Re: English perfect, Greek perfect

From: Rod Decker (
Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 15:49:32 EDT

Jonathan asked:

>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
>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.
>Is there a fundamental meaning of the perfect which is always there
>regardless of the use? How would you contrast the English perfect and the
>Greek perfect? Is my impression true that they are an awful lot more
>similar than they are different?

If I may dare to rasie the subject of aspect once again, I think it is
relevant to this question. There are several approaches to the perfect,
even from the perspective of verbal aspect. (The opposite position from
what I am about to summarize is that taken by Fanning, who views the
perfect as a hybrid of time/Aktionsart/aspect.) In brief, I'd suggest that
the perfect is best viewed, following McKay, as expressing *stative aspect*
with any reference to an action that produces the state as well as the time
reference coming from the context. (Please note that his is stative
*aspect* we are talking about, not stative *Aktionsart* or stative as
opposed to action verbs.)

At greater length, let me paste in some discussion from my dissertation
(sans most notes):

In comparison with the verb forms already considered, the perfect occurs
far less frequently. There are only 46 perfect indicatives in Mark. The
perfect, however, has engendered a much wider range of discussion than the
paucity of occurrences might suggest. There are three major views regarding
the meaning of the perfect. Traditionally the perfect has been defined as
completed past action with continuing results. It is said to convey a dual
time reference (both past and present) or to have dual Aktionsart (or dual
aspect, depending on the writer; this is said to be either aorist and
present, or linear and punctiliar).

More recently Fanning has proposed that the perfect should be viewed as a
semantic triad incorporating Aktionsart, relative tense, and aspect. These
three "combine to produce the basic sense: there is an Aktionsart-feature
of stative situation, an internal tense-feature of anteriority, and an
aspect-feature of summary viewpoint concerning an occurrence."

The third view may be credited to the work of McKay who has written
extensively on aspect and particularly on the aspect of the perfect form.
As he explains it,

"The perfect tense expresses the state or condition of the subject of the
verb, mostly in present-time contexts and those without specific time
reference, and in some has added strong reference to an
event which is already past. In fact, it applies the state principle of the
perfect present time, timeless situations, extensions from past
to present, and the implication of future reference, in the same way as the
process principle of the imperfective is applied to them in the present
tense..., and is even found occasionally in a use which parallels the
historic present." (McKay, *Syntax of the Verb,* 4.5.1.)

Porter has developed McKay's position even more extensively. Although
there are areas of disagreement between them, the two discussions are very
similar in that both argue for stative aspect being the only semantic value
of the perfect form. Porter summarizes: "the Perfect grammaticalizes the
state or condition of the grammatical subject as conceived by the speaker.
Whether a previous event is alluded to or exists at all is a matter of
lexis in context and not part of aspectual semantics." "The stative aspect
distances itself from the process itself, referring to the state of the
represented process."

(For extensive bibliog. on the perfect, particularly McKay's articles, see
the bibliography posted at: < >.)


 Rodney J. Decker Baptist Bible Seminary
 Asst. Prof./NT P O Box 800 Clarks Summit PA 18411 <new URL!

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