Re: English perfect, Greek perfect

Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 12:15:28 EDT

Jonathan Robie wrote:
> I am trying to get a more precise understanding of the Greek perfect by
> comparing and contrasting the Greek perfect and the English perfect. The
> Greek perfect "denotes a completed action the effects of which still
> continue in the present" (Smyth, p.484). This seems to be true of the
> English perfect as well, and it seems that many Greek perfects can be
> translated with English perfects. Naturally, not all Greek perfects should
> be translated as English perfects, but is there really a fundamental
> difference in meaning between the English and Greek perfect? I'm trying to
> get a feeling for whether the perfects which may not be translated this way
> point to specific idioms or real differences in the function of the perfect
> tense in the two languages. I'm not asking how the perfect should be
> translated, but what the precise meaning of the perfect itself is.

I share your interest in this topic.

The Greek perfect is not augmented, so it seems to signal completion
of an action in the present, whereas the pluperfect, being augmented,
seems to sigmal completion of an action in the past. So they
differentiate according to the force of the completion, one having its
significance in the present and the other in the past.

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.]
> Wallace suggests that the English present is often the best translation for
> a Greek perfect if the resulting state is emphasized, and that the English
> perfect is the wrong translation for these Greek perfects, because he feels
> that the English perfect does not emphasize the results, but only the past
> action. Here are some of his examples:
> Mark 6:14 John the baptist *is* *risen* from the dead
> But what is wrong with "has risen from the dead"? If I understand Wallace
> correctly, he seems to be implying that "has risen from the dead" would
> focus on the belief that John the Baptist "had been resurrected", not on
> the belief that he is alive.

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]

George Blaisdell

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