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In grammar, tense is a category that expresses time reference. Tenses are usually manifested by the use of specific forms of verbs, particularly in their conjugation patterns.

Basic tenses found in many languages include the past, present and future. Some languages have only two distinct tenses, such as past and non-past, or future and non-future. There are also tenseless languages, like Chinese, which do not have tense at all. On the other hand, some languages make finer tense distinctions, such as remote vs. recent past, or near vs. remote future.

Tenses generally express time relative to the moment of speaking. In some contexts, however, their meaning may be relativised to a point in the past or future which is established in the discourse (the moment being spoken about). This is called relative (as opposed to absolute) tense. Some languages have different verb forms or constructions which manifest relative tense, such as pluperfect ("past-in-the-past") and "future-in-the-past".

Expressions of tense are often closely connected with expressions of the category of aspect; sometimes what are traditionally called tenses (in languages such as Latin) may in modern analysis be regarded as combinations of tense with aspect. Verbs are also often conjugated for mood, and since in many cases the three categories are not manifested separately, some languages may be described in terms of a combined tense–aspect–mood (TAM) system.


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