Learn Auslan – Tense

In Auslan, tense is not shown in the verb, the way it is often done in English. For example, in English ‘go’ is in present tense, and ‘went’ is the same word but in past tense. In Auslan, you would use the word ‘go’ for all tenses, and show the tense a different way.

Tense is often shown sufficiently with the use of words and phrases such as ‘yesterday,’ ‘this morning’, ‘before,’ ‘tomorrow night,’ ‘last year,’ ‘when I was growing up,’ ‘in the future,’ etc. When signing, if the tense is clear from the use of these words, there is no need to add further tense markers.

In the situation that tense is not clear, such as when someone signs SHOP ME GO, and if the tense has not yet been established in the the conversation, additional markers may be used. The sign FINISH is used to show past tense, and WILL to show future tense.





Usually the grammar is to use the verb, and then the sign FINISH. However, FINISH need not be added to all the verbs. For example, “I have eaten dinner. I ate spaghetti with mushrooms.” would be signed, DINNER ME EAT-FINISH. EAT WHAT? SPAGHETTI/MUSHROOMS. There is no need to add FINISH to the second “eat”, because the tense has already been shown.

A word of warning: while you may say ‘SEE-FINISH’ if you have already seen a place or a thing, be careful of signing ‘SEE-FINISH’ if you are talking about a person. When you are talking about a person, ‘SEE-FINISH’ means that you have had sex with them!

You can also use the sign FINISH to ask and answer a question. For example, if you want to ask, ‘Have you done the dishes?” you would do the sign for ‘wash-the-dishes’, and then the sign for ‘finish’, and since it’s a yes/no question, you would show it’s a question by leaning forward and raising your eyebrows. If the English answer to that question is ‘yes’, then in Auslan, the answer would often be, FINISH. In Auslan, rather than answering questions with yes/no, speakers often respond with HAVE/DON’T-HAVE or FINISH/NOT YET/WILL or WANT/DON’T-WANT etc.

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