Aspect, Verbal

Aspect, Verbal


a grammatical category of the verb in many languages which, in general, reflects certain types of the course of an action. The category of aspect in various languages is extremely diverse both in the semantic distinctions made and in the external forms used to express them.

In Russian and other Slavic languages there are two contrasting verbal aspects. The perfective aspect characterizes an action as a complete, indivisible act, as otkryt’ (“to open”). The imperfective aspect provides no indication of the completeness or finality of an action, as otkryvat’ (“to [be] open[ing]”), and describes an action in the very process of realization, as on kak raz otkryval okno (“he was just opening the window”), a repeated action, as ne raz otkryval (“he opened [it] more than once”), or action in general, as ty otkryval okno? (“Were you opening the window?”). Three verbal aspects were distinguished in ancient Greek: the aorist, which in many respects is similar in meaning to the Russian perfective; the present, which is similar to the Russian imperfective; and the perfect, which denotes the state that is a result of a previous action—for example, kektemai (“I have acquired” that is, I possess). In English a distinction is made between the so-called continuous and indefinite aspects. The continuous aspect denotes an action in the process of its realization at a specific moment, as “I am writing,” whereas the indefinite aspect denotes an action with no such specification of time.

Aspectual meanings are usually intertwined with temporal meanings. The formation of the category of aspect, the relationship between the categories of aspect and tense, and even the very existence of aspect are debatable in many languages. Verb formations that are not sufficiently grammatical and which, in particular, do not form regular oppositions within the range of a certain lexical meaning—for example, the so-called iterative aspect in Russian, as edal (“he used to eat”)—are sometimes treated as aspects. In such instances, modern linguistics speaks not of aspects but rather of the so-called modes of action—the iterative, inchoative (Russian zasverkat’ [“to begin to sparkle”]), attenuative (Russian polezhaf [“to lie down for a while”]), semelfactive (kol’-nut’ [“to prick”]), and so on.


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