Ask A Linguist For October 1997 - December 1997
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Re: Tense and Aspect

On Fri, 24 Oct 1997, Ask A Linguist wrote:

> 1. What is the difference between the following terms: perfectives,
> imperfectives, perfect? Is it impossible for perfect to occur in
> non-past tense? I tried to look at some books, but the description seems
> somewhat abstract.

	Hi Sylvia -

	I'll mix up the order of your questions a bit.

	(1) (a) A 'perfect' verb form is one which describes a *completed*
action. An English example (the present perfect): 'I *have finished* my
homework.'. It describes a *state* of completion, in contrast to 'I
*finished* my homework.' This second sentence uses the 'simple past'
tense, and places the action at a specific point in the past; so you can
use the simple past with time expressions, e.g. 'I finished my homework at
4pm.' or 'I finished my homework an hour ago.' But you cannot do this with
a perfect tense: '*I have finished my homework an hour ago.' is
*unacceptable* in English. 

	   (b) An example of a perfect verb form in a non-past tense: 
'Tomorrow I will have finished all my work.' This is predicting a time in
the *future* when all one's work will be completed. 

	(2) A 'perfective' is a general term for verb forms that express a
*non-habitual*, *one-time*, or *non-durative* (i.e. not continued or
repeated over a stretch of time) action, or 'an action considered from the
point of view of its completion', and includes the verb forms referred to
in (1) above. The term 'perfective' is sometimes used interchangeably with
'perfect'. With perfectives, the emphasis is on *completion*. 

	(3) 'Imperfectives' contrast with 'perfectives'; imperfectives
express a continued or repeated action, e.g. 'I was reading the
newspaper.' or 'The phone was ringing all day.' The action may or may not
have been finished, but that is irrelevant; the emphasis is on the
*ongoing* or *repetitive* nature of the action. 

> 2. I doubted 

	(Do you mean 'wonder', rather than 'doubted'?)

whether the following 
is a kind of future tense in > Chinese:
>               Wo men chang yue      ming tian  kai wui.
>                (We)  (are going to) (tomorrow) (have a meeting)
> Given that the phrase "change yue" always occur in the expression of
> some actions which are going to happen in the future, should it be
> regarded as a future tense?

	I'm guessing the correct romanized form of this sentence is this:

	Wo3men *jiang1 yao4* ming2 tian1 kai1 hui4. 

	If so, then yes, jiang1 yao4 definitely indicates a future 'tense'
in Chinese. Except the order of your example is a little odd - I'd put the
ming2 tian1 before the jiang1 yao4. 

	Best regards,

					  Karen Steffen Chung		
					  National Taiwan University


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