Perfective, Imperfective, and Iterative

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Wed May 29 15:25:59 EDT 2002

Der Mark,

See my answer below.


>You wrote:
>>   2) The so-called "lexical aspect" is normally not applied to 
>>single verbs but to verb phrases. The more factors (here there are 
>>several words and their relationships) that possibly can account 
>>for a characteristic, the more difficult it is to connect the 
>>characteristic with just *one* factor.
>Correct me where I am wrong.
>I have not found this to be the case. Rather, "lexical aspect"
>is ONLY applied to a SINGLE WORD/LEXEME.
>Using the verb "run" for example, we can see how +DURATIVITY is
>its semantical (uncancellable) lexical aspect, even if we use
>it as part of a +TELIC phrase.
>To see a verb's semantical lexical aspect, you have to consider it
>in a vacuum, all by itself with no other grammatical intrusions.
>I use the word "aspect" to denote INHERENT PROPERTIES. (For
>example, the words you list DURATIVITY, TELIC, DYNAMICITY, STATE
>are what I call Lexical Aspect.)
>"Run" regardless of context, morphological features, modifiers, etc.,
>will always denote a +DURATIVE aspect.
>"I run." (Here, "run" is +DURATIVE.)
>"I run a lap now and then." (Here, "run" remains +Durative,
>but the PHRASE "run a lap" is +TELIC. But overall, you have the sense
>of "I run for the duration of a lap now and then.")
>One can not change "run" into a -DURATIVE action.
>Now, when "run" is used with an imperfective FORM, perfective FORM,
>or a stative FORM, you will have the SAME +DURATIVITY of the verb,
>but WHERE the author/writer wants to FOCUS the readers' attention
>is now brought to bear. These FORMS I call Grammatical Aspect.

The ideal situation in linguistics is the one with minimal pairs, 
where there is just one factor (say one letter) that is different 
between two words (entities). This single difference must be the 
cause for any semantic difference. If there are two or more 
differences between two entities, it is more difficult to know which 
of them that casuses a particular semantic difference. When we are 
trying to understand aspect, Aktionsart etc, we should deal with the 
most fundamental factors in order to reduce the causes of a 
particular characteristic.

When we use the Vendlerian categories "activity","accomplishment", 
"achievement" etc. we are primarily dealing with *phrases*, and a 
phrase consists of more elements than a word. There is no problem in 
using these categories in a study, we all do. But when we try to 
explain the meaning of aspect, it is more difficult to do that with 
the help of phrases than with the help of single words.

I agree with your description of "durativity" as an uncancellable 
property, and I understand your words ""run" regardless of context, 
morphological features, modifiers etc., will allways denote a 
+DURATIVE aspect." But sorry to say, Mark, the poor guy trying to 
understand what "aspect" *is* is now bewildered. If durativity is not 
an aspectual property, how can it be right to speak about "+DURATIVE 
aspect"? The problem is one of terminology, because you use "aspect" 
in two very different ways, as "grammatical aspect" and "lexical 
aspect". The poor guy can be helped if you reserve "aspect" for just 
one of the categories. My suggestion is that you change "+DURATIVE 
aspect" to "durative Aktionsart" and only use "aspect" to describe 
such differences as the one between aorist and imperfect.

>Imperfective forms are Present and Imperfect.
>Perfective forms are Aorist, Future, and Pluperfect.
>Stative form is the Perfect.

I agree that Greek Present and Imperfect are imperfective; Imperfect 
includes past tense as well, whereas aorist is time indifferent (it 
can for instance have future reference, see (1)). I view Future as a 
tense and not an aspect. The characteristic "statitivy" is found on 
the same level as Aktionsart and is not an aspectual quality (or a 
third aspect). The only way to be able to give a well reasoned 
explanation of the nature of Perfect is to analyse *all* the verbs of 
the NT while keeping an eye on Classical use as well. I have not done 
that (and I doubt that those who have written the grammars have done 
it), so I will not have an opinion as to the nature or Perfect at 
this moment, except that I see that its *use* is often resultative 
(an agent leads a patient  through the end of an event and into a 
resulting state). However, resultativity can be caused by both 
aspects in different aspectual languages, for instance in Mandarin 
Chinese, so I have no reasoned opinion at present.

(1) Jude 1:14 Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied also regarding 
them, when he said: "Look the Lord will come (AORIST) with his holy 

>So that, we might have this:
>1. run plus imperfective: focus on this action IN PROGRESS

Basically correct, (progressiveness is at least implicitly present 
but not always explicitly) but what about conative events (attempted 
events) as in (2) or egressive events (close to the end)  as in (3)?

(2) Mark 15:23 And they tried to give (IMPERFECT) him vine mixed with myrrh

(3) Mark 4:38 "Teacher,do you not care that wr are about to perish (PRESENT)"

>2. run plus perfective: focus on this action AS A WHOLE, IN SUMMARY

In some situations this definition holds but not in many others; 
states and events react differently to the perfective aspect

>3. run plus stative: focus on the AFTERMATH/RESULTS of this action

>Am I right in thinking that you disagree with Olsen on the issue
>of Lexical Aspect?

No, I agree with her descriptions, I just take issue with the term 
"lexical aspect" because it clouds the issue, as described above. The 
only disagreement between me and Mari is that she says that aspect is 
universal and therefore Greek aspect has the same nature as the 
English counterpart, while I deny this.

>Grammatically, what is your definition of ASPECT?

Aspect is the function of the intersection of event time by reference 
time. The differences between the aspects can be measured in three 
areas, 1) the distance between the viewer and the action, the angle 
of the intersection and the breadth of the intersection. Because 
there are two aspects and three parameters, the differences can be 
seen in six areas.

Popularly speaking aspect (in Greek) is "nothing", it is just a hole 
through which things are seen. Aktionsart describes the nature of an 
event, tense places it before, contemporaneous with or after the 
deictic point, but aspect does nothing except making a small or big 
part of it visible for the viewer.

However, just as the pause (which is nothing) in music is very 
important, the combination of aspect and other discourse factors can, 
because of linguistic convention, signal a particular interpretation 
(e.g. only the imperfective aspect is used for contative situations.

>And what terms do you use to denote what I am calling:
>Lexical Aspect
>Grammatical Aspect

Instead of "Grammatical aspect" I use "Aktionsart". Instead of 
"Lexical aspect" I use "aspect". A fine exercise to test one's 
understanding of aspect is to describe for oneself the nuances of the 
aspects in the examples below that I have brought before, but which 
nobody has commented upon.

(4) John 20:4 Both started to run (or,were running) (TRECW imperfect)

(5) John 20:2 She ran (TRECW present)

(6) Mark 5:6 He ran (TRECW aorist)

(7) 1 Corinthians 9:24 the runners (TRECW present participle) in a 
race all run (TRECW present)

>Mark Wilson



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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