What Is the Aspect of a Verb? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Aspect of a Verb (with Examples)

The aspect of a verb is determined by whether the verb expresses a fact, an ongoing action, a completed action, or the end of an ongoing action. This is simpler concept than it sounds. Look at this infographic.

verb aspect examples

The Four Aspects of a Verb

Here are some more examples of the four aspects:

(1) Simple Aspect. The simple aspect expresses a fact.
  • John fished in the sea.
(This aspect is also known as the indefinite aspect.)

(2) Perfect Aspect. The perfect aspect expresses a completed action.
  • John had caught two mackerel before the seals arrived.
(This aspect is also known as the complete aspect.)

(3) Progressive Aspect. The progressive aspect expresses an ongoing action.
  • John was fishing when the seals arrived.
(This aspect is also known as the continuing aspect.)

(4) Perfect Progressive Aspect. The perfect progressive aspect expresses the end of an ongoing action.
  • John had been fishing successfully before the seals arrived.

Examples of Aspect

Here are some examples of the four aspects in sentences. These four examples are all in the past tense.
  • He took the photos.
  • (This is the simple aspect. There is no emphasis on whether the action was completed or ongoing.)
  • He had taken the photos by the time the owner arrived.
  • (This is the perfect aspect. It emphasizes that the action was completed.)
  • He was taking the photos when the owner arrived.
  • (This is the progressive aspect. It emphasizes that the action was ongoing.)
  • He had been taking the photos before the owner arrived.
  • (This is the perfect progressive aspect. It emphasizes that the action was ongoing but then finished.)
These sentences are all in the past tense, but they all have a different aspect. Remember that we need aspect to tell us whether the action was on going or completed.

Aspect applies equally to the present tense and the future tense.

Aspects in Past, Present, and Future Tenses

Here is a table showing how the different aspects are formed in the past, future, and future tenses:
The Simple Aspect (Indefinite Aspect)Example
simple past tense I went
simple present tense I go
simple future tense I will go
The Perfect Aspect (Completed Aspect)Example
past perfect tense I had gone
present perfect tense I have gone
future perfect tense I will have gone
The Progressive Aspect (Continuing Aspect)Example
past progressive tenseI was going
present progressive tenseI am going
future progressive tenseI will be going
The Perfect Progressive AspectExample
past perfect progressive tenseI had been going
present perfect progressive tenseI have been going
future perfect progressive tense I will have been going

Verb Tense Widget

Use this widget to learn about the different tenses. How do you use this widget? Well, if there's a button, a drop-down menu, or a , then you can click it!

Why Should I Care about Aspect?

Tenses do not just tell us whether something is a past, present, or future action. They also tell us whether the action is habitual, completed, or ongoing. That's the aspect part of tense. If you're learning or teaching English, you must spend time mastering the tenses and the various aspects because being accurate with relaying when something occurs and whether the activity is ongoing or completed is a fundamental communication skill.

The trick to learning tenses is mastering the following:
  • The verb "to be" in all its forms (am, is, are, was, were, will be)
  • The verb "to have" in all its forms (has, have, had, will have)
  • Present participles, i.e., the "ing" form of verbs (e.g., playing, thinking, eating)
  • Past participles (e.g., played, thought, eaten)
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What is the simple aspect? What is the perfect aspect? What is the progressive aspect? What is the perfect progressive aspect? What is the past tense? What is the present tense? What is the future tense? Glossary of grammatical terms