Re: Black and Decker (and Porter and Terminology)

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Fri Aug 15 1997 - 17:33:30 EDT

Personally, I had to make up tables showing how each author uses these terms
before I achieved clarity. I am attaching the tables at the end of this message.

Ward Powers said some really great stuff here, and I've really been enjoying
his contributions over the last week. I do, however, want to point out a few
things that I disagree with, which were originally pointed out to me by Rod
Decker and Micheal Palmer:

At 01:56 PM 8/2/97 +1000, Ward Powers wrote:
>What does create problems is when terms which have a standard usage in major
>works on Greek up till now are adoped by modern writers and given a
>completely different meaning. Thus Blass-Debrunner-Funk (see p.166) use the
>term "perfective" to refer to the aspect of the perfect and pluperfect
>tenses, a usage which has been widely known, recognized and understood. For
>the other aspects BDF use "durative" and "punctiliar" (p.166). Now Porter
>has used "perfective" for the aspect that BDF call "punctiliar"; "stative"
>for "perfective"; and "imperfective" for "durative" ("Verbal Aspect in the
>Greek of the NT", p.89; "Idioms of the GNT", p.21).

I think that BDF confused the issue further when they implied that aspect
and Aktionsart are the same thing. Actually, I'm working from BDR, the
German version, which says (in section 318):

(My translation): "The original function of the so-called tense-stems of the
verb in the Indo-Germanic languages not stage of time (present, past,
future), but rather Aktionsart (kind of action) or aspects (ways of
viewing); compare to the Hebrew."

(Original German): "Die urspruengliche Funktion der sogenannten
Tempusstaemme des Verbums war in den indogermanischen Sprachen nicht die von
Zeitstufen (Gegenwart, Vergangenheit, Zukunft), sondern die von Aktionsarten
(Arten der Handlung) oder Aspekten (Betrachtungsweisen); vgl das Hebraeische."

BDR then goes on to discuss tense and Aktionsart as though aspect did not
exist. As a result of reading this, I originally thought that Aktionsart and
aspect are the same thing. I no longer believe this to be true. I discovered
this by reading Robertson, who was troubled by the fact that the present
could sometimes denote things that happened instantly, with punctiliar
Aktionsart, and decided to classify present as both durative and punctiliar.
In Robertson, it was neither a tense nor a reliable guide to Aktionsart. And
if the distinction is durative vs. punctiliar, he is right.

For me, the moment of clarity came when I realized that the presents in Luke
7:8 are punctiliar, but still imperfective. The two are not synonymous:

Luke 7:8 And I say unto this one, "Go!", and he goes; and to another,
"Come!", and he comes; and to my servant, "Do this!", and he does it.

He goes instantly, but the aspect views the action from within - "Look,
there he goes!". It would not be helpful to translate this as though it were
durative - "he is going, he is coming, he is doing it"; they really are
punctiliar. Yet they are also imperfective.
>BDF also note (p.166), "In meaning, time is practically the only
>significance of the future". That is, the future tense stands outside the
>aspect system of the verb. Thus there are four subsystems which exist for
>every Greek verb, and every form of a Greek verb will be part of one or
>other of these four. Three of the four are aspect-related, and the fourth is
>related to time. They are (using the standard terminology):
>Durative Present Imperfect
>Punctiliar Aorist (non-indicative) Aorist (indicative)
>Perfective Perfect Pluperfect
>Future Future ---
>This table, based upon BDF, and echoing numerous others, is the one used in
>my grammar, and I have not seen any good reasons given for departing from it.

If you changed "ASPECT" to "Kind of Action" or "Aktionsart", I would agree
with you. I really don't think that they are the same thing. Incidentally,
here is my current working version of a Rosetta Stone for Greek Grammars.
I'll probably add your table to it, if you don't mind...

You need a fixed-width font (e.g. Courier or Arial) and a wide display (e.g.
132 characters) for this to come out right:

Strawman ("tense only", found in some beginning grammars)

Past Present Past and present Future

imperfect present
aorist future
pluperfect perfect future perfect

Smyth (1920/1956)
                        Past Present Future

Continued action imperfect present
Simple attainment aorist future
Completed action pluperfect perfect future perfect
 with permanent result
Robertson (1923) TOC
                        Past Present Future

Durative (linear) imperfect present future
Punctiliar aorist "aoristic" present "aoristic" future
Perfected state past perfect present perfect future perfect

Imperfective imperfect, present
Perfective aorist
Stative pluperfect, perfect
Expectation future
                Past Present Future

Imperfective imperfect present
Perfective aorist
Perfective pluperfect perfect
  and stative
Unmarked future
                Past Present Future Unmarked

Imperfective imperfect present
Perfective pluperfect perfect aorist
Unmarked future

Hope someone finds this useful!


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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