Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect

June 26th, 20121:33 am


Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect

Perfective and Imperfective Aspect

In English three main time divisions (present, past and future) are con­veyed by fourteen verbal forms. The existence of the fourteen forms may be explained only by some additional meanings peculiar to these forms be­cause in the majority of cases their time reference coincides (cf. He has beentranslating He has translated). These forms differ due to different inter­pretations they attribute to an action, its development and its completion, that is, these differences are of aspectual nature. Perfectivity indicates the view of a situation as a single whole, without distinction of various separate phases that make up that situation; while the imperfective pays essential attention to the internal structure of the situation. From the definition of perfectivity, it follows that perfectivity involves lack of explicit reference to the internal temporal constituency of a situation, rather than explicitly implying the lack of such internal temporal constituency. Thus it is possible for perfective forms to be used for situations that are internally complex, such as those that last for a considerable period of time, or include a number of distinct internal phases, provided only that the whole of the situation is subsumed as a single whole.

Imperfective represents explicit reference to the internal temporal struc­ture of a situation, viewing a situation from within. While many languages do have a single category to express imperfectivity, there are other lan­guages, with English among them, where imperfectivity is subdivided into a number of distinct categories (see table below):

Classification of aspectual oppositions
perfective imperfective
habitual progressive

In traditional grammars, the general area of imperfectivity is subdivided into two quite distinct concepts of habituality and progressiveness. Thus one is told that the imperfective form expresses either a habitual situation or a situation viewed in its duration, and the term “imperfective” is glossed as “progressive-habitual” (or “durative-habitual”).

In discussing habituality and progressiveness, it is easiest to start by giv­ing a positive definition of habituality, leaving progressiveness to be defined negatively as imperfectivity that is not habituality.

In some discussions of habituality, it is assumed that habituality is es­sentially the same as iterativity, i.e. the repetition of a situation, the succes­sive occurrence of several instances of the given situation. This terminology is misleading in two senses. Firstly, the mere repetition of a situation is not sufficient for that situation to be referred to by a specifically habitual (or, indeed, imperfective) form. If a situation is repeated a limited number of times, then all of these instances of the situation can be viewed as a single situation, albeit with internal structure, and referred to by a perfective form. Imagine, for instance, a scene where a singer stands up, coughs five times, and then goes on singing his part. In English, this could be described as follows: the singer stood up, coughed five times, and went on…Secondly, a situation can be referred to by a habitual form without there being any iterativity at all. In a sentence like the temple of Aphrodite used to stand in Pathos, there is no necessary implication that there were several occasions on each of which this temple stood in Pathos, with intervening periods when it did not; with this particular sentence, the natural interpretation is precisely that the temple stood in Pathos throughout a certain single period, without intermission. The same is true of the following sentences: John used to be afraid of heights, Linda used to live in Manchester.

Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 2
Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 3
Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 4