Imperfective aspect

Imperfective aspect

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Imperfective aspect'
Start a new discussion about 'Imperfective aspect'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
The imperfective is a grammatical aspect
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 used to describe a situation viewed with internal structure, such as ongoing, habitual, repeated, and similar semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 roles, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. Although many languages have a general imperfective, others have distinct aspects for one or more of its various roles, such as progressive, habitual
Habitual aspect
In linguistics, the aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state. As its name suggests, the habitual aspect specifies an action as occurring habitually: the subject performs the action usually, ordinarily, or customarily...

, and iterative aspects.

English


English is an example of a language with no general imperfective. The English progressive is used to describe ongoing events such as "The rain was beating down". Habitual situations do not have their own verb form, but the construction "used to" conveys past habitual action, as in "I used to ski". Unlike in languages with a general imperfective, in English the simple past
Simple Past
The simple past, sometimes called the preterite, is the past tense of Modern English. It is used to describe events in the past. It may combine with either or both of two aspects, the perfect and the progressive...

 tense can be used for situations presented as ongoing, such as "The rain beat down continuously through the night".

Other languages


Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 are examples of languages with verbs that have perfective and/or an imperfective form. Imperfectives can be turned into perfectives with any of various prefixes. Perfectives can be turned into imperfectives with a suffix. The non-past imperfective form is used for the present, while its perfective counterpart is used for the future. There is also a periphrastic imperfective future construction.

The imperfective aspect may be fused with the past tense, for a form traditionally called the imperfect. In some cases, such as Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Modern Greek
Modern Greek
Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

, this is because the imperfective aspect only occurs in the past tense; others, such as Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

, have both general imperfectives and imperfects. Other languages with distinct past imperfectives include Latin and Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

.

Imperfective and perfective


The opposite aspect is the perfective
Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

(in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, generally called the aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

), which views a situation as a simple whole. (This is not the same as the perfect.) Unlike most other tense–aspect category oppositions, it is typical for a language not to choose either perfective or imperfective as being generally marked and the other as being generally unmarked.

In narrative, one of the uses of the imperfective is to set the background scene ("It was midnight. The room was dark. The rain was beating down. Water was streaming in through a broken window. A gun lay on the table."), with the perfective describing foregrounded actions within that scene ("Suddenly, a man burst into the room, ran over to the table, and grabbed the gun.").

English does not have these aspects. However, the background-action contrast provides a decent approximation in English:
"John was reading when I entered."

Here 'entered' presents "the totality of the situation referred to [...]: the whole of the situation is presented as a single unanalysable whole, with beginning, middle, and end all rolled into one; no attempt is made to divide this situation up into the various individual phases that make up the action of entry." This is the essence of the perfective aspect: An event presented as an unanalyzed whole.

'Was reading', however, is different. Besides being the background to 'entered', the form 'reading' presents "an internal portion of John's reading, [with] no explicit reference to the beginning or to the end of his reading." This is the essence of the imperfective aspect. Or, to continue the quotation, "the perfective looks at the situation from the outside, without necessarily distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective looks at the situation from inside, and as such is crucially concerned with the internal structure of the situation, since it can both look backwards towards the start of the situation, and look forwards to the end of the situation, and indeed it is equally appropriate if the situation is one that lasts through all time, without any beginning and without any end." This is why, within the past tense, perfective verbs are typically translated into English as simple past, like 'entered', whereas imperfective verbs are typically translated as 'was reading', 'used to read', and the like. (In English, it is easiest to illustrate aspect in the past tense. However, any tense is possible: Present "John is reading as I enter", future "John will be reading when I enter", etc.: In each tense, the aspectual distinction is the same.)

This aspectual distinction is not inherent to the events themselves, but is decided by how the speaker views them or wishes to present them. The very same event may be described as perfective in one clause, and then imperfective in the next. For example,
"John read that book yesterday; while he was reading it, the postman came,"

where the two forms of 'to read' refer to the same thing. In 'John read that book yesterday', however, John's reading is presented as a complete event, without further subdivision into successive temporal phases; while in 'while he was reading it', this event is opened up, so that the speaker is now in the middle of the situation of John's reading, as it is in the middle of this reading that the postman arrives.

The perfective and imperfective need not occur together in the same utterance; indeed they more often do not. However, it is difficult to describe them in English without an explicit contrast like "John was reading when I entered."

Combination of imperfective and perfective


The two aspects may be combined on the same verb in a few languages, for perfective imperfectives and imperfective perfectives. Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

, for example, have parallel perfective-imperfective and aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

-imperfect forms, the latter restricted to the past tense. In Bulgarian, there are parallel perfective and imperfective stems; aorist and imperfect suffixes are typically added to the perfective and imperfective stems, respectively, but the opposite can occur. For example, an imperfect perfective is used in Bulgarian for a simple action that is repeated or habitual:
vecher sedn-eshe na chardak-a
evening sit. on verandah-
The imperfective (
abbreviated {{sc|ipfv}} or more ambiguously {{sc|impv}}) is a grammatical aspect
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 used to describe a situation viewed with internal structure, such as ongoing, habitual, repeated, and similar semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 roles, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. Although many languages have a general imperfective, others have distinct aspects for one or more of its various roles, such as progressive, habitual
Habitual aspect
In linguistics, the aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state. As its name suggests, the habitual aspect specifies an action as occurring habitually: the subject performs the action usually, ordinarily, or customarily...

, and iterative aspects.

English


English is an example of a language with no general imperfective. The English progressive is used to describe ongoing events such as "The rain was beating down". Habitual situations do not have their own verb form, but the construction "used to" conveys past habitual action, as in "I used to ski". Unlike in languages with a general imperfective, in English the simple past
Simple Past
The simple past, sometimes called the preterite, is the past tense of Modern English. It is used to describe events in the past. It may combine with either or both of two aspects, the perfect and the progressive...

 tense can be used for situations presented as ongoing, such as "The rain beat down continuously through the night".

Other languages


Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 are examples of languages with verbs that have perfective and/or an imperfective form. Imperfectives can be turned into perfectives with any of various prefixes. Perfectives can be turned into imperfectives with a suffix. The non-past imperfective form is used for the present, while its perfective counterpart is used for the future. There is also a periphrastic imperfective future construction.{{rp|p.84}}

The imperfective aspect may be fused with the past tense, for a form traditionally called the imperfect. In some cases, such as Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Modern Greek
Modern Greek
Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

, this is because the imperfective aspect only occurs in the past tense; others, such as Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

, have both general imperfectives and imperfects. Other languages with distinct past imperfectives include Latin and Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

.

Imperfective and perfective


The opposite aspect is the perfective
Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

(in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, generally called the aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

), which views a situation as a simple whole. (This is not the same as the perfect.) Unlike most other tense–aspect category oppositions, it is typical for a language not to choose either perfective or imperfective as being generally marked and the other as being generally unmarked.{{rp|pp.69,72}}

In narrative, one of the uses of the imperfective is to set the background scene ("It was midnight. The room was dark. The rain was beating down. Water was streaming in through a broken window. A gun lay on the table."), with the perfective describing foregrounded actions within that scene ("Suddenly, a man burst into the room, ran over to the table, and grabbed the gun.").

English does not have these aspects. However, the background-action contrast provides a decent approximation in English:
"John was reading when I entered."

Here 'entered' presents "the totality of the situation referred to [...]: the whole of the situation is presented as a single unanalysable whole, with beginning, middle, and end all rolled into one; no attempt is made to divide this situation up into the various individual phases that make up the action of entry." This is the essence of the perfective aspect: An event presented as an unanalyzed whole.

'Was reading', however, is different. Besides being the background to 'entered', the form 'reading' presents "an internal portion of John's reading, [with] no explicit reference to the beginning or to the end of his reading." This is the essence of the imperfective aspect. Or, to continue the quotation, "the perfective looks at the situation from the outside, without necessarily distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective looks at the situation from inside, and as such is crucially concerned with the internal structure of the situation, since it can both look backwards towards the start of the situation, and look forwards to the end of the situation, and indeed it is equally appropriate if the situation is one that lasts through all time, without any beginning and without any end." This is why, within the past tense, perfective verbs are typically translated into English as simple past, like 'entered', whereas imperfective verbs are typically translated as 'was reading', 'used to read', and the like. (In English, it is easiest to illustrate aspect in the past tense. However, any tense is possible: Present "John is reading as I enter", future "John will be reading when I enter", etc.: In each tense, the aspectual distinction is the same.)

This aspectual distinction is not inherent to the events themselves, but is decided by how the speaker views them or wishes to present them. The very same event may be described as perfective in one clause, and then imperfective in the next. For example,
"John read that book yesterday; while he was reading it, the postman came,"

where the two forms of 'to read' refer to the same thing. In 'John read that book yesterday', however, John's reading is presented as a complete event, without further subdivision into successive temporal phases; while in 'while he was reading it', this event is opened up, so that the speaker is now in the middle of the situation of John's reading, as it is in the middle of this reading that the postman arrives.

The perfective and imperfective need not occur together in the same utterance; indeed they more often do not. However, it is difficult to describe them in English without an explicit contrast like "John was reading when I entered."

Combination of imperfective and perfective


The two aspects may be combined on the same verb in a few languages, for perfective imperfectives and imperfective perfectives. Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

, for example, have parallel perfective-imperfective and aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

-imperfect forms, the latter restricted to the past tense. In Bulgarian, there are parallel perfective and imperfective stems; aorist and imperfect suffixes are typically added to the perfective and imperfective stems, respectively, but the opposite can occur. For example, an imperfect perfective is used in Bulgarian for a simple action that is repeated or habitual:
vecher sedn-eshe na chardak-a
evening sit.{{sc|pfv-pst.ipfv}} on verandah-
The imperfective (
abbreviated {{sc|ipfv}} or more ambiguously {{sc|impv}}) is a grammatical aspect
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 used to describe a situation viewed with internal structure, such as ongoing, habitual, repeated, and similar semantic
Semantics
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 roles, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. Although many languages have a general imperfective, others have distinct aspects for one or more of its various roles, such as progressive, habitual
Habitual aspect
In linguistics, the aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state. As its name suggests, the habitual aspect specifies an action as occurring habitually: the subject performs the action usually, ordinarily, or customarily...

, and iterative aspects.

English


English is an example of a language with no general imperfective. The English progressive is used to describe ongoing events such as "The rain was beating down". Habitual situations do not have their own verb form, but the construction "used to" conveys past habitual action, as in "I used to ski". Unlike in languages with a general imperfective, in English the simple past
Simple Past
The simple past, sometimes called the preterite, is the past tense of Modern English. It is used to describe events in the past. It may combine with either or both of two aspects, the perfect and the progressive...

 tense can be used for situations presented as ongoing, such as "The rain beat down continuously through the night".

Other languages


Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 are examples of languages with verbs that have perfective and/or an imperfective form. Imperfectives can be turned into perfectives with any of various prefixes. Perfectives can be turned into imperfectives with a suffix. The non-past imperfective form is used for the present, while its perfective counterpart is used for the future. There is also a periphrastic imperfective future construction.{{rp|p.84}}

The imperfective aspect may be fused with the past tense, for a form traditionally called the imperfect. In some cases, such as Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

 and Modern Greek
Modern Greek
Modern Greek refers to the varieties of the Greek language spoken in the modern era. The beginning of the "modern" period of the language is often symbolically assigned to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, even though that date marks no clear linguistic boundary and many characteristic...

, this is because the imperfective aspect only occurs in the past tense; others, such as Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

, have both general imperfectives and imperfects. Other languages with distinct past imperfectives include Latin and Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

.

Imperfective and perfective


The opposite aspect is the perfective
Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect , sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms...

(in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, generally called the aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

), which views a situation as a simple whole. (This is not the same as the perfect.) Unlike most other tense–aspect category oppositions, it is typical for a language not to choose either perfective or imperfective as being generally marked and the other as being generally unmarked.{{rp|pp.69,72}}

In narrative, one of the uses of the imperfective is to set the background scene ("It was midnight. The room was dark. The rain was beating down. Water was streaming in through a broken window. A gun lay on the table."), with the perfective describing foregrounded actions within that scene ("Suddenly, a man burst into the room, ran over to the table, and grabbed the gun.").

English does not have these aspects. However, the background-action contrast provides a decent approximation in English:
"John was reading when I entered."

Here 'entered' presents "the totality of the situation referred to [...]: the whole of the situation is presented as a single unanalysable whole, with beginning, middle, and end all rolled into one; no attempt is made to divide this situation up into the various individual phases that make up the action of entry." This is the essence of the perfective aspect: An event presented as an unanalyzed whole.

'Was reading', however, is different. Besides being the background to 'entered', the form 'reading' presents "an internal portion of John's reading, [with] no explicit reference to the beginning or to the end of his reading." This is the essence of the imperfective aspect. Or, to continue the quotation, "the perfective looks at the situation from the outside, without necessarily distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective looks at the situation from inside, and as such is crucially concerned with the internal structure of the situation, since it can both look backwards towards the start of the situation, and look forwards to the end of the situation, and indeed it is equally appropriate if the situation is one that lasts through all time, without any beginning and without any end." This is why, within the past tense, perfective verbs are typically translated into English as simple past, like 'entered', whereas imperfective verbs are typically translated as 'was reading', 'used to read', and the like. (In English, it is easiest to illustrate aspect in the past tense. However, any tense is possible: Present "John is reading as I enter", future "John will be reading when I enter", etc.: In each tense, the aspectual distinction is the same.)

This aspectual distinction is not inherent to the events themselves, but is decided by how the speaker views them or wishes to present them. The very same event may be described as perfective in one clause, and then imperfective in the next. For example,
"John read that book yesterday; while he was reading it, the postman came,"

where the two forms of 'to read' refer to the same thing. In 'John read that book yesterday', however, John's reading is presented as a complete event, without further subdivision into successive temporal phases; while in 'while he was reading it', this event is opened up, so that the speaker is now in the middle of the situation of John's reading, as it is in the middle of this reading that the postman arrives.

The perfective and imperfective need not occur together in the same utterance; indeed they more often do not. However, it is difficult to describe them in English without an explicit contrast like "John was reading when I entered."

Combination of imperfective and perfective


The two aspects may be combined on the same verb in a few languages, for perfective imperfectives and imperfective perfectives. Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 and Bulgarian
Bulgarian language
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, demonstrates several linguistic characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages such as the elimination of case declension, the...

, for example, have parallel perfective-imperfective and aorist
Aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

-imperfect forms, the latter restricted to the past tense. In Bulgarian, there are parallel perfective and imperfective stems; aorist and imperfect suffixes are typically added to the perfective and imperfective stems, respectively, but the opposite can occur. For example, an imperfect perfective is used in Bulgarian for a simple action that is repeated or habitual:
vecher sedn-eshe na chardak-a
evening sit.{{sc|pfv-pst.ipfv}} on verandah-{{sc
In the evening he would sit down on the verandah.

Here each sitting is an unanalyzed whole, a simple event, so the perfective root of the verb sedn 'sat' is used. However, the clause as a whole describes an on-going event conceived of as having internal structure, so the imperfective suffix -eshe is added. Without the suffix, the clause would read simply as In the evening he sat on the verandah.