tense [O.Fr., from Lat.,=time], in the grammar of many languages, a category of time distinctions expressed by any conjugated form of a verb. In Latin inflection the tense of a verb is indicated by a suffix that also indicates the verb's voice, mood, person, and number. Tense specifies whether the verb refers to action in the past, present, or future. A tenselike distinction found in many languages (e.g., Russian and Hebrew) is that of aspect, by which verbs specify whether or not the action has been completed; thus, he is risen might be translated by a verb in the perfective aspect, and he is rising by the same verb in the imperfective aspect. Aspect also refers to the distinction that a verb can make between repeated or ongoing action (he ran daily) and an event represented as occurring at a single point in time (he ran that race). Some terms borrowed from Greek grammar into English suggest aspectlike differences of meaning; these are imperfect (I was reading when …), perfect (I've read the book), and aorist (I read it last year). English tenses can also be classified as simple (e.g., look and looked) or compound (e.g., have looked, am looking, and will look). Any conjugated form of a verb that indicates tense is said to be finite; the infinitive is a special verb form that lacks all tense (as well as mood, person, and number), although it may indicate the active (to read) or passive (to be read) voice.

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