March 31, 2016

What Does Aspect Mean – and How Do You Use It?

3 minute read

Do you know what an aspect is in English grammar?

We all know what tenses are. Tenses are a part of grammar that tell us about whether something is happening in the past, present or the future. Easy enough, right?

Aspect is similar to this, because it still tells us something about our relationship with time. But instead of being fixed in a particular place such as the past or future, aspect tells you whether something is happening at a single point in time, over a continuous period or in another way.

Let’s take a closer look at understanding aspect – and how to use it correctly!

The Perfect Aspect

The perfect aspect is used to describe an aspect of a verb that describes a completed action.

Sounds complicated? It means you can use it to describe something that has taken place, and has stopped happening.

But an important point to note is that this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is used to describe an action in the past. You can use the perfect aspect to describe something that might have happened in the past, has just taken place in the present, or will happen in the future!

Let’s take a look at some examples to understand this better:

Using the perfect aspect in the past tense:

“I had eaten my dinner late at night.”

Using the perfect aspect in the present tense:

“She has found a new place to stay.”

Using the perfect aspect in the present tense:

“They will have finished swimming by then.”

In each example, the activity being described is something that can be understood to have a clear end point to it, showing that it is finished. They are not activities that are continuing to happen, or will continue to happen. This is what determines whether or not to use the perfect aspect.

When putting the perfect aspect together, you always use the correct form of the verb “to have” depending on the tense, followed by the past participle of the verb.

So for the past tense, you use “had”, for the present tense you can use “have” or “has” and for the future tense you use “will have”.

The Continuous Aspect

What about activities that carry on happening over a period of time?

In this case, you can use the continuous aspect. Just like the perfect aspect, it can be used in different tenses. It’s used to show when something is happening before and after a fixed point in time or another action, if something has been going on for a while, or if something is changing or happening repeatedly.

Let’s take a closer look at it with some examples:

Using the past tense:

“We were waiting for a bus when she offered us a ride in her car.”

Using the present tense:

“She is renting a flat while she stays in the city.”

Using the future tense:

“I will be making my own lunches from now on.”

To create the continuous aspect, you can use the correct form of the verb “to be” followed by the –ing form of the verb.

Your turn

Aspect can seem like a very complicated part of English grammar, and it can take some time to understand!

To get a better feel for it, see if you can identify which aspect something is in when you read a piece of text. Remember the difference between perfect and continuous aspect and ask yourself – is the activity still happening, or did it stop at a fixed point in time?