Tense is the grammatical term that refers to the time when the action of the verb occurs: past, present, future.
The time frame of an action is usually established by referring to the present moment; for example, the passé
composé and the future are respectively past and future in relation to the present.
However, some tenses establish their time frame by referring to other actions in the past or in the future.
For example, the plus-que-parfait tense indicates a past action that occurred prior to the the completion of another past action.
The futur antérieur tense indicates a future action that will have occured before another future action.
Actions that occur before another action are described as being anterior.
Tenses are also described by their number of parts. For example, a tense with only one verb form is called a simple tense (ie, le passé simple).
In contrast, a tense comprising two forms, the auxiliary verb and the participle, is referred to as a compound tense (ie, le passé composé).
Aspect, unlike tense, is not concerned with placing events on a time line. Rather, aspect is concerned with making distinctions about the kinds of actions that are described by verbs: progressive actions, punctual actions, habitual actions, etc.
The most important aspectual distinction in French concerns the difference between the two most common past tenses:
the imparfait and the passé composé.
While both tenses refer to actions in the past, they are used for very different types of actions.
The imparfait indicates an action that is ongoing or habitual. Actions in the imparfait may be simultaneous or overlapping.
The passé composé on the other hand, indicates an action that is in a strict sequence in relation to another action.
In other words, an event in the passé composé must be completed before another may be used in narration.
These aspectual differences are best understood in a narrative context where the imparfait is typically used
to set the scene of a story by giving background information.
|Installé à la terrasse du Cactus Cafe, Tex regardait les filles qui passaient. Il savourait une tasse de café, mais quelque chose manquait . . . une cigarette!
|Seated on the terrace of the Cactus Cafe, Tex was watching the girls who walked by. He was enjoying a cup of coffee, but something was missing . . . a cigarette!
The passé composé is used for the foreground, that is, the plot line events.
Note that plot line events are sequential, that is, an event must be completed before another event begins.
|Tex a sorti une cigarette de son paquet. Il l'a allumée et il a tiré une grande bouffée. Mmm ... extase!
|Tex took out a cigarette from his pack. He lit it and took a long drag. Mmm ... ecstasy!
Mood is a grammatical category distinguishing verb tenses. There are four moods in French: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, and imperative.
All of these moods, except the imperative, may be conjugated in different tenses. Each of these moods has a different function.
The indicative mood is the most common and is used to relate facts and objective statements.
|Tammy se réveille tôt le matin. (present tense of the indicative mood)
|Tammy gets up early in the morning.
The subjunctive mood is used more commonly in French than in English. It is used to express opinions and feelings (subjective thoughts).
|Il est dommage que les parents de Tex soient morts. (present tense of the subjunctive mood)
|It is too bad that Tex's parents are dead.
The conditional mood is used to express hypothetical or contrary-to-fact statements.
|Si Corey était beau, il aurait une copine. (present tense of the conditional mood)
|If Corey were handsome, he would have a girlfriend.
The imperative mood is used to give direct orders or commands.
|Tex, get up!
Voice is a grammatical category describing the relationship between a verb and its subject. Voice is either active or passive.
Active voice refers to the situation where the subject of the sentence performs the action of the verb.
|Les autorités ont expulsé Tex de France.
|The authorities expelled Tex from France.
On the other hand, passive voice refers to the situation where the subject receives the action of the verb.
|Tex a été expulsé de France (par les autorités).
|Tex was expelled from France (by the authorities).