By 'relative tenses', I mean a form of tense that is independent of the main tense that indicates when an event occurred relative to the past or future.

Examples in English would be:

Simple tense:

I spoke. I will speak.

Relative Past:

I had spoken. I will have spoken.

Relative Future:

I was going to speak. I will be going to speak.

Of course, obviously the 'past-in-the-past' tense would be called a pluperfect, but isn't there any names for a 'relative tenses' on its own? They obviously exist, but the only place I've heard about them is in Tagalog (though those were originally misinterpreted as simple tenses rather than relative tenses, for example their 'past' can mean either 'this happened' or 'this will have happened').

  • I'm not sure if there's another term, but relative tense would be the best term to use!
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 2, 2018 at 21:39
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    By "tense", you don't mean what linguists mean by "tense" (technically, English only has two tenses - present and past). So, what do you mean by "tense"? If will speak is future tense, what tense is could speak? And how is will different from be going to? You're using your own notion of "tense" to ask us a question about it, without telling us what that notion is. We could respond better if you'd be more precise.
    – jlawler
    Sep 2, 2018 at 21:49
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1 Answer 1


I think the word "relative" already expresses what you are talking about.

When specifically describing English, the perfect vs. non-perfect distinction has been described as a "secondary" tense system (as opposed to the "primary" tense system, the simple past vs. non-past distinction).

See the Glottopedia article "Huddleston and Pullum's (2002) analysis of tense", which also mentions the term "non-deictic past tense".

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