What Is the Indefinite Aspect? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Indefinite Aspect

The indefinite aspect (or simple aspect as it's more commonly called) is the verb form used to express a fact. Unlike other aspects (like the progressive aspect or the perfect aspect), the indefinite aspect does not make it clear whether the action is a complete action or a habitual action. For example:
  • Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world. (fact)
  • We climbed Mount Everest yesterday.
  • (This is a fact. Context tells us it's a complete action.)
  • He climbs Mount Everest every year.
  • (This is a fact. Context tells us it's a habitual action.)
Any verb (in the past, present or future) in the simple tense is said to be in the "indefinite aspect."

The Indefinite Aspect Is Quite Complicated

Despite also being called the simple aspect, the indefinite aspect is not indefinite. A verb in the indefinite aspect relies on a combination of context and tense to clarify whether the action is complete or on going. For example:
  • She ate cake.
  • (The tense tell us this is a complete action, but it is unclear whether this was a habitual action or not. The context doesn't make it clear.)
  • She ate a cake.
  • (This is also a complete action. This time, context suggests it wasn't a habitual action.)
  • She eats cake.
  • (This time, it's unclear whether this is a habitual action or just a fact.)
With the exception of the simple future tense (which is formed with the auxiliary verb "will"), verbs in the indefinite aspect are not formed using auxiliary verbs or participles. So, it's quite easy to form.

The "Indefinite Aspect" Verbs

In total, there are 12 tenses. The table below shows all four aspects and the three tenses in each aspect. The three "simple" tenses are highlighted in yellow.
The "Indefinite (Simple) Aspect" TensesExamples
The simple aspect is used to describe facts and habits.
Simple Present Tense
  • The mice eat the cables.
  • Simple Past Tense
  • The mice ate the cables.
  • Simple Future Tense
  • The mice will eat the cables.
  •   
    The "Progressive (or Continuing) Aspect" TensesExamples
    The progressive aspect expresses ongoing actions.
    Present Progressive Tense
  • The mice are eating the cables.
  • Past Progressive Tense
  • The mice were eating the cables.
  • Future Progressive Tense
  • The mice will be eating the cables.
  •   
    The "Perfect (or Complete) Aspect" TensesExamples
    The perfect aspect expresses completed actions.
    Present Perfect Tense
  • The mice have eaten the cables.
  • Past Perfect Tense
  • The mice had eaten the cables.
  • Future Perfect Tense
  • The mice will have eaten the cables.
  •   
    The "Perfect Progressive Aspect" TensesExamples
    The perfect progressive aspect expresses the end of an ongoing action.
    Present Perfect Progressive Tense
  • The mice have been eating the cables.
  • Past Perfect Progressive Tense
  • The mice had been eating the cables.
  • Future Perfect Progressive Tense
  • The mice will have been eating the cables.
  • Slider Showing Verbs in the Indefinite Aspect

    The following slider shows all 12 tenses. The simple tenses (i.e., those in the indefinite aspect) are highlighted with a yellow background.

    Examples of Verbs in the Indefinite Aspect

    Here are some examples of verbs in the indefinite aspect.

    In the Past Tense
    • I washed the car.
    • (simple past tense)
    • They washed the car.
    • (simple past tense)
    In the Present Tense
    • I wash the car.
    • (simple present tense)
    • They wash the car.
    • (simple present tense)
    In the Future Tense
    • I will wash the car.
    • (simple future tense)
    • They will wash the car.
    • (simple future tense)

    Forming the Indefinite Aspect

    Here is an overview on how to form the indefinite aspect:

    Forming the Simple Past Tense (for most verbs)

    [base form of the verb]
    +
    "ed"
    • They danced.
    This is how the simple past tense is formed with most verbs. However, there are several spelling rules to consider.

    Read more about forming the simple past tense.

    Forming the Simple Present Tense (for most verbs)

    [base form of the verb by itself]


    or (if it's the third person singular (he, she, or it))

    [base form of the verb]
    +
    "s"
    • We dance.
    • She dances.
    This is how the simple present tense is formed with most verbs. However, there are several spelling rules to consider.

    Read more about forming the simple present tense.

    Forming the Simple Future Tense

    "will"
    +
    [base form of the verb]
    • He will dance.

    Verb Tenses Showing the Indefinite Aspect

    Here are the 12 tenses again. This time, the tenses are ordered under the headings past tense, present tense, and future tense. As before, the tenses in the indefinite aspect are shaded in yellow.
    The 4 Past Tenses Example
    simple past tense I went
    past progressive tense I was going
    past perfect tense I had gone
    past perfect progressive tense I had been going
    The 4 Present Tenses Example
    simple present tense I go
    present progressive tense I am going
    present perfect tense I have gone
    present perfect progressive tense I have been going
    The 4 Future Tenses Example
    simple future tense I will go
    future progressive tense I will be going
    future perfect tense I will have gone
    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 the Indefinite Aspect?

    Native English speakers can use all twelve tenses without giving the grammar a second thought. However, if you're learning or teaching English, you must spend time learning the tenses because expressing when something occurs is a fundamental communication skill. The simple tenses are usually the first tenses taught, but, as we've covered, they're not simple at all, and they're not used too often during a natural conversation.

    Remember that 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 (called the aspects).

    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 aspect? What is the progressive aspect? What is the perfect aspect? What is tense? Glossary of grammatical terms