Are there languages that overtly mark present tense, rather than future/past? In other words, is the present ever more marked?

There doesn't seem to be a way to search for it in WALS, unfortunately.

  • 1
    Here is a possible paraphrase: "is there any language in which at least one of the past tense or future tense has no overt marker, and the present tense does?". Is that what you mean? Or do you mean "has more stuff" (the marker is longer or there are more affixes)? – user6726 Feb 11 '15 at 18:16
  • @user6726: I rather mean the broader "has more stuff", but of course if the markers are not readily comparable (e.g., completely different but one has more phonemes than the other), it's less exciting. – Ivan Kapitonov Feb 11 '15 at 18:28
  • Not every language has tense. Salishan languages have lots of aspects but no tenses. – john lawler in exile Feb 16 '15 at 0:19

(Modern Eastern) Armenian has only periphrastic present tense, for example tesa I saw vs. tesnum em I see. In the present tense there are more morphemes - the ending of the participle and the clitical auxiliary. There is a synthetic future tense, too, but it has an additional morpheme (ktesnem I will see).


In classical Arabic the present tense takes a prefix and a suffix, while the past tense takes only a suffix:

ya-fʻal-ūna “they do”

faʻal-ū “they did”

Similarly in Persian:

mī-rav-and “they go”

raft-and “they went”.


There are also languages without an obvious present tense, e.g. future/non-future and past/non-past languages. For such languages, the present can be marked on the non-future or non-past tense with aspectual morphology (e.g. continuous aspect).

  • Sounds cool. Do you have an example in mind? – Ivan Kapitonov Feb 11 '15 at 16:11
  • The dictionary form of a verb in Japanese is non-punctual in meaning. This can be used for the future, as well as gnomic and other uses. The past has a suffix derived from the existential verb that is the subject of debate whether it's a tense or an aspect. The present is usually in the continuitive aspect, either with an existential auxiliary or the auxiliary fused into a suffix. – Justin Olbrantz Feb 12 '15 at 6:50
  • E.g. for the verb matsu (to wait) speaking about the past would be matta (presumably derived from matte aru), and speaking about the present would be matte iru or matteru. – Justin Olbrantz Feb 12 '15 at 6:55
  • Many Andean languages fit this criteria, e.g. Aymara and Quechua. – Teusz Feb 12 '15 at 9:13
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    In some varieties the present also refers to the immediate past unless marked with continuous aspect. – Teusz Feb 14 '15 at 20:33

Maybe, depending... the main issue is distinguishing marking of aspect vs. temporal reference, and what you mean by "tense". The differences in Classical Arabic between faʕalū and yafʕalūna is sometimes called present / past (tense) and sometimes perfect / imperfect (aspect).

In Anii, there is an unmarked form, and with eventive verbs, it has a past perfective interpretation, not a present or future (they are incompatible with present or future). There is a complication that statives have a present or past imperfective but not habitual reading. There is an imperfective marker tɪ̀ for progressive and habitual and a future marker tɨ́. It may be best to not think of Anii as having specific tense markers and aspect markers, but rather to think of the system as having markers with some tense and mostly aspectual properties. But it does turn out that the unmarked form isn't a present, it's a past.


Ancient Greek's μανθάνω/λαμβάνω type of words come to mind. It's a pretty small group of words, though; maybe a few tens.

Present: μα-ν-θ-άν-ω, λα-μ-β-άν-ω (interfix -ν-, suffix -άν-).

Aorist: ἔ-λαβ-ον, ἔ-μαθ-ον (augment ἔ-); in older dialects just plain λάβ-ον, μάθ-ον

  • Also in Sanskrit etc. the present system is often formed from a fuller (suffixed or infixed or higher ablaut-grade) stem than is the root aorist – fdb Feb 13 '15 at 9:17
  • And of course also Latin (present vi-n-c-o, perfect vic-i). – fdb Feb 13 '15 at 9:38

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