Perfective aspect
The perfective aspect (abbreviated ), sometimes called the aoristic aspect, is a grammatical aspect
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

 used to describe a situation viewed as a simple whole, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future. The perfective aspect is equivalent to the aspectual component of past perfective forms variously called "aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

", "preterite
The preterite is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past...

", and "simple past
Simple Past
The simple past, sometimes called the preterite, is the past tense of Modern English. It is used to describe events in the past. It may combine with either or both of two aspects, the perfect and the progressive...

". Although the essence of the perfective is an event seen as a whole, a unit without internal structure, most languages which have a perfective use it for various similar semantic
Semantics is the study of meaning. It focuses on the relation between signifiers, such as words, phrases, signs and symbols, and what they stand for, their denotata....

 roles, such as momentary events and the onsets or completions of events, all of which are single points in time and thus have no internal structure. Other languages instead have separate momentane
In Finnish grammar, the momentane is a verb aspect indicating that an occurrence is sudden and short-lived.Finnish has a number of momentane markers; they differ in the valency and voice of the verbs they produce, but all indicate sudden, short-lived occurrences; for example, the verb ammahtaa is...

, inchoative, or cessative aspects for those roles, with or without a general perfective.

The perfective aspect is distinguished from the imperfective aspect
Imperfective aspect
The imperfective is a grammatical aspect used to describe a situation viewed with internal structure, such as ongoing, habitual, repeated, and similar semantic roles, whether that situation occurs in the past, present, or future...

, which presents an event as having internal structure (such as ongoing or habitual actions), and from the prospective aspect
Prospective aspect
In linguistics, the prospective aspect is a grammatical aspect describing an event that occurs subsequent to a given reference time. One way to view tenses in English and many other languages is as a combination of a reference time in which a situation takes place, and the time of a particular...

, which describes impending action.

Equivalents in English

English has neither a simple perfective or imperfective aspect; see imperfective and perfective for some basic English equivalents of this distinction.

When translating from a language which has these aspects, they will sometimes be given separate verbs in English. For example, in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 the imperfective sometimes adds the notion of "try to do something" (the so-called conative imperfect); hence the same verb root, in the imperfective (present or imperfect) and aorist, respectively, is translated as look and see, search and find, listen and hear (ἠκούομεν ēkoúomen "we listened" vs. ἠκούσαμεν ēkoúsamen "we heard").

Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 is similar, with imperfect and preterite
The preterite is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past...

 sabía "I knew" vs. supe "I found out", podía "I was able to" vs. pude "I succeeded", quería "I wanted to" vs. quise "I tried to", no quería "I did not want to" vs. no quise "I refused". Such distinctions are often highly language-specific.


Languages may mark perfective aspect with morphology, syntactic construction, lexemes/particles, or other means.
  • Thai: the aspect marker มา /maː/, grammaticalized from the word for "come," indicates perfective aspect when it follows a main verb

Perfective vs. perfect

The terms perfective and perfect are unfortunately confused or interchanged in many grammatical descriptions. A perfect is a grammatical form used to describe what is variously described as a past event with present relevance, or a present state resulting from a past situation. For example, "I have come to the cinema" implies both that I went to the cinema and that I am now in the cinema; "I have been to France" conveys that I've had that experience; and "I have lost my wallet" implies that this loss is troublesome at the present moment.

As English has a perfect, the distinction can be illustrated with the simple past standing in for the perfective. A perfect construction like "I've eaten" conveys the continued significance of that action, with implications such as "I'm full" or "you've missed dinner" depending on context. As such, it is ungrammatical to assign it a time in the past, such as "I've eaten yesterday". A perfective construction, however, has no such inherent implication of continued relevance, and as such "I ate yesterday" is perfectly grammatical; indeed, in languages which have a perfective, that is precisely the aspect which is used for such simple past events.

Traditional Greek grammar uses the term perfect in its modern sense. This was opposed to the aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

(past perfective in modern terms), which describes a unitary past action, and the imperfect (past imperfective), describing an ongoing past action. Latin, however, lost the distinction between perfective (aorist) and perfect, and for morphological reasons the single form covering both uses was called the "perfect". The two-way Latin distinction between imperfect and perfect carried over into the terminology of various modern languages, such as Slavic
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

 and the Romance languages
Romance languages
The Romance languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family, more precisely of the Italic languages subfamily, comprising all the languages that descend from Vulgar Latin, the language of ancient Rome...

, which have an aspectual distinction between imperfective and perfective. Here the word "imperfect" continues for the past imperfective, and the term "preterite
The preterite is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past...

" may be used for past perfective in contrast to the perfect.

Because of the common confusion of the terms perfect and perfective, various authors have tried to replace one or the other. Some use the Greek term 'aorist' for perfective, though this has the problem that it is commonly understood to mean specifically the past perfective. Others have replaced the perfect with anterior, though this can be ambiguous for those familiar with languages which have a true anterior tense. More unambiguous is replacing 'perfect' with retrospective or resultative.

See also

  • Ancient Greek grammar: Dependence of moods and tenses

External links

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