Tense allows us to more effectively communicate information related to when something occurs, occurred, or will occur, as well as more effectively understand if the occurrence has been completed, is in progress, or will occur continuously.   Some key points include:

  • Research suggests that omission of tense marker (zero marking) is the most prevalent kind of tense error in children with SLI (Marchman, Wulfeck, Weimer, 1999). 
  • Different languages use various techniques to express differences in tense.  Latinate languages, in particular, use a variety of morphological endings to express when something happens (David Crystal, 1995). 
  • English only uses three morphological endings:  -s, -ed, and -ing.  Other tenses are communicated through irregular forms, auxiliary verbs, and adverbs.

The inference of tense is a frequent method of language simplification.  When an adult asks, “What did you do at school today?” and a child answers “Play with my friends,” the inference is that the event has already occurred.  Normally developing children acquire aspects of tense production, such as the –ed morpheme, that allow them to avoid potential confusion resulting from tense omission.

Tests that assess for verb tense include the OWLS, CASL, CELF, and SPELT tests.

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