Sunday, March 3, 2024

Verbal Aspect in Greek

Understanding verbal aspect in Greek might be easier than you think! (On the other hand, it might be harder. The terminology is very confusing!) Basically, here's what you need to know.

Greek verbs have both TENSE and ASPECT. Tense refers to the TIME of action. Aspect refers to the KIND of action. In Greek (as in many other languages), time of action has three possibilities: 

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

No problem here (I hope!). As for kind of action, Greek also has three possibilities. For now, let's call them:

  • Aorist action
  • Imperfect action
  • Perfect action

Aorist action focuses on the activity itself.

Imperfect action focuses on continually doing the activity.

Perfect action focuses on the state that follows the completion of an activity.

To summarize, in Greek, as in English, we have three basic tenses: past, present, and future. But Greek teachers also like to talk about aspect in addition to tense. The chart below will hopefully help you to see this at a glance. 

Let's look at some examples in English, shall we? For now, we'll leave out the future tense. 


1. Aorist action: I study Greek everyday. 

2. Imperfect action: Can't answer the phone right now. I'm studying Greek.

3. Perfect action: Yes, I can answer your question about that word. I have studied Greek.

Or we could switch to:


1. Aorist action: What did you do yesterday? I studied Greek.

2. Imperfect action: What were you doing during the Super Bowl? I was studying Greek.

3. Perfect action: I would have gotten an A in my exegesis classes if I had studied Greek before every exam.

Now if we give these categories their "tense name," this is what we end up with. (Warning: You are about to get a charlie horse between your ears.) 

I promise you, we're almost done. But we need to do one more thing. We need to tweak the names of these three "kinds" of action just a bit. Now we'll call them:

1. Aoristic aspect.

2. Imperfective aspect.

3. Perfective aspect. 


In Greek class this week we'll be studying the aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect tenses. These tenses all have in common the fact that they occur in PAST time in the indicative mood. The difference between them has to do, not with time of action, but with kind of action (verbal aspect). 

I hope that can help!