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Comrie on Perfective, Imperfective and Perfect
- General definition of aspect: Aspects are different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation.
- Aspect is not unconnected with time, i.e. locates situations in time with reference to the present moment.
- Situation-internal time (aspect) vs. situation-external time (tense).
- The differentiation between tense and aspect is particularly important in considering the perfect.
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Table 1: Classification of aspectual oppositions (cf. Comrie, 1976, 25)
1.1. Definition of perfectivity
- Perfective and imperfective forms can be used to describe durations.
- Perfectivity can be combined with certain other aspectual properties and is not punctual, rather reduces a situation to a blob.
- A frequent characterisation of perfectivity is that it indicates a completed action.
- The perfective does denote a complete situation, with beginning, middle, and end.
- In languages that have a distinction between perfective and imperfective forms, some perfective verb forms can indicate the beginning of a situation (ingressive meaning), e.g. in Spanish the verbs ver ´see´, conocer ´know´ (i.e. ´be acquainted with´), saber ´know´ (for instance, know a fact). The perfective past of these verbs often indicates the start of a new situation:
(1) conoc í (Simple Past) a Pedro hace muchos a ñ os. (´I got to know Pedro many years ago´)
- Analysis of ingressive meaning leads to the thesis that such verbs can in general be either stative or ingressive, e.g. English sit, which can mean either ´be sitting´ or ´adopt a sitting position´.
- Similar to the definition of the perfective in terms of a completed action is its definition as being a resultative, i.e. indicating the successful completion of a situation.
1.2. Perfectivity and other aspectual values
- Following the definition of perfectivity, it involves a lack of explicit reference to the internal temporal constituency of a situation, perfective forms are used for situations that are internally complex.
- In Spanish, in the Past Tense, the opposition Simple Past vs. Imperfect can be expressed independently of the opposition Progressive vs. non-Progressive. In practice the form Perfective Progressive, such as estuvieron entrando (´they entered, were entering´) does occur as in
(2) toda la tarde estuvieron entrando visitas (´all the afternoon visitors kept arriving´).
- Imperfectivity is concerned with the internal temporal structure of a situation, viewing a situation from within.
- English has a separate Habitual Aspect (cf. table 1), but only in the Past Tense, e.g.
(3) John used to work here.
- Spanish has also a distinction between perfective and imperfective:
(4) Juan lleg ó (´John arrived´; Simple Past) vs. Juan llegaba (´John was arriving´; Imperfect)
- Habituality is concerned with iterativity, i.e. the repetition of a situation, the successive occurence of several instances of the given situation.
- Habituals describe a situation of an extended period of time, e.g.
(5) The Temple of Diana used to stand at Ephesus. (no iterativity involved)
(6) The policeman used to stand at the corner for three hours each day. (iterativity involved)
- Habituality is in principle combinable with other semantic aspectual values.
- In English the Habitual Aspect (used to- construction) can combine freely with Progressive Aspect, such as used to be playing.
- The Progressive indicates a situation that frames another situation, while the non-Progressive excludes this interpretation:
(7) When I visit John, he ´ ll recite his latest poems. (Non-Progressive)
(8) When I visit John, he ´ ll be reciting his latest poems. (Progressive) Examples for progressive forms:
(9) John is singing. (English)
(10) Juan est á cantando. (Spanish)
(11) Gianni sta cantando. (Italian)
- The English Progressive has a wide range. In English Progressive and non-Progressive are not in general interchangeable.
- Progressiveness is similar to continuousness, which is defined as imperfectivity that is not occasioned by habituality.
- Progressiveness is compatible with habituality, e.g.
(12) Lisa used to be writing poems.
- General definition of progressiveness: Progressiveness is the combination of progressive meaning and nonstative meaning.
- In English and Spanish the explicitly progressive forms can be used in the sentences
(13) it is raining.
(14) est á lluviendo.
but not in
(15) * I am seeing you there under the table.
(16) * you aren ´ t hearing
- Difference between stative and non-stative verbs (e.g. act): The general rule is that lexically stative verbs can be used nonstatively and appear in the Progressive. Lexically nonstative verbs do not loose their ability to be in the Progressive by being used statively.
Example: I ´ m understanding more about physics as each day goes by.
- The Progressive in English has a number of specific uses that do not seem to fit under the general definition of progressiveness, e.g.
(17) I ´ ve only had six whiskies and already I ´ m seeing pink elephants.
- The meaning of the English Progressive is so extended, that we can speak of a general basic meaning which includes progressive meaning and other meanings that the English Progressive has.
- The perfect indicates the continuing present relevance of a past situation, e.g.
(18) I have lost my bag. (Perfect)
(19) I lost my bag. (non-Perfect)
- Perfect expresses a relation between two time-points, the time of the state from a prior situation and the time of that prior situation.
3.1. Perfect of result
- In the perfect of result, a present state is referred to as being the result of some past situation, e.g. John has arrived, I have had a bath.
- English tends toward the use of the stative Present to a greater extend as other languages do.
3.2. Experiental perfect
- The experiental perfect indicates that a given situation has held at least once during some time in the past leading up to the present, e.g.
(20) Bill has been to America.
(21) Bill has gone to America.
- English here makes an overt distinction between the experiental perfect and the perfect of result.
3.3. Perfect of persistent situation
- It is the use of the Perfect to describe a situation that started in the past but continues (persists) into the present, e.g.
(22) We ´ ve lived here for ten years.
(23) I ´ ve shopped there for years.
(24) I ´ ve been waiting for hours.
3.4. Perfect of recent past
- Temporal closeness of the past situation, the past situation is very recent, e.g.
(25) Ronald has just (this minute) arrived.
(26) I have recently learned that the match is to be postponed.
- Present relevance does not imply recentness, recentness can be a condition for present relevance.
- The degree of recentness required varies among languages that allow perfect constructions to express recent past time reference.
- Binnick, Robert. 1991. Time and the Verb. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect. An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Leech, Geoffrey N. 2198711971. Meaning and the English Verb. London: Longman.
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- Marius Weigel (Autor), 1998, Comrie on Perfective, Imperfective and Perfect, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/101643