RE: To tense or not to tense

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sat Mar 15 1997 - 01:02:31 EST

Rolf (and others interested in the points he makes re Greek "tense"),

I strongly concur with you about the inappropriateness of the word "tense"
for use in relation to the so-called tenses of Greek. My work in linguistics
brought me to the same conclusion that you have reached. But also, like you,
I decided that it would be useless to try to get the term changed now. It is
indeed too deeply entrenched. We are stuck with it. So, what we have to do
is expand our understanding of its meaning to be broader than just a concept
of time.

I would describe the Greek conjugation system like this:

Each verb has four subsystems of tenses/modes. Three of these are aspect
based: durative (present and imperfect tenses); punctiliar (aorist tense),
and perfective (present perfect and pluperfect tenses). The fourth is
time-based: the future (which has no inherent aspect implication). (There is
also the pretty rare combination, the future perfect.) Every Greek verb form
will belong within one or other of these four subsystems.

I find, from the point of view of teaching Greek, that students find it
helpful to have this pointed out to them. They know that they will never
come across anything outside these four, and that they must identify every
form they encounter as being in one or other of these four subsystems. The
distinction between the one time-based and the three aspect-based subsystems
also makes it very clear to them that the difference between durative,
punctiliar and perfective forms is one of aspect and not time.

Ward Powers

Rev Dr B. Ward Powers			Email:
10 Grosvenor Crescent			International Tel: +61-2-9799-7501
SUMMER HILL  NSW  2130			Australian Tel:     (02) 9799-7501

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