from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A verb tense used to express an action or a condition that occurred in or during the past. For example, in While she was sewing, he read aloud, was sewing and read are in the past tense.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun grammar Past tense is the form of language used to refer to an event, transaction, or occurrence that did happen or has happened, or an object that existed, at a point in time before now. Compare with present tense, which refers to an event, transaction or occurrence which is happening now (or at the present time), or an object that currently exists; or with future tense, which refers to an event, transaction or occurrence that has not yet happened, is expected to happen in the future, or might never happen.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a verb tense that expresses actions or states in the past


Sorry, no etymologies found.


    Sorry, no example sentences found.


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Stuart Little: You seem tense!

    Snowbell: Tense? Oh, I'm - I'm way, way past tense

    (from the screenplay for the 1999 film of Stuart Little)

    April 20, 2008

  • Hi, I got the following question:

    In some texts there are words in the past tense whose "e"s in their "-ed"s are supposed to be pronounced. Often the "e"s which aren't are apostrophed out:


    Armed at point exactly, cap-à-pie,

    Appears before them, and with solemn march

    Goes slow and stately by them. Thrice he walk'd

    By their oppress'd and fear-surprised eyes,

    Within his truncheon's length; whilst they, distill'd

    Almost to jelly with the act of fear,

    Stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me

    ..." -- Horatio, Hamlet, Shakespeare

    But—save for the meter perhaps—is there any other rule when to pronounce them and when not?

    And what is that called, so I can also google it?

    Thanks in advance!

    January 1, 2009

  • Only the same rule as in Present-day English: the vowel is required after /t/ and /d/ ('batted', 'bedded'). As far as I know the choice is entirely metrical. The loss of the vowel is sometimes called syncope or syncopation, but that sounds rather old-fashioned to me.

    The vowel is also retained in some adjectives with the form of past participles (such as 'learned', 'blessed, 'one-legged'), but I know of no good reason why these are exceptional.

    Way back in Old English there was a good phonetic reason: the vowel was used after a light syllable (fremede) but not after a heavy one (dēmde, drencte). This combined with a great deal of change of vowel quantity in Middle English gave those past tenses that are today spelt without an -e-, such as 'lent', 'bled', 'heard', 'met'. But this was over long before the apostrophe convention in text: the apostrophe indicated the normal pronunciation without a vowel, and the vowel was only used for metre.

    January 1, 2009

  • Thank you!

    I'm probably most interested in a term for those adjectives such as learned or blessed you mentioned. Thanks again.

    January 1, 2009

  • Chiming in here, it's interesting how various processes have combined to create pairs of such participial adjectives in English, where both words are spelt the same and mean the same thing, but are pronounced differently in different contexts:

    blessed ("blessed /blest/ bread") v. blessèd (which is sometime used as a substitute for "damned": "Get your blessèd things out of my house!")

    aged ("an aged /'eɪdʒd/ wine") v. agèd (= very old, "an agèd man")

    learned ("learned /lərnd/ behavior") v. learnèd (=erudite, "a learnèd professor").

    January 1, 2009

  • It's a fun challenge to think of others, now, rolig. I don't think wicked counts ;)

    Just found a curious article on the OED blog!

    January 1, 2009

  • Telofy, they're called heteronyms or heterophones.

    January 1, 2009

  • Great article!

    The definition of heteronyms is a bit wide though. Perhaps it's best to describe them as rolig et al. did, or can someone coin a witty madeuponym ("neologism" is aged; 237 years according to the OED) for such participial adjectives? ^^

    January 1, 2009

  • It's a general problem of -nym words that the definitions are broad, because they can refer to meaning (e.g., synonym), spelling or sound (homonym can mean homograph or homophone).

    Does allophonic homograph or bi-sonic come closer to what you want, telofy? There are also homosemes, but those generally have different etymons.

    January 2, 2009

  • Wow, thanks for those words. Especially homoseme seem to be a rare term.

    I was merely in need of some word for referring to the non-silent "e"s in our participial adjectives or the words themselves. Like Hofstadter when he coined Capitalized Essences for such things as the Purpose of Life or often God.

    January 2, 2009