One of the most often referred to pages on ELU when it come to queries regarding verb forms, tense and aspect is the following:

How do the tenses and aspects in English correspond temporally to one another?

If you visit this page, you'll find two answers. One is a diagrammatic representation of how the poster(s) view our mental representations of different verbal catenations or constructions relating to time in English. The second is a rough breakdown of what EFL teachers would call 'tenses', and how they're used.

Now my natural inclination with regards to this question would be to close it. It is far to broad in scope and simply cannot be answered in any meaningful or useful way. There is a further issue, which is that the representation is arguably not accurate in most cases. However, setting the latter issue aside completely, let us just consider how comprehensive this answer (or the other one, or, in fact, any that might possibly be posted in the future) is or could possibly be in the first place. I have duplicated the diagram here for convenience:

picture from the above question detailing how tenses correspond to one another

Let us take for example the bottom representation, the one for the present simple. This seems to indicate that that the present simple represents actions that are permanent and continuous. While this may be true for I live in London, it obviously isn't in the following cases:

  • My head hurts
  • We leave at nine am tomorrow morning
  • This man walks in to a bar and says...
  • Beckham passes the ball to Rooney and runs past his opponent
  • George Clooney asks his girlfriend to marry him, but she says no.
  • When you see her tomorrow, ask her ....
  • I redecorate my house every twenty-five years.

That's just off the top of my head. It is clear that far more detail and description would be needed to even partially address our usage of the present simple in relation to time.

I won't go through each of the constructions on the diagram here, but I hope the point is made. The purpose of my question is not to poke holes in that answer, but merely to point out that issues to do with verb forms, tense and aspect are extremely complex and, furthermore, may not depend on considerations of time at all. Although the post being discussed may possibly be useful to a limited extent to some readers, one thing is definitely clear:

  • This answer post cannot be said to have comprehensively 'answered the question'.

This brings me, finally, to the point of my question here. As I said at the beginning of the post, many other questions about tense and aspect (including those that have nothing to do with temporality at all) are closed with the following banner attached:

This question already has an answer here:

How do the tenses and aspects in English correspond temporally to one another? 5 answers

Examples are:

Invariably the Original Poster's question has not been answered on this page! More importantly the actual question on this very page itself has not been answered in the sense that not every aspect of 'time, tense and aspect' has been comprehensively addressed. I would like to lobby the community here to prevent this page from being used in this way. There is no question that might be asked about tenses, aspects or temporality (other that true duplicates of this one) that wouldn't be better served by a more detailed answer tailored to that specific question. If we have not comprehensively covered tenses and aspect here, we should not be redirecting users here just because their question is about tense or aspect. I am hoping (probably vainly), therefore, that can we agree:

  1. Not to refer to this question an being 'answered'( in the sense that all aspects of tense, aspect and time have been comprehensively addressed).
  2. Not to redirect people to this page unless they have specifically asked an absolutely identical question to this one.

I would love to hear other users' opinions about whether it is useful to use this page in the way described, and also whether it is felt that reviewers should be able to redirect questions to this page as a comprehensive solve-all for questions about tense aspect and so forth. Ideally I'd like the community to prevent readers being redirected here from other answers altogether. (I'm have no qualms with people being directed here for addtional info, or as a related page containing pertinent content however).

  • 6
    I freely admit I sometimes closevote basic questions about verb tense citing that "original" as the duplicate even if I know/suspect the specific point being queried may not be adequately covered there. That's because I think the vast majority of such questions shouldn't be here at all. They should be on English Language Learners, but we don't currently have the option of selecting that as a standard closevote reason. – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '14 at 16:18
  • @FumbleFingers seconded. But I've noticed a recent trend here (last 2-3 weeks?) of people actually competing to answer such questions. My personal approach is to leave a simple comment directly answering the specific question (typically without rationale), along with a sincerely friendly invitation to check out ELL. – Dan Bron Sep 2 '14 at 17:51
  • @Dan: Yes - if no-one else has yet posted at least the bare bones of an "answer" to an ELL-level question, I normally do this myself (in a comment) while closevoting. I know new users have to pick up rep somehow, but since that kind of "low-hanging fruit" shouldn't even be here in the first place, I sometimes take a fairly uncompromising stance if I can find the slightest pretext for downvoting any posted answers. But I see your ELU rep has shot up legitimately since you decided to become a more active contributor in recent weeks. You might try ELL yourself - you'd be more than welcome! – FumbleFingers Sep 2 '14 at 18:13
  • 'ban' seems a little strong. Let me see if I can reword what you're suggesting... you want to discourage linking there as a duplicate and that you'd prefer that the details and nuances (which aren't necessarily covered well in that diagram) be explained in their own question? – Mitch Sep 2 '14 at 18:44
  • @Mitch I self-edited the word ban out of my question about a minute after I originally saved it, having written the original right off the cuff. Your comment written three hours later seems to be querying that wording. I'm puzzled ... What is it you're commenting on? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 2 '14 at 22:59
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    @FumbleFingers Well, why don't we just migrate those questions instead of denigrating the general intelligence of other readers on the site? Let's at least pretend to have a reasonable system here ... Go on, you know you want to ... (No, but seriously it's got to be better to tell them why or just migrate it, surely?) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 2 '14 at 23:02
  • Ban, prevent, still extreme. Was the rewording in my comment appropriate? – Mitch Sep 2 '14 at 23:03
  • @Mitch Well, prevent was meant precisely to not mean 'ban' as you put it in quotes. I don't care what we do to stop this happening, but it shouldn't happen. I think the page is a bit of an embarassment to be quite honest - I printed off and stuck it up in our staffroom for comments 'cos I wanted to know what other ideas my TEFL peers had about it. I deliberately didn't comment on the rubishness of it, but it may be informative that now the teachers say "you've made a real ELU of that, haven't you" ... – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 2 '14 at 23:17
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    But doesn't that picture-graph adequately explain something like: "I wish I knew if this painting was genuine." ? ? ? – F.E. Sep 2 '14 at 23:40
  • @f.e. Well, the wish bit means that the wishing's an action taking place kind of permanently - just like my back aches describes something permanent. The knew bit means that your preference isn't for knowing it now, but for having known it some time in the past. The was bit shows that you don't care whether it's genuine now. Whether it used to be genuine is the key point. Don't you understand nothin about nothin? Can't you read a diagram? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 2 '14 at 23:57
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    You mean nuthin' in there is about a future in the past that went into the future and that's why something ain't real in the future's past? :D – F.E. Sep 3 '14 at 0:00
  • Exactly, don't you get what it's saying? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 0:28
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    @FumbleFingers OK, but stop redirecting those here, please, please. It's embarassing! – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 0:48
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    @AndrewLeach english.stackexchange.com/questions/194424/… english.stackexchange.com/questions/69453/… english.stackexchange.com/questions/73143/… english.stackexchange.com/questions/142530/… Should not have been closed on account of this page existing. Maybe should have been closed for other reasons - not the point. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 1:39
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    Ok. So you think it is wrong. Why didn't you say that at the beginning? – Mitch Sep 3 '14 at 1:57

You can get a clue about the question's intentions from the first sentences, which I hope you've read:

Non-native speakers often get confused about what the various tenses and aspects mean in English. With input from some of the folk here I've put together a diagram that I hope will provide some clarity on the matter.

It's obviously not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive; think of it as a mere palliative instead. We were getting (and still do) many, many questions asking about the simplest time expressions, over and over, and we undertook this "canonical" Q/A out of a sincere desire to help. As usual, no good deed goes unpunished. I originally wrote the question and answer (with the help of Kosmonaut, one of the original ELU mods and a linguistics grad student to boot) to help newcomers to English understand what we mean by some of the commonest expressions.

Whether you're sincere or merely out to be snarky, or you have a linguistics cognoscente's axe to grind I cannot say. Nor do I care. It was not my idea nor ever my intention for this to be an easy wastebasket for junk questions, and if people use it for that I feel no guilt whatsoever. Many of those questions were single-vote-closed by moderators whose job description involves knowing the difference between a good question and a bad one anyway.

In any case, of course you can come up with hundreds, perhaps thousands of other temporal nuances in English. If you ask such a question, and it's fresh or interesting for some other reason, I hardly think anyone will use this question to close it.

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    Hi Robusto, of course it's great to try to set out a kind of generalised table of tenses etc. The intention's fine, but people shouldn't close a future perfect versus future continuous question by virtue of the table here. That would be ridiculous. The thing to do in that case is just redirect the user to a page that does answer the question, or migrate it to ELL - either's fine. I'd just make the point that if the question's not answered on ELU somewhere it should be. Lot's of serious enthusiasts haven't ever thought that the present simple's used for the future, t'wd be interesting for'em – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 0:24
  • What does "t'wd be interesting for'em" mean? – Robusto Sep 3 '14 at 0:31
  • It means I was running out of character space and had to cut words/characters. As for the sentence, it means that it can be interesting to think about the fact that we use the present simple to talk about the future, even if we completely understand sentences such as I leave at 9 tomorrow - because it isn't obvious that the present simple often refers to future time. (Related point, just because we understand the sentence doesn't mean the grammars not weird and wonderful!!) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 3 '14 at 0:35

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