Present Simple Definition 2: Why indefinite?

In some grammar books, they also call it Present Indefinite instead of Present Simple. Basically, Present Simple and Present Indefinite are synonymous expressions. The term “indefinite” in the name of the tense is dying out. I think it’s because it is very illogical here.

Naming convention of the English tenses

If we look at the way we name English tenses, we can notice that they consist of 2 parts: tense and aspect.

Tense

Tense shows us the period of time in terms of present, past or future – tense. The tense part of the name shows us when an action or state expressed by the verb takes place – in the present, past or future.

Present Continuous

TenseAspect
PresentContinuous
Breakdown of the name “Present Continuous”

Aspect

The second part of the name is aspect. We have perfect and continuous aspects. I would say that simple is also an aspect because it is simply neither perfect nor continuous, it’s 0 aspect. So, some researchers define only 2 aspects – perfect and continuous. What about indefinite?

They think that compound verb tenses have an auxiliary verb to form a sentence. Ex: I have bought (perfect aspect), I am buying (continuous aspect) vs I buy (0 aspect). That is why, as they think, the verb tense is called Indefinite. If there are only two aspects, and they are not defined, i.e. perfect and continuous aspects are not “defined,” so they call it indefinite. Collins online dictionary says that there are only 2 aspects: continuous and perfect. Based on that, there is an idea that a zero aspect is basically indefinite, because it’s just not “defined.”

Indefinite because time of an action is not defined?

Others think it’s called indefinite because time of action is not set or “defined.” Also, with all due respect, there is an opinion that it’s called so because an action happens unceasingly. For example, some natural actions:

The moon revolves around the Earth

This kind of coffee tastes good.

In this case, what about when time of an action is defined?

However, I came home exactly at 5. (Past “Indefinite”)

Some people would say in this case it’s Past Definite. Oh, yes, there is such a term out there!

I mean, if you call some tense indefinite, and accordingly, it should apply to the whole group, right? Present Indefinite, Past Indefinite, Future Indefinite. That is how we call the other tenses, for example Present Perfect, Past Perfect and Future Perfect. Why would we change Indefinite to Simple or to Definite, based on the situation? Undoubtedly, taking into account this absurdity and illogicality, I don’t think we can call it indefinite based on the fact that the time of action is not defined or action happens unceasingly.

I came home exactly at 5. (Past “Indefinite”)

So based on these observations, I would say that the term indefinite is just a mistakenly accepted term. Moreover, It actually means simple, in terms it’s “not defined” as perfect or continuous. Even if it’s a “0 aspect,” it’s still an aspect. The mathematicians would prove it correct, 🙂 , because “0” is still a number, even if it means nothing.

Tense naming convention

TENSEASPECT
PRESENT, PAST, FUTURESIMPLE/INDEFINITE, CONTINUOUS, PERFECT, PERFECT CONTINUOUS
use one of the aboveuse one of the above
examples of verb tense names
Present +Simple = Present Simple
Past +Perfect Continuous = Past Perfect Continuous

After all, the only difference is that the term “indefinite” is just dying out.

More on Present Simple:

Back to: Present Simple Tense

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