Tense of English non-finite forms

10 Липня, 20126:21 am

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Tense of English non-finite forms

The specific tense system has already been discussed while analyz­ing the English verb. As a result, the three types of tense have been distin­guished – absolute, relative and absolute-relative. As it has been mentioned above, the English verbids have the following categories: tense and voice. It is therefore necessary to clarify the type of the tense category.

As illustrative material, we shall take uses of the Participles correspond­ing to relative clauses, such as the passengers awaiting flight 4248 proceed­ed to departure gate 2. It should be emphasized that though the example contains Participle I awaiting, the following analysis may be valid both for sentences containing the Gerund and the Infinitive. One interpretation of this sentence in English is that the time reference of awaiting is simultane­ous with the time reference of the main verb proceeded. Since the time ref­erence of proceeded is past – it receives absolute time reference – the time reference of awaiting is interpreted as simultaneous with that past moment in time. In many contexts, this sentence is thus informationally equivalent to the following sentence, with a finite subordinate clause: the passengers who were awaiting flight 4248 proceeded to departure gate 2.

It is important, however, to note that this is a possible interpretation only. Another interpretation is that the reference is to passengers who are now, at the present moment, awaiting flight 4248, and, correspondingly, the finite clause paraphrase for this second interpretation would be the passen­gers who are awaiting flight 4248 proceeded to departure gate 2. One would need to build up a more specific context for this interpretation of the parti­cipial construction to make sense, but once this extra context is provided, the interpretation becomes perfectly natural.

This means that a relative tense is quite strictly one which is interpreted relative to a reference point provided by the context. The difference be­tween absolute and relative tenses is not that between the present moment versus some other point in time as reference point, but rather between a form whose meaning specifies the present moment as reference point and a form whose meaning does not specify that the present moment must be its reference point. Relative tenses thus have the present moment as one of their possible reference points, but this is a problem of interpretation rather than of meaning.

As a result, the Participle I is always interpreted as simultaneous with the reference point, as in the following informationally equivalent paraphrases: the passengers awaiting flight 4248 must proceed to gate 2 (i.e. the passen­gers who are awaiting flight 4248…); the passengers awaiting flight 4248 will proceed to gate 2 (i.e. the passengers who will be awaiting flight 4248…).

If Participle I is used in its perfect form, i.e. active having boarded or passive (having been) denied boarding on flight 4248 the passengers pro­ceeded to gate 2, the interpretation takes the reference point to be defined by the time location of proceeded, making the paraphrase the passengers who had been denied boarding proceeded to gate 2 informationally equivalent of the participial construction. In the paraphrase, the Past Perfect indicates that the denial of boarding preceded the proceeding to gate 2. Changing the main verb in tense, but keeping the perfect form of the Participle, gives sentences like passengers denied boarding on flight 4248 should proceed to gate 2, with its most likely interpretation passengers who have been denied boarding…, and passengers denied boarding on flight 4248 will proceed to gate 2, with as its most likely interpretation passengers who will have been denied boarding....

Tense of English non-finite forms – Part 2