Uses of Imperfect tense

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at
Thu Jan 16 06:40:00 EST 2003

At 9:36 PM -0500 1/15/03, <bertdehaan at> wrote:
>This is commonly translated something like; The Jews therefore began to
>argue with one another, saying...
>The imperfect is translated as an ingressive.
>It is clear from the word OUN that the arguing began as a result of what
>was said immediately before. The translation would mean the exact same
>without the word "began". Are the different uses of the imperfect always
>clearly discernible from the immediate context? In other words, if in a
>translation I use simply the continuous past tense, will I get the correct
>meaning? In the example above, I think I would- "The Jews therefore were
>I am not saying that my translation is the better one. (It might even
>sound a bit awkward.) I am just trying to understand the different uses of
>the imperfect. Thank you.

Bert, this is a judgment call: what the imperfect implies is that the
action began at some point in the past and nothing is stated about its
possible completion. The ingressive sense is not at all uncommon; somewhat
less common but also found is a "conative" sense ("they were trying to ...
[but not succeeding]"). I think that the OUN indicates that the ingressive
sense is appropriate here: "As a consequence they began to contend with
each other ..." It's not that your "were arguing" is wrong; the question is
rather: which version more clearly indicates consequential action.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at OR cwconrad at

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