[B-Greek] Is Greek Present a tense? Was Verbal Aspect theory -- misgivings

Kimmo Huovila kimmo.huovila at kolumbus.fi
Mon Nov 17 12:28:43 EST 2008

On maanantai 17 marraskuu 2008, Rolf Furuli wrote:

> For the moment I will leave future alone and ask if we in English 
> have a verb form that only codes for the past, thus, being a preterit 
> (grammaticalized location in the past)? My answer is that English 
> simple past is such a form; it is not an aspect. Comrie (1985:20) 
> discusses a possible counterexample, such as "If you did this, I 
> would be very happy," and concludes that this is a special case, 
> because it is an expression of politeness.  An important point here 
> is that a verb form deserving the label "past tense" would always 
> portray events occurring before the deictic center, except possibly 
> in special cases that linguistically can be explained as such. And 
> contrariwise, if a reasonable number of a verb form portrays events 
> occurring before, after, and contemporaneously with the deictic 
> center, that form is not a tense.
> In contrast with English simple past, English simple present portrays 
> events occurring before, after, and contemporaneously with the 
> deictic center, and therefore it cannot be a tense. My example  "So 
> Paul works all yesterday to finish." is not a special case, but 
> ordinary English.

It escapes me why "Paul works all yesterday to finish" is ordinary English 
and "If you did this, I would be happy" is a special case.

> For the sake of discussion, I make the following proposition:
> 1) Greek present portrays events occurring before, after and 
> contemporaneously with the deictic center; therefore present has no 
> tense and represents only the imperfective aspect.

I would say that there are only special cases when the present tense refers to 
the past, and therefore it is a tense. The special cases are 1) historical 
present, 2) expression of a past event continuing to the present, 3) general 
(timeless) sentences can include the past.

> 2) Greek imperfect only portrays events that occur before the deictic 
> center; therefore, imperfect represents past tense combined with the 
> imperfective aspect.

Agreed, except for the special cases (counterfactual conditionals). They exist 
here just as well as with the present. So, where is the difference between 
the imperfect and the present as far as tense is concerned?

Kimmo Huovila

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