Latin Grammar The Use of the Imperfect Tense (Grammar 4A, pp. 194-96)
Aspect • We now are learning the imperfect tense. • It is the second past tense we have learned in Latin. • Some time ago we learned the perfect. • To understand the difference between the perfect and imperfect tense, we need to discuss aspect.
Aspect • The difference between the imperfect tense and the perfect tense is not one of time. • It is one of aspect, that is the way the action of the verb is portrayed.
Aspect • Here’s an example of aspect in English. I ran I was running
Imperfect and Perfect • In Latin, actions in the past can be presented as perfect or imperfect actions. • Perfect actions are presented as complete. • Imperfect actions are presented as incomplete.
Perfect Actions mīlesscolasticōspiperesparsit. PRESENT PAST
Imperfect Actions mīlesscolasticōspiperespargēbat. PRESENT PAST PAST
Imperfect Actions • The imperfect presents actions in the past as if they were being witnessed by a contemporary observer. • The imperfect is the projection onto the past of a present perspective. • By the way, that’s why it is formed using the first principal part of verbs, the present.
Translating • There are three ways a verb can indicate present action. • An action is going on right now. I am eating dinner now. • An action is repeated. I always eat dinner at 6. • A verb indicates a state. I believe you.
Translating • That means that an verb in the imperfect can have three interpretations. • An action was going on at that time. I was eating dinner then. • An action was repeated. I always ate dinner at 6. • A verb indicates that a state of being occurred. I believed you.
Translating • All these are expressed by the imperfect in Latin • An action was going on at that time. I was eating dinner then = tum cēnābam. • An action was repeated. I ate dinner always at 6 = duodecimāhōrā semper cēnābam. • A verb indicates that a state of being occurred. I believed you = tibicrēdēbam
Translating • Actions that are ongoing at some fixed time in the past in English are indicated by the past progressive. tum cēnābam = I was eating then. .
Translating • Repeated action in English in the past is indicated by the simple past or “used to.” duodecimāhōrā semper cēnābam = I always ate at 6 o’clock. = I always used to eat at 6 o’clock.
Translating • States in English tend to be in the simple past. • In Latin, because they are thought of as being in process, they usually are in the imperfect. tibicrēdēbam = I believed you.
Translating • Finally, do note that the perfect in Latin implies that an action came to its natural conclusion. • The imperfect does not. portamaperuī portamaperiēbam = I was opening the gate (but failed) = I began to open the gate = I tried to open the gate