A grammatical category marked by a verb in which the situation described in the clause is located in time (for example, present tense ‘has’ in ‘Sarah has a headache’ locates the situation in present time, while past tense ‘had’ in ‘Sarah had a headache’ locates it in past time.)

However, the relation between grammatical tense and (semantic) time is not always as simple as this. For example, present tense is typically used to talk about:

  • present states, as in ‘He lives in Darwin’
  • actions that happen regularly in the present, as in ‘He watches television every night’
  • ‘timeless’ happenings, as in informative texts such as ‘Bears hibernate in winter’
  • references to future events, as in ‘The match starts tomorrow’ where the tense is present but the time future. Likewise in ‘I thought the match started tomorrow’ where the subordinate clause ‘the match started tomorrow’ has past tense but refers to future time.