Re: English perfect, Greek perfect

From: Carlton Winbery (
Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 09:51:11 EDT

Jonathan wrote;
>At 09:15 AM 6/4/98 -0700, wrote:
>>The English perfect seems to be more of a simple past tense, who's
>>force is now expended and has become a part of the history of the
>>'enactor' of the action. It may or may not have relevance to the
>>present, whereas the Greek perfect very definitely has present
>>relevance, due to its lack of augmentation. [If augmentation does
>>indeed have past time implicature, as it certainly seems to have.]
>I've heard this enough times, but I'm not convinced that it is true.
>Suppose you ask me where my wife is, and I say "she has gone to the store,
>and she's downstairs now", I think that's ungrammatical. If I say "she went
>to the store, and she's downstairs now" it's perfectly grammatical (though
>the detail about her going to the store may be irrelevant). I think that
>the English perfect also implies a present state.
>>Tricky wording here in English, because 'has' is present tense, and is
>>describing 'what' he 'is having' in the present, even though the whole
>>of the verb form has 'past' [perfect] force in English. 'Is' and
>>'has' are both presents!! And the more I think about the English, the
>>more interesting English gets! [And confusing, I might add]
>We talk about past perfect ("had gone") and present perfect ("has gone") in
>English. We can also talk about past perfect (="pluperfect") and present
>perfect (="perfect") in Greek.
Jonathan, I tend to agree with you. I was taught from early on (I always
made A's in English Grammar) that it is "present perfect" and "past
perfect" in English. If anything, the present perfect is closer to present
time than to the past. It assumes a completed action, but its real
emphasis is on an existing condition that in someway relates to the
completed action. The Greek perfect is very close to that, but with
differing nuances indicated mostly by context. A good translation of
GEGRAPTAI is "it is written." That it is written is an existing result.
Even in a "consummative" perfect like Mark 10:52, "Your faith has made you
well (SESWKEN), the emphasis in on the fact that faith is the cause of your
existing wellness. There are times when the perfect is used like the
aorist, but I think this is just due to the looseness of the use of the
language in the Helenistic period. (John 12:29, LELALHKEN An angel spoke
to him).

Interestingly enough, in the perfect passive, it is easy to see by the
endings that the perfect is a "primary" tense. In the active, the 3rd
plural is the only form that is unmistakeably primary (ASI[N]). The one
thing that I would say is always present in the perfect is completed action
that even in some weakened uses assumes a continuing result. I don't see
this as mixing past and present so much as describing present reality. I
think that it would be good when we talk about possible uses, that we cite
specific references in some Helenist work.

Carlton L. Winbery
Fogleman Professor of Religion
Louisiana College
Pineville, LA 71359

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