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

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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!
to base form

( verb)

Select the tenses.

Present Tenses

Simple Present Tense The simple present tense is mostly used to describe facts and habits. More...(opens new tab) I base form you base form he/she/it 3rd pers sing present we base form you base form they base form Present Progressive Tense The present progressive tense is used for an ongoing action in the present. More...(opens new tab) I am present participle you are present participle he/she/it is present participle we are present participle you are present participle they are present participle Present Perfect Tense The present perfect tense is used for actions that began in the past. (Often, the actions continue into the present.) More...(opens new tab) I have past participle you have past participle he/she/it has past participle we have past participle you have past participle they have past participle Present Perfect Progressive Tense The present perfect progressive tense is used for a continuous activity that began in the past and continues into the present, or a continuous activity that began in past but has now finished (usually very recently). More...(opens new tab) I have been present participle you have been present participle he/she/it has been present participle we have been present participle you have been present participle they have been present participle

Past Tenses

Simple Past The simple past tense is used to describe a completed activity that happened in the past. More...(opens new tab) I past tense you past tense he/she/it past tense we past tense you past tense they past tense Past Progressive Tense The past progressive tense is used to describe an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action. More...(opens new tab) I was present participle you were present participle he/she/it was present participle we were present participle you were present participle they were present participle Past Perfect Tense The past perfect tense is used to emphasize that an action was completed before another took place. More...(opens new tab) I had past participle you had past participle he/she/it had past participle we had past participle you had past participle they had past participle Past Perfect Progressive Tense The past perfect progressive tense is used to show that an ongoing action in the past has ended. More...(opens new tab) I had been present participle you had been present participle he/she/it had been present participle we had been present participle you had been present participle they had been present participle

Future Tenses

Simple Future The simple future tense is used for an action that will occur in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will base form you will base form he/she/it will base form we will base form you will base form they will base form Future Progressive Tense The future progressive tense is used for an ongoing action that will occur in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will be present participle you will be present participle he/she/it will be present participle we will be present participle you will be present participle they will be present participle Future Perfect Tense The future perfect tense is used to describe an action that will have been completed at some point in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will have past participle you will have past participle he/she/it will have past participle we will have past participle you will have past participle they will have past participle Future Perfect Progressive Tense The future perfect progressive tense is used for an ongoing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future. More...(opens new tab) I will have been present participle you will have been present participle he/she/it will have been present participle we will have been present participle you will have been present participle they will have been present participle

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