Re: Aktionsart vs aspect

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri May 02 1997 - 19:20:44 EDT

Jeremy Townsley wrote:

<What is the difference between Aktionsart and Aspect. I <really don't
know what either of them are to begin with, <though I remember seeing
the term Aktionsart in my 2nd year <Greek book.

Dear Jeremy

To come to grips with Greek verbs you need to start out with the two
oppositions "real world/imagined world" and "subjective/objective". Real
events in the world is normally expressed in the indicative and the
imagined worlds by modals (imperative, subjunctive and optative).
Aktionsart is the objective, lexical contents of verbs, or an inherent
property, (verbs may for instance be described as durative or punctual
or bounded Cf Dale M Wheeler, 16. Mar 1977, b-greek Archives), the
aspect is the subjective view of the reporter when S/he describes the

The inherent nature of Aktionsart is seen in the fact that regardless of
the tense, aspect and mood we give verbs, say `sing` and `kill`, their
verbal contents is the same. Some will extend Aktionsart also to
include verb phrases (verb & subject and/or object) because the
arguments (subject/object) of a verb may modify its meaning. Ex: "build"
is durative and non-telic (the end is not included), "build a house" is
durative and telic. (Three informative books: Bernard Comrie,1976,
Aspect, Bernard Comrie,1985,Tense, Carlota Smith, 1991, The Parameter of

Aspect is a viewpoint, namely the way a reporter chooses to portray a
real event, and this does not necessarily coincide with its objective
contents. The important question is whether the event is portrayed as
bounded (the end is included) or unbounded (a part of it not including
the end is viewed).
A partial view of the Greek verbal system gives the following:
Present indicative: real world, subjective, unbounded
Present modal: imagined world, subjective, unbounded
Aorist indicative: real world, subjective, bounded
Aorist modal: imagined world, subjective, bounded

I think we should view modality and aspect as being on the same semantic
plane.Modals express the subjective relationship between the speaker and
the event, while aspects express the speaker`s subjective description of
the event.The difference is that modals has to do with an imagined world
while aspects describe the real world.

The reason why I hold that aspect is subjective, is that there are
events/states where the end factually was reached but the situation is
described as unbounded, and there are situations where the end is not
reached which are described as bounded. For most events in Hebrew and
many events in Greek both aspects may be used.
Examples: (1) To rest is a state. In Gen 2:2,3 it is said that God
"rested" (aorist, bounded) from his works of creation. The writer of
Hebrews discusses this in chapter four, and the argument seems to be
that God`s rest still continued at the time of writing. However, in his
reference to Gen 2:2,3 in v 4 he uses aorist. In 4:10 the notion of rest
is applied to man, and it is said hat the one `having entered (aorist
participle) into his rest, has rested/rests (aorist) from his works." So
both in the case of God and in the case of man an arbitrary "end" is
made of the state "rest" and this viewpoint is presented to the reader.
However, the rest in both cases continued after this arbitrary end.
(2) In Matt 4:11 we have an example of the opposite; the end was reached
but the focus is upon a part of the action before it. "And look! angels
came (aorist) and were serving/ministering (to) him."

You should take a look at previous threads in the Archive, such as
"Attention aspect geeks" and "To tense or not to tense".


Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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