Reichenbach's (1947) theory of tense

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Hans Reichenbach is one of the first and also most influential contributors to the semantic analysis of tense. In Reichenbach (1947), he distinguishes three points in time and two ordering relations. The points in time are: ‘E‘ (the event), ‘R’ (a point of reference) and ‘S’ (point of speech). The two ordering relations are (i) anteriority (represented by ‘-‘) and simultaneity (represented by ‘,’). The different relations between S and R correspond to the tense categories ‘past’ (R-S), ‘present’ (R,S) and ‘future’ (S-R). The position of the reference point R relative to the time of the event E corresponds to the categories ‘anterior’ (E-R), ‘posterior’ (R-E) and ‘simple’ (E,R; cf. Reichenbach 1947: 296f).

The combination of the three temporal points with the two ordering relations results in thirteen major constellations. These have the status of tenses in Reichenbach’s framework:

Temporal relations Tense category Traditional label Example
1. E–R–S Anterior Past Past Perfect I had passed the exam by the end of the winter.
2. E,R–S Simple Past Simple Past I passed the exam.
3.a R–E–S Posterior Past -- I did not know that he would win. (yesterday)
3.b R–S,E Posterior Past -- I did not know that he would be here. (right now)
3.c R–S–E Posterior Past -- I did not know that he would come. (tomorrow)
4. E–S,R Anterior Present Present Perfect I have passed the exam.
5. S,R,E Simple Present Present I see John.
6. S,R–E Posterior Present Simple Future I shall see John.
7a S–E–R Anterior Future Future Perfect I will have passed the exam by the end of the winter.
7.b S,E–R Anterior Future Future Perfect John will have fixed the car by tonight.(already repaired)
7.c E–S–R Anterior Future Future Perfect I will have fixed the car by tonight. (just repairing it)
8. S–R,E Simple Future Simple future I will see John tomorrow.
9. S–R–E Posterior Future I shall be going to see him.

Literature

  • Reichenbach, Hans (1947). Elements of Symbolic Logic. New York: Macmillan & Co.