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Can tense be marked by a non-inflecting word (‘auxiliary particle’)?


This feature covers all tenses (present, past and future) and aims to capture phonologically free elements that do no inflect (i.e. do not change form depending on person, number and other categories of the core arguments). These markers are often described as ‘particles’ in the literature, but are also analyzed under other labels. We are interested in grammatical marking, i.e. dedicated, productive and obligatory marking. This means that words such as ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday’ do not qualify as productively marking future and hesternal past.


  1. Look up the sections on tense marking in the grammatical description.
  2. Consider all marking of tense, e.g. not only past.
  3. If you do not find any non-inflecting phonologically free tense markers, code as 0.
  4. If there is a non-inflecting phonologically free marker that clearly marks tense, code the language as 1.
  5. If it is not clear whether the marker marks tense, code the language as ?.


Samoan (ISO 639-3: smo, Glottolog: samo1305)

Samoan has particles for tense and aspect. They distinguish present, past and future tense, as well as different aspects. Samoan is coded as 1 for this feature. The examples below are taken from Mosel & So'o (1997: 21).

Sā   siva   le   teine
PST  dance  DEF  girl
‘The girl danced.’ (Mosel & So'o 1997: 21)

'Ole'ā siva  le  teine
INCH   dance DEF girl
‘The girl is going to dance.’ (Mosel & So'o 1997: 21)

'Olo'o  siva   le   teine
PROG    dance  DEF  girl
‘The girl is dancing.’ (Mosel & So'o 1997: 21)

'Ua   alu  le   teine
PRF   go   DEF  girl
‘The girl has gone.’ (Mosel & So'o 1997: 21)

Further reading

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins & Pagliuca, William. 1994. The evolution of grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Comrie, Bernard. 1985. Tense. Cambridge University Press.

Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and aspect systems. Oxford: Blackwell.


Mosel, Ulrike & So'o, Ainslie. 1997. Say it in Samoan. (Pacific Linguistics: Series D, 88.) Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

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