In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tense, Aspect, and Mood

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Language Surveys
  • Textbooks
  • Collections and Conference Proceedings
  • Foundational Works
  • TAM in Discourse and Text
  • The Syntax of TAM
  • The Diachrony of TAM

Linguistics Tense, Aspect, and Mood
Robert Binnick
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0154


Among the grammatical categories marked in the verbs of natural languages are tense, aspect, and mood (abbreviated as TAM or TMA). Mood involves, among other things, the marking of logical modality, so some theoreticians take the M in TAM to refer to modality. (See the section Mood, Mode, and Modality) Much linguistic research seeks to relate the morphosyntactic TAM markers found in languages to their semantic values and pragmatic functions, and to determine the conditions for the interpretations of those markers in connected spoken discourse and in written texts. Tense is a deictic (indexical) category, relating the time of an eventuality to a deictic center which, by default, is the present time. The term “aspect” refers to two sets of phenomena, grammatical aspect, which like tense, is overtly marked in languages, and lexical aspect, which is not. Grammatical aspect, like tense, is relative, relating the time of an eventuality to a conceptual frame or reference time, while lexical aspect involves the inherent development of an eventuality over time and consequently the syntax and semantics of its representation in language. The two types of aspect interact, with the result that in some theories they are fully disjoint, while others unify the two. There is considerable controversy and disagreement between scholars of TAM on all but the most basic terms, concepts, and research findings; it remains an inchoate, incoherent, and very diverse field.

General Overviews

Introductions to the study of TAM and state-of-the-art overviews abound. They include Binnick 1991, Binnick 2009, Chung and Timberlake 1985, and Van der Auwera and Filip 2008.

  • Binnick, R. I. 1991. Time and the verb: A guide to tense and aspect. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A book-length, in-depth survey of the study of tense and aspect from its beginnings in ancient Greece through the 1980s.

  • Binnick, R. I. 2009. Tense and aspect. In Grammar, meaning, and pragmatics. Edited by F. Brisard, J. Östman, and J. Verscheuren, 268–288. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    A brief overview of work in tense and aspect, with emphasis on the terms, concepts, controversies, and some of the major findings, of research into their semantics and pragmatics.

  • Chung, S., and A. Timberlake. 1985. Tense, aspect, and mood. In Language typology and syntactic description. Vol. 3, Grammatical categories and the lexicon. Edited by T. Shopen, 202–258. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Much-cited and a good introduction, if now outdated.

  • Van der Auwera, J., and H. Filip. 2008. (Tense), aspect, mood and modality: An imperfect 2008 state of the art report. In Unity and diversity of languages. Edited by P. van Sterkenburg, 201–214. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    DOI: 10.1075/z.141.18auw

    An overview of contemporary (since 2000) research in the area by two leading scholars.

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