All the Tenses in Three Courts


A wise teacher once laid out all of the English tenses in a way that made sense to me. I am sorry to say that I don’t remember her name. She was a guest lecturer in a class I took through Seattle University. I remember, for some reason, that we were at Seattle Pacific University. Anyway, she compared the tenses to tennis courts. She wrote out the three courts and filled them in with tenses in the place of the four players as though it were a doubles game.

To start, here’s a picture of those tennis courts:




The three larger boxes here look something like a doubles match of tennis. In the future box a game of tennis would play Simple Future and Future Continuous against Future Perfect and Perfect Continuous. The teacher explained to our class that writers must be ware of changing tenses. Just like you wouldn’t move from one tennis court to the other, writers need to be careful about moving their game from one tense to the other. This isn’t to say the writer (or tennis player) can’t ever change courts. I just requires more notice. In tennis, you’d tell your friends that the court over on the other side looks better, pick up your balls and march over with your rackets. In writing, you use clues to let the reader know. You’d say ‘in the past’ or some other phrase to let the reader know the game has changed.

I also like this way of laying out the verbs to remember the forms of verbs. If I know one box, then I know all three. I change the words future, present and past and I can easily see the pattern. This helps to remember the forms if English is my second language. It helps to understand what we already do when English is my first.