What Is the Simple Aspect? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Simple Aspect

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

The Simple Aspect Is Not Simple

A verb in the simple aspect relies on a combination of context and tense to clarify whether the action is complete or on going. For example:
  • He 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.)
  • He ate a cake.
  • (This is also a complete action. This time, context suggests it wasn't a habitual action.)
  • He eats cake.
  • (This time, it's unclear whether this is a habitual action or just a fact.)
This aspect's name (i.e., the simple aspect) does not do justice to how complicated it is.

However, with the exception of the simple future tense (which is formed with the auxiliary verb "will"), verbs in the simple aspect are not formed using auxiliary verbs or participles. So, it's quite simple to form.

The "Simple Aspect" Verbs

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

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

    Examples of Verbs in the Simple Aspect

    Here are some examples of verbs in the simple aspect.

    In the Past Tense
    • I cleaned the window.
    • (simple past tense)
    • They cleaned the window.
    • (simple past tense)
    In the Present Tense
    • I clean the window.
    • (simple present tense)
    • They clean the window.
    • (simple present tense)
    In the Future Tense
    • I will clean the window.
    • (simple future tense)
    • They will clean the window.
    • (simple future tense)

    Forming the Simple Aspect

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

    Forming the Simple Past Tense (for most verbs)

    [base form of the verb]
    +
    "ed"
    • They jumped.
    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 jump.
    • He jumps.
    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 jump.

    Verb Tenses Showing the Simple 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 simple 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 Simple 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