February 2001: added links to footnotes 6 and 7; corrected some typographical errors.
July 2001: Added a sentence to the generic aspect paragraph.
November 2006: Improved the typography and layout. Updated several links. Moved this page from rick.harrison.net to rickharrison.com. Added a paragraph to the introduction.
Regrettably some left-wing academics have objected to the humor in the paragraph about the prospective aspect. My objections to their objections are almost too numerous to list, but here is a sample :-) First of all, many rednecks call themselves rednecks, so the claim that it is a pejorative term is somewhat questionable. But if it is pejorative, so be it! I live and work among uneducated heterosexual white Christian rurally-accented folk in Florida. They are not shy about using pejorative terms to describe everyone on earth who is different from them in any way, shape or form; so, if I have tarred them with a pejorative term, I am merely an instrument of karma, which, as most of us know, is an unstoppable force.
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect (sometimes called viewpoint aspect) of a verb defines the temporal flow (or lack thereof) in the described event or state. In English, for example, the past-tense sentences "I swam" and "I was swimming" differ in aspect (the first sentence is in what is called the perfective or completive aspect, and the second in what is called the imperfective or durative aspect). The related concept of tense or the temporal situation indicated by an utterance, is typically distinguished from aspect.
Aspect, as discussed here, is a formal property of a language. Some languages distinguish different aspects through overt inflections or words that serve as aspect markers, while others, such as English, have no overt marking of aspect. For example, the K'iche' language spoken in Guatemala has the inflectional prefixes k- and x- to mark incompletive and completive aspect; Mandarin Chinese has the aspect markers -le, -zhe, and -guo to mark the perfective, durative, and experiential aspects, and also marks aspect with adverbs; and English does not have overt marking for most aspects. Even languages that do not mark aspect formally, however, can convey such distinctions by the use of adverbs, phrases, serial verb constructions or other means; for example, English can mark progressive aspect through the use of the progressive tense (adding be before a verb and affixing -ing to the end of the verb).
Grammatical aspect is distinguished from lexical aspect or aktionsart, which is an inherent feature of verbs or verb phrases and is determined by the nature of the event that the verb describes, whereas grammatical aspect is more often determined by inflectional morphology, aspect markers, or adverbs and other syntactic constructions.
Grammatical aspect may have been first dealt with in the work of the Indian linguist Yaska (ca. 7th century BCE), who distinguishes actions that are processes (bhāva), from those where the action is considered as a completed whole (mūrta). This is of course the key distinction between the imperfective and perfective. Yaska also applies this distinction between a verb and an action nominal.Contents [hide]