RE: Present Tense

From: Dennis Hukel (
Date: Tue Oct 19 1999 - 17:21:29 EDT

Dear group:

I've been in favor of reexamining the aspectual meanings of the Greek verb for a long time, but to assign "zero" aspect to the Present and Imperfect tenses seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I have been wrestling with this matter for over 15 years too and I have come up with a way of looking at it I think is ready for peer review.

"Aspect" (or whatever you may call this) may simply be "Which of these does the speaker/writer want to be in view: the action itself, the results, neither, or both."

"The action itself" is viewed as "internal" or "incomplete" (even if it is a short duration); this is also designated as "durative" or "progressive" with no problem. Thus, the Greek Present and Imperfect tenses would best correspond to the Progressive aspect forms in English (I am going, I was going). This can be done consistently in the active voice, but it can at times get too wordy, especially in the passive voice, to be acceptable idiom.

"The results" views the action as "Completed" with a state persisting which is valid at a specified time (i.e., past = Pluperfect, present = Perfect, future = Future Perfect). This corresponds well with the Perfective aspect forms in English (I have gone, I had gone, I will have gone).

"Neither" means the Aorist is undefined to aspect, and probably to time and every other designation (such as beninning of action, ending, repeated, short, long, anterior, etc.). It is merely a reference to an action or state which the speaker/writer feels no need to specify further--the context does a good-enough job. Simple present and past forms do well in most cases, occasionally the context calls for the simple future, and idiomatically may be represented by the present perfect or past perfect.

"Both" is the Perfect Progressive aspect which in Greek and English are always periphrastic. I very rarely hear this in English; we try to avoid it as being too wordy. But, when it happens in the NT, we shouldn't sluff it off too quickly as merely a periphrastic Perfect.

That is my proposal; however, where to categorize the Greek Future tense is more problematic. I still haven't decided what it really is. There is an empty slot in Future Progressive it could fill nicely, but since it sheds the durative morphs of the Present and Imperfect and uses Aorist stems, it may just be an Aorist confined to future time. The Future infinitive and participle are not strictly timeless because they point to the "end in view." So the Future may express another aspect of "expectant" action whereby the use of the indicative (though it cannot assert absolute certainty) asserts more than the "probability" of Present, Aorist or Perfect subjunctives. Since the Aorist sometimes has perfective sense (by context), the Greek Future tense might sometimes correspond to the sense of a Future Perfect. Have any of our senior scholars encounted this?

Dennis Hukel

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