Out of pure curiosity, I wonder how frequently each of the 12 tenses is used in the written English language. I only found a passing remark, that Present Simple, Past Simple, and Present Perfect account for 98% of tensed verbs in published academic texts.

To be precise, I am looking for some research on frequency of the tenses over a general corpus of English written texts.

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    Beautifully interesting; but sadly, I'm not sure if something like this could objectively be done in a Q/A. For one thing, people still can't agree on what to call tense. Most of them don't, anyway. Congratulations for being the third post I upvote and vote to close on ELL. – M.A.R. Jan 27 '16 at 18:36
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    This is emphatically on-topic: since the 1960s there have been many corpus studies which examined the relative frequency of various verbforms and verb constructions in order to determine which should be taught and where learners should direct their attention. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 27 '16 at 19:11
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    @Stoney the problem is: How are you planning for a comprehensive and good answer to this question? – M.A.R. Jan 27 '16 at 20:10
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    @Ϻ.Λ.Ʀ. I have given an answer which at least provides a start; I hope others will come along and add established results which augment or replace it. There will of course never be a 'final' answer; but all anybody can ask for on any SE site is a 'state-of-the-art' answer. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 27 '16 at 20:17
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    @Ϻ.Λ.Ʀ. Actually it's not that broad -- an entirely responsive answer could be expressed in a single table the size of the one in my answer. The trick is finding the table! – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 27 '16 at 20:49

Graeme Kennedy, ‘Preferred ways of putting things with implications for language teaching’, in Jan Svartvik, ed., Directions in Corpus Linguistics: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 82 (Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs ; 65), 1991, gives this table of results from corpus studies carried out in the 1960s.


This is just a start to an answer. Kennedy's paper identifies many additional studies which, alas, I do not have access to.

  • Exactly the table I was looking for. Thank you a lot! – HingeSight Jan 27 '16 at 21:15
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    @HingeSight Be careful, though. These don't discriminate consistently between active and passive and they don't appear to include modal constructions or constructions with future reference. And the quality of the corpora is not evident--both corpora and corpus studies have gotten a lot more sophisticated in the last fifty years. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 27 '16 at 21:55

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