The verbal group is the “expansion of a verb [and] consists of a sequence of words of the primary class of verb” functioning as Finite (if present) plus Predicator in the clause as exchange or Process in the clause as representation (H & M, p.335). Experientially, the verbal group consists of a Finite operator plus Event (or lexical verb) with optional Auxiliary elements. Sometimes, the Finite is fused with the Event:
At other times, it may consist of a series of Auxiliaries with the Finite always in the initial position and the Event last:
In this fixed ordering of elements, the verbal group reflects choices in the “message structure of the clause” (H & M, p.336) with the initial position thematic and the final position informative.
It is useful to remember that the verbal group is also “structured logically” , and it is this logical structure that “realizes the system of tense”(H & M, p.337). Below is Snoopy thinking about his life:
Here we can see the main English three-part primary tenses, which expresses “past, present or future relative to the speech event” (H & M, p.337):
- PAST: I was a dog
- PRESENT: I am a dog
- FUTURE: I will be a dog
Logically, the primary tense is that functioning as the Head. This primary tense may also, however, be modified further. Here is Snoopy complaining about Christmas pudding:
These are the secondary tenses, which “express past, present or future relative to [the primary tense]” (H & M, p.337). The sentence “Christmas has been over” contains a verbal group “has been”. This consists of a primary present (has) and a secondary past (been). This may be named, working backwards from the deepest, as the past-in present. The sentence “I am still getting figgy pudding” contains a verbal group of a primary present (am) plus a secondary present (getting) which may be termed present-in present. We may also extend the secondary tense further. The verbal group “was going to have been working” consists of a primary past (was) plus a secondary future (going to have), past (been), and present (working). This may then be named ‘present-in past-in future-in past’ (H & M, p.338).
For EFL students (and me), this logical naming of tenses can initially seem confusing, especially when they have come through possibly six years of secondary education that emphasises the structuralist ‘present progressive’, ‘present perfect’, etc naming of each tense. I prefer to take a more visual approach by considering the relations between the tenses as one of delicacy, where “the secondary tense narrows down and focuses the focus of the primary one” (H & M, p.346). Here, for example, is how we could perhaps picture the Snoopy cartoon about Christmas: