[b-hebrew] Tenses and aspects; was: footnotes

Vadim Cherny VadimCherny at mail.ru
Tue Aug 9 08:49:32 EDT 2005

> >A person emphatically describing his earlier communication, and
> >himself into the past deictic center: "He told me - get out. А я ему как
> >скажу - да пошел ты! (And I *as will tell* him - bug off!)" Even
> >is the same.

> >
> OK, but this example does not use "as" or "because",

"как" is somewhat similar to "as"

> and it uses a well  known special idiom in which the formally past
indicative form
> пошел/пошли is used as an imperative "go!".

The point is not "go," but "как скажу," "as I will tell," future tense as
the past reference in the sense "I told him."

> >In Russian, emphatic or colloquial, you can use present tense about the
> >perfect events, "Каждый раз, как я его встречу, я ему говорю..." (Each
> >I *will meet* him, I say to him) even about the very dead person.
> >
> Yes, this is an example of future tense (встречу is not a present tense)
> with past reference.

Present tense with the past reference is "говорю", "I say" in the sense "I
was telling."

> But is it really normal to write говорю (present) rather than говорил
(past imperfective) when the person is dead and the activity has ceased?

It is normal, though surely not predominant. I would, for example, expect
this present tense mode from a murderer nervous at his trial speaking of his
relations with the victim. Similar Hebrew expressions noted by Rolf are
likewise rare. It is about emphasis, re-living the events.

> And if the verb in the main clause is past, does the verb in the
subordinate clause remain future?

Often, but not necessarily. I guess, an excited person in the emphatic
speech is lax about grammar. Future-present combination is common;
past-present is less so ("every time I met him, I say him"); future-past is
also rare ("every time as I will meet him, I told him"); present (with
participle) - present is also encountered ("every time as I meet him, I tell
Psychologically, this is understandable. Take the first clause, "I met him."
If a speaker imagines himself just before the event, and knows that he will
encounter his opponent soon, he would use future tense. If he imagines the
encounter already taking place, he would use present tense. If he doesn't
imagine anything, and realizes his present, and that he is talking of the
past event, then he would use the past tense.
Likewise, the second clause is one-tense-down; future-present. He imagined
the situation just before the encounter (future), then started re-living it
and moving alongside the events, and switched to the present tense.
Funnily, I never realized this flexibility is odd for English speakers. I
was always reading Hebrew in Russian mentality of grammar, but I understand
that Rolf found such instances incomprehensible.

Vadim Cherny

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list