I wonder if there's a language where grammatical tense is not expressed by inflections on its verbs, but by inflecting some other part of speech?

  • 3
    I found wiki article about the matter. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominal_TAM Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 9:32
  • Some languages also have nouns that are inflected for tense, but in such cases both nouns and verbs are marked.
    – Teusz
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 15:45
  • In Finnish, the distinction between present and future is not marked on the verb, but can be conveyed (though not always completely unambiguously) through the case suffix on the object noun: Hän syö pullaa "He is eating a roll" vs. Hän syö pullan "He will eat a roll".
    – user8017
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 20:47

2 Answers 2


English marks tense in seperate words such as Auxiliaries and expletive (dummy) 'do'. In a sentence, these stand, syntactically-speaking: above / serially-speaking: to the left, of a verb:

This does not help. / This has proved helpful.
This did not help. / This had proved helpful.

Verb = same

Time ≠ same

  • There's also noun affixes like "ex-mother-in-law-to-be", which is future perfect if anything is.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 18:18
  • Let us not forget Lushootseed ti d-tu-čəgʷas "My ex-wife".
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 20, 2015 at 21:54

In Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania, the verbs never change their form, it is the pronouns that have the tense. In Wolof there is I-which-is-now, I-that-will-be, I-that-was, and so on, each pronoun has the 5 Wolof tenses, each tense having 2 aspect variants, perfect and imperfect. In other words, you take a past tense pronoun and the unchangeable verb and you get a past tense verb phrase.

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