RE: Tense and Aspect Definitions

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Mar 11 1999 - 13:30:42 EST

Dear Moon-Ryul

>Dear Rolf,
>I enjoy reading your post very much. Thanks.
>Let me ask some clarifying questions about your "subjective aspect".
>Rolf wrote:
>> me conclude with an example for the consideration of those interested,
>> namely Jude 1:14:
>> This is a prophecy which must refer to the future. How should we translate
>> HLQEN? I agree with Mari that aorist is not a past tense but only the
>> perfective aspect. If now, we view aspect as semantic, and aorist is
>> perfective with RT intersecting ET at the coda, there is just one way to
>> translate HLQEN, namely as a future perfect "the Lord will have come with
>> his holy myriads".
>However, if we view aspect as subjective, we could
>> either translate the clause as future "the Lord will come with his holy
>> myriads"
>I do not understand your reasoning behind this statement. It means that I
> do not understand what you mean by "subjective aspect".
>But let me try to understand you. The "objective aspect" of aorist would
>say that the RT intersects the ET at the end of the ET. Whereas, the
>aspect" would say that the RT may intersect the ET at any place, e.g.
>before the ET. Right? But why is one objective whereas the other is

>Aspect system as a whole is subjective in that it is used to depict the
>situation subjectively. But do you mean that the aspect of simple past is
>objective in that the relationship between the ET and the RT is
>fixed, in contrast to the aspect of aorist?

Let me try a short explanation. In Mari's model aspect is a semantic
property, in the imperfective aspect RT always intersects the ET at the
nucleus (but not necessarily at the middle of ET) and in the perfective
aspect RT intersects ET at the coda. This means that an event described by
(+future) and the perfective aspect *must* be future perfect - the event
does not last beyond the coda of ET. And similarly, (+future) and the
imperfective aspect *must* be future progressive because ET continues after
RT. In this way the aspects are objective, we can predict what a
combination of tense and aspect will turn out to be.

Many explanations of aspect have been suggested, and common to most of
them, is that aspect represents a viewpoint. The advantage with Mari's
model for English, is that it avoids the Aktionsart definitions of aspect
(really important!) - it is just an intersection, it makes visible some of
the event- and it portrays a beautiful and consistent verbal system without
exceptions. The basis for both is that there is a semantic relationship
between aspect and ET.

My studies suggest that there is no direct relationship between aspect and
time in Greek and Hebrew, and that is the reason why I say that the aspects
are subjective. This means that the use of the imperfective aspect does not
necessarily show that ET has not terminated and the use of the perfective
aspect does not necessarily show that ET has terminated. So the aspects
alone do not tell us anything about the *objective* nature of the events.
The consequence of this is that the beginning and end of ET do not have the
same importance as when aspects are objective- the imperfective aspect may
begin before the beginning of ET (conative situations), and it can extend
beyond the end of ET (resultative and factitive situations). And similarly
can the perfective aspect encompass a great section of ET, ending before
the end of ET.

Just as "stative" verbs for the most part have a stative interpretation but
can also be interpreted as fientive, thus being not sematically stative, in
most cases will the inperfective aspect focus on an area of ET before the
end and the perfective aspect will in most cases include the end of ET
(that is the reason why Greek and Hebrew aspects are interpreted similarly
as the English ones). However, this is not the case in all situations, and
given Grice's cancelability principle, we need a generalization that both
accounts for the "normal" use of the aspects and the other use. My
suggestion is that such subjective aspects should be defined in relation to
distance and scope: "The imperfective aspect is a closeup view of a small
part of an event or state with visible details, and the perfective aspect
is a broader view from some distance with no visible details."

The role of aspects in relation to verbs can be compared to the role of the
article in relation to nouns. The Hebrew and Greek word for "all/every" KOL
and PAS,will for instance, without the article, often focus on the
individual member of the group, but with article will the words focus on
the group as a whole. Similarly will the imperfective aspect focus on a
small part of the event and the perfective aspect will often focus on the
event as a whole or a great part of it.

>But consider the following text:
>After supper, Tom and Judy sat down in the living room. Tom read a
>article about East Asia, Judy watched her favorite cartoon on television.
>Suddenly the doorbell rang.
>Before reading "Suddenly the doorbell rang", the reader might have
>thought that the RT of Tom's reading a magazine intersects the ET
>at its end. But when they read "Suddenly the doorbell rang", it is obvious
>that the RT of "Tom read a magazine article about East Asia"
>lies in the middle of Tom's reading a magazine. Tom did not finish
>So we might be able to say that the aspect of English simple past is also

In Mari's model of aspect, it is the perfect that is perfective in English
and not the simple past. With the use of perfect you will not be able to
have a situation as the one above, thus aspect is objective in English.

There are a huge amount of aspect post in the Archives, and I do not intend
to continue; I entered the discussion in the first place to point out the
need to consider the relationship between aspect and time.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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