RE: Tense and Aspect Definitions

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Wed Mar 10 1999 - 03:04:24 EST

George Blaisdell wrote:

>Rolf ~
>Thank-you for your clear and inspiring post. [Customary clarity,
>unusually inspiring, for you!]
>I would like to ask you to slow down for a moment using this example and
>show how it is that "the RT intersects the ET at the coda."
>I am seeing a 2nd aor imperative followed by an aorist indicative, and
>am having trouble locating the coda and the two times involved [RT and
>ET] and how it is that they "intersect."
>As well, if I am getting you rightly, subjective viewpoint is that of
>the speaker of this prophesy, yes? And objective viewpoint is that of
>the event of which he is speaking?? And as translators you are asking
>us to bear both in mind? [With the concomitent requirement to
>consciously choose between them?]
>For myself, I simply translate this as: "Behold! The Lord comes in his
>holy myriads!" And by so doing I hope to avoid having to choose the one
>horn or the other of subjective/objective dillemma, while honoring the
>visionary a-temporality of the aorist.
>Do I succeed? [I have this lingering feeling that I'm not going to get
>off THAT easy!!]

Dear George,

Let me give some clues as to the meaning "subjective" in "subjective
aspects", by two examples:

Neh. 3:13 Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired (qatal) the Valley
Gate; they rebuilt (qatal) it and set (wayyiyiqtol) its doors , its bolts,
and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the
Dung Gate.
Neh. 3:14 Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of
Beth-haccherem, repaired (qatal) the Dung Gate; he rebuilt (yiqtol) it and
(weyiqtol) set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.
Neh. 3:15 And Shallum the son of Colhozeh, ruler of the district of
Mizpah, repaired (qatal) the Fountain Gate; he rebuilt (yiqtol) it and
covered (weyiqtol) it and set (weyiqtol) its doors, its bolts, and its

The forms qatal and wayyiqtol are viewed as perfective (though I view
wayyiqtol as imperfective)
The forms yiqtol and weyiqtol are viewed as imperfective.

In these three verses we find 4 or 5 perfective forms and 5 or 6
imperfective forms; the setting is past and all the work was evidently
finished. Why are so many imperfective forms used? If aspect is objective
and the semantic meaning of the imperfective aspect is that RT intersects
ET at the nucleus and the perfective aspect means that RT intersects ET at
the coda, then the qatals would indicate that the actions were terminated
while the yiqtols/weyiqtols would indicate that these actions were not.
Keeping in mind that all verbs are (+durative), (+dynamic), and (+telic)
and that the subjects of the imperfective verbs are singular, which is also
the case with three of the objects (This is important), we get an
impossible situation if aspects are objective. The LXX also translates all
the perfective and imperfective verbs with aorist (verse 15 in the LXX
lacks the three verbs).

Also consider Job 3:3 "Let the day perish wherein I was born (yiqtol), and
the night which said (qatal), 'A man-child is conceived (qatal).'

The verb "to give birth" is (+durative), (+dynamic) and (+telic). The
setting here is past, Job was actually born, but it is expressed by an
imperfective verb. Again, if aspects are objective, we get an impossible
situation. The LXX renders the yiqtol by a passive aorist.

The only conclusion I can draw from these examples and scores of similar
ones, is that there is no semantic relationship between *aspect* and *time*
in Hebrew, to the effect that we cannot construe from the aspect alone
whether an event or state in the past, present, or future is terminated or
continues. And this requires a modified definition of aspect. The same
problems as we see in the Hebrew text is not seen in the LXX because it
uses perfective verbs. Fanning points out that while aspect in Greek is
subjective, this subjectivity is restricted and the options are reduced
because of the more complicated verbal system in Greek. Therefore it is
easier to illustrate what subjectivity is in Hebrew, but also in Greek do
we find the phenomenon, something that also Porter stresses.
You find a wealth of information in Mari's book, and I would also refer to
my own book on Bible translation which is published today. It has a 30 page
excursus on Greek and Hebrew verebs. See


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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