Difference Between Tense and Aspect

Main Difference – Tense vs Aspect

Tense and Aspect can be defined as grammatical categories that are closely related. Tense indicates the location of an action or an event in time. For each grammatical tense, there are sub-categories named aspects which indicate how an action is to be viewed with respect to time, rather than to its actual location in time. Therefore, the main difference between tense and aspect is that tense indicates the location of an action in time whereas aspect indicates how that particular action is to be viewed with time.

What is Tense

As mentioned above, tense refers to the location of an action in time. It indicates whether the action is in the present or the past. Tense can be identified by the inflections of the verb. For example,

He cleans his room.

He cleaned his room.

There are only two tenses in English. They are past tense and present tense. As their names suggest, past tense is used to talk about actions and events in the past whereas present tense is used talk about the actions and events in the present.

Future is not considered as a separate tense since it does not involve any inflections of the verb. English uses the modal verb will or the present continuous tense to talk about the future.Difference Between Tense and Aspect

What is Aspect

Aspect indicates how an action, state or an event is related to the flow of time. By looking at the aspect of a verb, we can decide whether the action is completed or ongoing. There are four aspects in English grammar. They are simple, progressive, perfect and perfect progressive.

Simple Aspect

This is used to indicate facts. It merely states whether or not an action occurs. This aspect can be used with habitual or repeated actions.


Present: Base form of the verb by itself (if it’s the third person singular add ‘s’, ‘es’ etc. to the base form)

He visits his aunt on Saturday.

Past: Base form of the verb + ed (for regular verbs) or irregular past tense verb

He visited his aunt on Saturday.

Progressive Aspect

This indicates an ongoing action. Therefore, the action is not complete.


Present: ‘is’ or ‘are’ + present participle

He is reading a poem.

Past: ‘was’ or ‘were’ + past participle

He was reading a poem.

Perfect Aspect

This indicates a complete action. This is often used with actions in the recent past.

Present: ‘has’ or ‘have’+ past participle

They have fallen in love.

Past: ‘had’ + past participle

They had fallen in love.

Perfect Progressive

This is used with actions that began in the past and continues to the present.

Present: ‘has been’ or ‘have been’+ past participle

I have been studying for five years.

Past: ‘had been’ + present participle

I had been studying for five years.

Main Difference - Tense vs Aspect

She reads a book.
She is reading a book.
She has read half of the book.
She has been reading since yesterday.

Difference Between Tense and Aspect


Tense indicates the location of an action or an event in time.

Aspect indicates how an action, state or an event is related to the flow of time.


There are two tenses in English: past and present

There are four aspects in English: simple, progressive, perfect and progressive perfect.


Tense is a major grammatical category.

Aspect is a sub-category of tense.Difference Between Tense and Aspect - infographic

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