re: Present Tense

From: Dale M. Wheeler (
Date: Wed Oct 20 1999 - 14:30:21 EDT

At 04:48 AM 10/20/99 -0400, you wrote:
>>when the author wishes to convey a different Aktionsart than the
>>verb's Lexis; viz., in English to make the linear "to run" into a
>>compressed Aktionsart we use the simple present "He runs" instead of the
>>progressive "He is running";
>i wouldn't call 'he runs' a simple present at all.
>actually, 'he runs' is basically "habitual" in english.
>and he is running is a "real present".
>randall buth

Randall, my friend, mayhaps you have been living in Israel too long.... (-:

But seriously; isn't it interesting how our "feel" of our native language
(since the vast majority of us have never given such things a second
thought in our mother-tongue) influences how we view these kinds of subtle
things in another language. One of the things that leads me to believe that
I'm correct about the Present is that I tried to look at this issue from
the perspective of not only English, but German (which has but the one
Present form) and Hebrew (which comes at this in a totally different way).

Your feel that "he is running" is a "real present" is correct because, as I
said, it is the appropriate aspectual choice (progressive/imperfective) for
the lexis of this verb (which is similarly progressive). The choice of the
"simple/aoristic" form changes the *portrayal* (not the actual nature of
the original event being referred to) of the lexis; in the habitual case
(which is just one of the ways it could be used in an English sentence,
like "he runs everyday") it compresses the repeated linear events down to
the perspective of a singular, snap-shot event; sort of like:

(-- -- --)

But "he runs" can have a different Aktionsart with a different context;
eg., "Today he runs the 440, tomorrow he runs the mile." In this case the
linear "to run" is compressed by perspective down to a singular event, ie.,
"simple" event. Notice how Hebrew can also do a similar (not exactly the
same!!) thing with RWC which for habituals is normally in the Impf, but for
some situations the Ptc is used (eg., 2Sam 18:22). Try some different
sentences in English with "run" and "running" and see how you have to
translate them into Hebrew; some are Impf, some are Ptcs (I wouldn't be
surprised if some of them come out in the Perfect ?!). Try them in Greek
and they ALL have to be translated by the Present form, because that's the
only one they've got in Greek (just like German).

BTW, if you're still available, I'd like to send you some more problems
I've recently run into trying to get a new version of the MorphBHS (which
is now affectionately referred to as the GWW rather than WTS, because Alan
in his infinite grace has recently changed the official name to the
"Groves-Wheeler Westminster Morphological Hebrew OT"; he must have been
feverish at the time...(-; ) out in time for SBL. Reply privately.

Be well...


Dale M. Wheeler, Ph.D.
Research Professor in Biblical Languages Multnomah Bible College
8435 NE Glisan Street Portland, OR 97220
Voice: 503-251-6416 FAX:503-251-6478 E-Mail:

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