[Grammar] Meaning of “The Present tense would be syntactically best described as non-past”?

k7power

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I'm reading "Meaning and the English Verb" by Geoffrey Leech and in the paragraph §113 on page 71 he states the following:

§113:
First, the ways of referring to the future dealt with in this chapter illustrate the point made in §5: that the Present Tense, from the semantic point of view as well as syntactically, would be best described as 'non-past'. We have seen that all these future-referring constructions are variations on the Present Tense, with the very minor exception of the future subordinate use of the Past (see §102c) - even including the 'non-past' modal auxiliaries will / shall, to which we turn again in the next chapter. In other words, the Present Tense, in a broad sense, encompasses both present and future domains of time.

§5:
However, in English the major formal distinction of Present and Past tenses can be associated with two major TIME ZONES, 'past' and 'non-past', so that future time is subsumed under 'non-past'. This helps to explain why English, which does not have a Future tense as such, uses Present tense to express future time.

I know what he means by "from the semantic point of view", but I do not understand what he means by "syntactically" in this context.

So what does it mean when he says that "The Present tense would be syntactically best described as 'non-past'"?
 
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Skrej

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In terms of grammar syntax, the present tense is best described as being non-past tense. Rather than being defined as what it is, it's defined by what it isn't.

It other words, you have to look for time markers and context to determine whether it's referring to the present or future, etc. It won't be immediately obvious from the syntax alone. There's no affix or such to flag it as being definitively present or future just by the syntax alone.
 

k7power

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In terms of grammar syntax, the present tense is best described as being non-past tense. Rather than being defined as what it is, it's defined by what it isn't.

It other words, you have to look for time markers and context to determine whether it's referring to the present or future, etc. It won't be immediately obvious from the syntax alone. There's no affix or such to flag it as being definitively present or future just by the syntax alone.

Does the author mean the following:

Present tense described semantically: present time as well as future time, but not past time.
Present tense described syntactically: Present tense

But it would be better described as:

Present tense described semantically: non-past time
Present tense described syntactically: Non-past tense
 
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Skrej

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I think you're trying to over-think this.

The author is saying that semantically and syntactically tenses are divided into either 'past' or 'non-past'. If it's not past tense, lump it under 'non-past'.

It seems like the author is trying to over-explain things as well. He seems vexed that English doesn't have a "true" future tense.

I wouldn't spend too much time trying to analyze his breakdown. Just accept that English sometimes uses what we call the present tense form to refer to the future, and that it's possible to refer to the future in English without using that 'will' marker.
 
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