Re: Tense and Aspect in English

From: S. M. Baugh (
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 12:09:47 EDT


>I just spent some time on the phone with a Real Live Linguist, and he
>said some things which I find clarifying. Tense and aspect are complex
>in any language, and the simple generalizations we use when learning
>languages don't completely fit.

!!! I'm not going to say "I told you so" <g> but I did try to say this a
few weeks back. Your RLL sounds very sensible.
>[example snipped]

>I don't know how a real linguist would analyze this example (I made it >up myself), but I sure know that *I* don't know how to analyze it. In
>fact, I would venture to say that most native speakers of English would
>understand this exchange, but very few could explain formally how the
>past tense is being used.

With a languague like ancient Greek which is exclusively read (not
spoken or heard), it takes a lot of description and technical vocabulary
to communicate the meaning to its learners, then years of actual reading
to get "inside" the head of an ancient Greek. That's the nature of the

But let me observe that if you want to understand Greek "aspect" (I like
Don Wilkin's term "description" better), then do two things: (1) Leave
the indicative alone. No matter how hard Porter and others try, there is
a temporal "adaption" of Greek verbs which makes it not pure "aspect."
I'm in the camp that says the augment *normally* (but not always) is a
temporal marker. The morphology of the Greek verb system indicates this
as its original meaning and it continued merry along. (2) Find those
places where there is variation in "tense" form in the same
construction, preferably in the same statement. Earlier I gave an
example or two; here's another: hOS AN ECHi (pres. subj.). . . KAI
QEWRHi (pres. subj.) . . . KAI KLEISHi (aor. subj.) (1 John 3:17). All
three verbs are governed by hOS AN ("whoever"). In my opinion (very
close to Fanning here), there is a congruence between the "aspect" and
each verb's inherent meaning. In any case, this will help you to focus
on what "aspect" means because there are no augments here to muddy the

Your FILOS in the struggle, (!)


S. M. Baugh
Westminster Theological Seminary
1725 Bear Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA

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