To some extent, vowels can be predicted based on the size of the vowel inventory, so, for example, in a 3-vowel system, it will be /a i u/, whereas in a 4-vowel system, we will get /a i u ɛ/ or /a i u ɨ/ etc. (based on Crothers 1978). We can also predict consonants, to a limited degree, based on their numbers, place of articulation etc. In addition, we can predict the colour terms based on the number of colours distinguished in the system.

Hence, I would like to know what kind of implicational tree can one draw when we think of the TAM categories (separately - as tense, aspect and mood - or as a bundle), e.g. if a language only has two tenses, what are they (not)?

I could imagine something like this:

  • 2 tenses: past vs. non-past or future vs. non-future
  • 3 tenses: past vs. present vs. future
  • 4 tenses: past I vs. present I vs. past II vs. present II


I will be grateful for any relevant references too.

1 Answer 1


For a starter, you may look up the Wikipedia article on Grammatical Tense (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense). Besides past vs non-past you can also find future vs. non-future in a two-tense system, e.g., in Quechua.

  • Thank you, the article is a good start, indeed. I wonder then, if it is always the non-past / non-future that is more marked than the past / future in the two-tense systems, ie whther it is always the tense encompassing the present athat is less marked. I will have a look at the references to see if I can find the information. Aug 12, 2015 at 9:57
  • @Pavel Jetušek This is another question (and may be worth asking, after some reading) Aug 12, 2015 at 10:19
  • 1
    You may find the various "Verbal Categories" papers chapters 65-80 in WALS useful, then. There isn't one on TAM together, but all the various pieces are there.
    – jlawler
    Aug 13, 2015 at 16:53
  • 1
    @jlawler That's a wonderful piece of advice! I keep forgetting it's there - online and free! Thanks a lot! Aug 13, 2015 at 23:07

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