Punctuality Rules!

Review: The English Tenses

Review: The English Tenses

No, no. This isn’t a grammar-filled post to explain all the intricacies of verb tenses in the English language. How could it be? English is complicated and it would take an entire book to explain it all–far more space than a single blog post.

Which is exactly the point, because I’m here to tell you about just such a book.

101914_0018_1Title: The English Tenses: Practical Grammar Guide
Author: Phil Williams
Publisher: English Lessons Brighton, 2014

Published in the UK, this book addresses a problem for people learning English as a second language–how to recognize and use the assortment of our many verb tenses, both in theory and in actual practice.

English is complex, but at least I grew up with English in my ears. Even if I couldn’t tell you what a split infinitive was when I was five, I knew what they sounded like, just as I knew to match singular-plural subjects and verbs in a sentence even if I didn’t know exactly why.

For everyone else, though–the people who need to learn English when they were born with other languages embedded in their brains–it’s another story. They need to learn all of English’s many rules from scratch, and that can’t be easy. I’ve always admired that because English is the only language I can speak or read with any facility at all. (Classroom French didn’t make as much of an impact as Mme. Martin had hoped.)

I know how complicated English is, and few things are harder (other than the quixotic spelling rules) than the verb tenses.

And so, here is Phil William’s book.

Did you know there are twelve distinct tenses in the English language? Twelve! Four variations each for past, present, and future tenses.

No wonder people get confused. I know I get confused identifying the more obscure ones ones. I can use them, yes, but trying to explain them? Um … like many people who grew up with certain knowledge on their tongues, I take my language for granted.

This 127-page book addresses all that. It’s meticulous in its approach to just about every variation for past/present/future tense there is. (I say “just about” because while I can’t think of anything he missed, I can’t guarantee that there’s not some little-used verb usage that wasn’t addressed.) In terms of practical guides, though … this book definitely does the job.

The explanations are clear, even for such a complex subject. The examples are precise and while there are a number of necessary charts to study, that’s necessary for thoroughness–and this book is very thorough. I can’t remember reading this much nitty-gritty detail since Mrs. Babyock’s eighth grade English class … and that’s a good thing.

If I were learning English as a second language, I would need a book just like this to help figure out how to say what I needed to say.

People take their native language for granted. Even if your school system was thorough in teaching you grammar (and that’s not something you can ever assume), even the most careless native speaker is going to have a head start over someone coming new to the language. And when it’s all new and strange (and English can be very strange), it helps to have a clear, easy to read guide to help navigate your way.

Better yet, it works for native speakers, too. Just because you can use the language doesn’t mean you know all the rules, after all.