Definition, Types and Examples of Aspect in English Grammar

Definition, Types and Examples of Aspect in English Grammar

Thank you for joining me on another educative post titled: Definition, Types and Examples of Aspect in English Grammar. Welcome to another time of learning. In my post on Tense in English Grammar, I did say that the form of the verb we use to indicate present happenings is different from the form of the same verb we use when making reference to past time. I believe you still remember. Great! (You might want to take a quick dash there if you cannot remember, as there is nothing great about being forgetful). Okay! But that is not all.


I did not tell you about the form of the verb we use when making reference to a state or an action that has begun and is still in progress. I also did not hint on the form of the verb we use in referring to an action that has long been completed before an action that was just completed. Was I hoarding information? Of course not! The reason I did not go into all that was because the English Tense cannot sufficiently cater for that domain of knowledge.

Definition, Types and Examples of Aspect in English Grammar

There is another interesting grammatical concept that can adequately explain describe the forms of the verbs we use to indicate the completion or progress of an action and that is what I want to discuss with you. We refer to this grammatical concept as Aspect. It is one of the systems in English that occur at the clausal level. Are we good to go? Good! Let’s dive in.

What is Aspect in English?

Aspects relate to a verb form that shows whether an action, activity or a state is complete or continuing over a period of time. Aspect deals with the placement of an action with regards to time and not necessarily the actual time the action occurs, unlike tense. It is all about the complement of an action that the verbal group describes. Note that the verbal group that can indicate tense, aspect, agreement and mood is finite in nature; and the first element in the verbal group selects for tense (usually the non-modal and modal auxiliaries) while the main verb selects for aspect.

Types of Aspects in English

Just like tense, there are two (2) types of aspects in English. These are:

  1. The Perfective Aspect
  2. The Progressive Aspect

Let us examine each of the types in detail.

The Perfective Aspect

This type deals with the verbal groups which have the forms of ‘have + verb (past participle); that is, have/has/has plus the perfective form of the verb. In other words, Perfective Aspect is always indicated by HAVE +LEXICAL VERB +-ED/-EN. Under the perfective aspect, we have two sub-types:

  • The present perfective aspect (has/have + verb (past participle) and
  • The past perfective aspect (had + verb (past participle).

Examples of Present Perfective Aspect

We can see the present perfective as the present tense + perfective aspect. Consider these examples:

  • The boy has eaten his food.
  • John and Joe have eaten the food.
  • I have given him the letter.
  • We have submitted the forms.
  • She has seen the teacher
  • It has disappeared.
  • I have eaten breakfast.
  • They have broken the curfew
  • He has mended his shoes.

Sometimes, we can add modal auxiliaries. In this case, we have present modal perfective E. g.

  • They may have arrived.
  • He could have travelled.
  • She must have gone by now.

Examples of Past Perfective Aspect

We can see the past perfective as the past tense + perfective aspect. Consider the following illustrations:

  • Peter had eaten his food.
  • Jill and Scott had gone.
  • I had collected the key before he left.
  • We had submitted the forms earlier.
  • She had seen the principal.
  • The pen had disappeared.
  • I had eaten breakfast.
  • They had broken the curfew
  • He had mended his shoes.

Let us examine the other main type…

The Progressive Aspect

This type deals with the verbal groups which comprise forms of the ‘be-verb’ + progressive form of the verb; that is, be, am, is, was, are, were, been, being plus the progressive form of the verb. Under the progressive aspect, we have two sub-types:

  • The present progressive aspect (am/is/are + verb (progressive) and
  • The past progressive aspect (was/were + verb (past participle).

Examples of Present Progressive Aspect

We can illustrate this with the following sentences:

  • I am typing.
  • He is writing.
  • She is washing.
  • They are hunting.

Note again the possibility of adding modal auxiliary e.g.

  • He may be driving.
  • She might be sleeping.
  • They could be coming.

Examples of Past Progressive Aspect

Consider these examples:

  • I was typing.
  • He was writing.
  • She was washing.
  • They were hunting.

Co-occurrence of the Perfective/Progressive Aspects

Just like in the case of morphemes where both the derivational morpheme and the inflectional morpheme, though distinct, can co-occur in a sentence; so also, both the perfective and the progressive aspects can coexist in a sentence. But when this happens, the progressive aspect always comes last. It is not possible for the perfective aspect to come after its progressive counterpart. Both the modal and non-modal or primary auxiliary come handy in this situation. Let us illustrate this point with some sentences:

Present Tense, Progressive Aspect, Perfective

This can also be rendered as Present, Progressive-Perfective. E. g.

  • The children have been crying all day.
  • He has been dreaming of travelling abroad.
  • She has been dying to meet the singer.
  • We have been coming a long way.
  • The plane has been hovering since morning.
  • I have been eating breakfast.
  • He has been mending shoes.
  • They have been breaking the curfew.

Past Tense, Progressive Aspect, Perfective

We can also have this as Past, Progressive-Perfective. E. g.

  • The police had been marching since.
  • I had been writing with a special pen.
  • The ship had been sailing on the high seas.
  • They had been competing since their school days.
  • She had been singing for five years.
  • I had been eating breakfast.
  • He had been mending shoes.
  • They had been breaking the curfew.

Conjugation of the Verb BREAK

With all we have explained above, let us conjugate the verb Break for more clarity in demonstrating the issue of tense and aspect:

  • Present Simple: He breaks the law.
  • Past Simple: He broke the law.
  • Present Progressive: He is breaking the law.
  • Past Progressive: He was breaking the law.
  • Present Perfective: He has broken the law.
  • Past Perfective: He had broken the law.
  • Present Perfective Progressive: He has been breaking the law.
  • Past Perfective Progressive: He had been breaking the law.

Markers of Modality Showing Future and Conditionality

Present Perfective Progressive, Future Time

  • (If he is arrested today,) He will have been breaking the law (for six months).

Past Perfective Progressive, future time, impossible condition

  • (If he were to be arrested today,) He would have been breaking the law (for six months).

A Quick Word

Let me leave you with this thought as I round off on Aspect in English. Tense and aspect are not the same but they are closely related. It is possible to have tense without aspect but there can be no aspect without tense! Never forget that!

Don’t forget to leave your comments. Check out some other posts and share with your friends. I’m off to work on another post! See you soon! Bye!

See other people’s view on Aspect in English.

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What is a Verb: Verb Definitions, Types & Examples


  1. This is a very comprehensible explanation, I believe with this, am gonna score the highest mark. Thanks to the site.

  2. Thanks a lot, I got all I need for my assignment here, lol, just like the note was specially made for me….very self-explanatory 🙂

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