Examples of verb tenses
April 14, 2017 7:40 PM   Subscribe

I am familiar with the present, past, and future tenses, and various perfect versions of the same. What are some obscure, unusual, situational and possibly fictional verb tenses?

Any language is fine.
posted by the man of twists and turns to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
TVTropes has a list of a bunch of places where various media has tried to deal with the verb tenses involved in Time Travel.

There are some very funny bits about this in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:52 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Also moods, not just tenses.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:06 PM on April 14

Italian has the passato remoto which is for stuff that happened a really long time ago.
posted by bq at 8:25 PM on April 14 [5 favorites]

Moods and tenses in Greek (document refers to New Testament Greek, but that's just an example, and an often studied one)
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:26 PM on April 14

The French have the commonly used passé composé (j'ai donné) , but they also have the passé surcomposé or the overly-compounded past, where the auxiliary verb—almost always avoir—is itself put into the passé composé. It comes out as "j'ai eu donné".

More discussion and examples are in French Wikipedia.
posted by Somnambulista at 8:27 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

I have always loved the notion of evidentiality being built into the grammar of some languages. As I roughly and surely incompletely understand it, you cannot state a fact without conveying how you know the fact. "The bear is dangerous," is a perfectly acceptable statement in English, but if we had evidentiality we would have to declare "the bear is dangerous because people say it is" or "the bear is dangerous because I saw one kill a guy once" or "the bear is dangerous because Phil says he got attacked by a bear one time" or "the bear is dangerous because, well, just look at the fucking claws and teeth, mate."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:44 PM on April 14 [7 favorites]

Inferential tenses in Turkish:

continuous inferential: Geliyormuşum "It seems (they say) I am coming";
future inferential: Gelecekmişim "It seems I shall come";
aorist inferential: Gelirmişim "It seems I come";
necessitative inferential: Gelmeliymişim "They say I must come."
posted by metaseeker at 8:53 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Nobody's mentioned subjunctive mood yet?

From the sideways W: "Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as wish, emotion, possibility, judgment, opinion, obligation, or action that have not yet occurred..."
posted by amtho at 9:26 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

I think "inferential" is a mood, not a tense. Tense should predominantly refer to time relations (though often other functions get caught up in it)--you've got a future, a past/aorist, and a couple of presents in those examples. That's why there really aren't that many of them (unless you're being fictionally whimsical); there are only so many variations possible if you're thinking strictly of time relations.

The Greek moods are: indicative, subjunctive, optative, and imperative. Latin has the other three, but lacks the optative.
posted by praemunire at 9:31 PM on April 14

[old joke] A geologist gets a contract to study some mineral deposits near the Atlantic coast. He packs up some lab equipment, moves to the area, hires some local guys to work as technicians, and starts his research. Occasionally, when he is at work, he hears the technicians talk about eating scrod for dinner. He doesn't think much about it because he is so busy. Eventually, he completes the work, pays off the technicians, packs up his equipment, and heads back to the lab to complete his analysis. In the taxi on the way to the airport, he starts to wonder if he has maybe missed out on some of the local culture. He asks the taxi driver, "Where could I have got scrod while I was here?" The taxi driver turns to him and says, "People ask me that question all the time, but that's the first I've heard it in the pluperfect subjunctive."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:47 PM on April 14 [31 favorites]

“One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can't cope with. There is no problem with changing the course of history—the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.

The major problem is simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be descibed differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is futher complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intention of becoming your own mother or father.

Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later aditions of the book all pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstraction, pausing only to note that the term "Future Perfect" has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be.”

Douglas Adams
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
posted by pompomtom at 11:05 PM on April 14 [3 favorites]

Eddie Izzard has a bit on Latin tenses.
posted by esto-again at 12:31 AM on April 15

African American English has a complex aspectual system, including the habitual be (He be running, meaning he usually or often runs, not that he's running at this moment) , the remote past been (He been a doctor, meaning that he's currently a doctor, and has been for a long time; not that he was a doctor at some point in the past), the resultant done (I done did the dishes; which is mostly equivalent to the English perfect in a sentence like "I have already done the dishes", but has some little wrinkles that mean they're not quite the same).

You can also combine these, to get forms like By the time the news comes on, we be done read the newspaper , meaning "By the time the news comes on, we usually have already read the newspaper", or You shoulda been done called me down there, meaning "You should have called me down there a long time ago".

There's also steady, which indicates that the action is happening in an intense, consistent manner, as in Obama steady working in the White House, and finna, related to the more general Southern English fixin' to (note that white Southern English also has a perfective done, but not be or been), which indicates that an action is about to happen very soon.

Examples sort of taken from Lisa Green's book on AAE, which has lots more information and analysis.
posted by damayanti at 6:34 AM on April 15 [17 favorites]

The late William Safire wrote a column called On Language for the NY Times Sunday Magazine. I remember one column was devoted, at least in part, to discussing a quote from Keith Hernandez of the Mets. "If he throws a slider there, he gets me out." Per Safire, this did not accord with any standard tense, and suggested the name "sports present" for that usage.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:30 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

I *just* heard something on NPR / PRI (like, yesterday) about creating a "past pejorative" tense or something like that where you imply the action turned out badly within the verb, ie if you ate oysters but one of them was bad and you got sick, you would say, "I *hud* oysters last night." I believe this was also tied in with voter disappointment about Trump, that they had "Vud for Trump."
posted by ananci at 10:13 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

The TV show The Expanse features a language spoken out in the Asteroid Belt known as lang Belta, aka "Belter Creole". The authors acknowledge that in the books what they created is gibberish, a shorthand. For the TV show, they hired linguist Nick Farmer to create an actual language.

LB is a creole language with English as the superstrate/lexifer, with upwards of 30 other languages as substrates, to reflect the future of space colonization. Hatian lang Kreyol was very much the model for LB.

This article is about tense (place in time) and aspect (relation to the flow of time) in LB.

LB also does "mood", but it's more complex than can be fully explained in 140 characters on twitter (and we're still hoping the production company will publish an official guide to LB someday). Up till now, Nick's twitter has been the sole source of details about LB. Here's a sampling of how mood works in LB
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:17 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]

Let's not forget High Kettai, the anophelii language in Mieville's The Scar:
'And on this page here,' he had snapped in one typical exchange, 'why render the word morghol "willing"? It means the opposite!'

'Because of voice and tense,' she had responded without apparent emotion. 'The entire clause is in the ironic continuous.' She had almost added It's common to mistake it for the pluperfect, but had contained herself.
posted by verstegan at 10:32 AM on April 15

Verbs that indicate levels of evidence, plus a few more oddities like always orienting by cardinal directions.
posted by Emmy Noether at 6:58 AM on April 16

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