & Jan Svartvik (1985). AComprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman Group Ltd.