A Google search today for English Tenses proffered 1,310,000 sites. I visited some 50 of them. All offering tuition and training in the understanding and use of ‘the basic English tenses’. My first port of call descried 8 ‘basic tenses’, the second 12, the third 14. Of course, these were only the ‘basic’ tenses, and the next site offered more: 17. Hopes raised, I turned to the next site on the list. Alas! A mere 16. And it never got any higher. We can do better.
There wasn’t anything you might call a consensus, or even a majority view, and there was no agreement on a stripped-down core of basic tenses, agreed by all. The 12-site included variants that the 14-site did not, and the 14-site included variants that the 17 did not. The mode number across the 50 sites surveyed was 12, but there were plenty of votes for other numbers.
So it looks as though there is money to be made here. The more tenses you can distinguish, the more sophisticated your product. And I think we could be in business. Following the kind of thinking about the English tense system that these sites are presumably using, I can certainly beat 17. Indeed, I think I can find at least 27 without trying too hard. For there are many exotica out there, and there is room for more exotica still. Never mind such commonplaces as The Future Perfect Tense (The Chaplain will have perfected his Spanish accent by the time he gets to the Mexican border), and The Future Pluperfect Tense (He will have had his hair dyed before he reaches Durango). We have also The Future Conditional Tense (A showdown between Chaplain and Master would be a fitting finale to the forthcoming election) which clearly deserves more widespread acknowledgement. Likewise The Future Perfect Conditional Tense (A Chaplain-Master showdown would have been a fitting finale to the forthcoming election).
Some tenses have an Einsteinian flavour, as The Present in The Future (The Chaplain makes his run tonight). And in that relativistic vein I was quite particularly charmed by The Future in The Present (The Chaplain and his accomplice will be miles away by now), and its companion The Future in the Past (The fugitives will have been miles away by the time the alarm was sounded). But wait! What can then be wrong with The Future in The Past in The Present in The Future (The Chapel silver will have already been sold on E-bay hours before the alarm is sounded)? Or The Future Progressive in The Past in The Present (training exercise: invent your own example).
So with an eye to the burgeoning TEFL market, perhaps we should abandon our present research project, with its hopelessly unappealing two tenses, and go for broke.