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

John Sanders john.franklin.sanders at gmail.com
Wed Nov 19 23:20:39 EST 2008

Dr. Furuli,

I apologize for not responding in a more timely fashion, but due to travel
and work requirements I was not able to do so.

I do have several comments on your recent posts.

   ... And Crystal says: "Nor is there a simple one-to-one

   relationship between tense forms and time: the present in English may

   help to refer to future and past time, depending on CONTEXT (e.g. I'm

   going home tomorrow, Last week I'm walking down this street...)"

In general adverbial time words do not establish tense, but in these two
examples they fix the deictic center.  In the first example, the deictic
center is fixed to "tomorrow" with the tense reflecting "present".  If we
continue that narrative with, for example, "but before I do so I will need
to call mom.", we  use the word "before" to indicate a change to the past
(from the deictic center) to our "now" with a future structure to indicate a
action not yet initiated.

The second example is similar; "last week" fixes the deictic center, the
tense being present.  I would expect the narrative to continue in the
present tense, or have some form of transition; otherwise I would consider
it defective in some fashion.

Individuals in Asia generally classify their universe by relationships
whereas we in the West look to taxonomic similarities (there are some decent
introductions to this view, but they are not presently available to me as I
write).  Oun Kwon made some observations in an posting dated 19
November.  Although
I think his taxonomic classification is incorrect, his assessment of the
relationship of the aorist tense with the present (and other tenses) is

What if we assign tense only to the forms associated with what are typically
identified as imperfect and stative aspects?  So that we have two present
tenses:  an imperfective present and a stative present, as also an
imperfective past and a stative past and an imperfective future and a
stative future.  We then represent the aorist as representing time and
aspect in a general way, or perhaps better as neutral.  That is, the verb
occurred, or is we wish to expand on that, the verb occurred sometime,
without any further specification.

If this is the case, then the aorist does not form the tense theme of the
sentence, but forms a relationship that supports the tense theme verb.  That
is how I would read Oun Kwon's posting.  At least that is the way I have
been reading Greek passages.

English has a requirement that verb tenses be synchronized.  This is
something that is not intuitive in the morphology of the verbs as any
English instructor in middle school, high school, or college can vouchsafe.
 It requires instruction, practice, and discipline.  This is not a
requirement in Greek, and I would suspect that the aorist as neutral to both
aspect and tense is influential in this regard.  I think that further
inquiry in this direction would be more fruitful than attempting to derive a
causal relationship with the morphological structure of the verb system.

John Sanders
Suzhou, China

More information about the B-Greek mailing list