How many tenses do students need to learn?

In my column in this month’s Cambridge Grammar Newsletter, I argue that the magic number is 3.

OK, so I know I’m playing fast and loose with the word tense, and many linguists would argue that there are only two (past and present), possibly three if you allow the future to squeak in. But I’m using tense in the way most teachers and students (and textbooks!) understand it, as time + aspect (so present simple, past simple, present perfect, and … well that’s all you need anyway).

Any suggestions for future columns?

Author: Nigel Caplan

Nigel Caplan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of ESL and materials developer in Delaware, in the United States.

2 thoughts on “How many tenses do students need to learn?”

    1. Thanks for your comment, Svetlana. That’s really my opinion, too. I think the other tenses may be useful for comprehension, and ideally students would learn to use them all, but in reality we have bigger priorities.

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