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Tense, Aspect, and Time in the English Modality System

Jeanette S. DeCarrico
TESOL Quarterly
Vol. 20, No. 4 (Dec., 1986), pp. 665-682
DOI: 10.2307/3586517
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3586517
Page Count: 18
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Tense, Aspect, and Time in the English Modality System
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Abstract

A major problem in ESL instruction on the English modality system is that grammar texts do not adequately clarify past time relationships. Without this clarification, students presented with hypothetical past or past conditional forms (modal + have + past participle) are likely to infer (from the form) the past time frame associated with present perfect aspect (i.e., I have seen that movie = unspecified past, with current relevance; see Moy, 1977). This article argues that unless a clear distinction is made between the semantic time reference of the modal "perfect" and that of the present perfect aspect, these forms will remain a major source of confusion for ESL students. The article includes a brief suggested sequence for teaching modals which incorporates and clarifies these time relationships and thus simplifies the teaching of the entire modality system.

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