Aspect (linguistics)

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The aspect (from the Latin aspectus “look, sight, direction of sight” to aspicere “look, look”) describes a grammatical category of the verb in linguistics . The aspect expresses distinctions in how the situation described by the verb extends relative to the time considered. A typical aspect differentiation then consists in whether an event is completely contained in the observation period and is concluded ( completed aspect) or whether it is not completely contained ( unfinished aspect ).

Aspect differs from the neighboring category tense in that the tense rather expresses the relationship between a observed time and speaking time (one talks about the past or future). The tense is anchored at the time of speaking, the now, and is therefore deictic . Not so the aspect: It only describes the relation between the observed period and the extent of the described situation. This pair of observation time and situation time can then be classified as a whole in the past, present or future. Accordingly, in many languages ​​the category of the aspect is expressed in addition to the tense, whereby there can also be forms that combine aspect and tense indications in one (for example in the Romance languages).

The aspect can be realized through word forms of the verb, i.e. morphologically , that is, there are different conjugation endings or certain stem changes in the verb to represent the aspect. In English , the progressive form has the function of an unfinished aspect, i.e. H. here aspect is expressed by an auxiliary verb .

Languages ​​that do not mark the aspect as a grammatical category, such as (standard) German, can use other means of expression, for example the information conveyed by an unfinished aspect can often be in German through adverbs such as "just" or Be signaled "always". (For example: "She bakes just a cake, but he is not ready yet.")

A distinction is made between the aspect and the type of action , which, like the aspect, is not a grammatical category, but a classification of word meanings. However, the type of action is also called the lexical aspect (or situation aspect ), especially in English-language specialist literature . These uses of the term create a lack of clarity as to whether aspect is a grammatical category (as above) or more general time-related properties of verb meanings.

Interplay of aspect and tense

In contrast to the tense (i.e. the "time stage"), the aspect does not refer to the point in time of the process relative to the moment of the statement ( past , present , future ), but to the way in which this process is viewed (i.e. the "time direction reference").

However, the terms tense and aspect are not clearly distinguished from one another in all languages. This is related to the fact that there are languages ​​in which the distinction between aspects is expressed morphologically only in past tenses, so that the aspects are linked with the tense names. For example, the Latin imperfect tense is a past tense in the unfinished aspect (hence the name). Other languages ​​morphologically only distinguish the aspect and do not have any basic categorization in time levels. In still other languages, time levels and aspects are systematically combined with one another so that three time levels exist for each aspect. German, on the other hand, has a tense system, but no grammatical category of the aspect.

Hans Reichenbach created a terminology to understand the verbal sequence of tenses. He described the tenses by means of two relations between the three reference points mentioned above. For the characterization of the different tense forms, the relation between the speaking time S and the reference point R as well as that between the event time E and the reference point R was set .

In the approach he originally formulated , however, only temporal relationships between these three reference points could be described. Further developments of his theory were then also able to explain complicated descriptions of past tenses, such as that of the imperfect tense .

The category of aspect is used in the Romance languages , for example in Spanish, as the pair of opposites pretérito imperfecto for the unfinished event and the pretérito perfecto (compuesto) or pretérito indefinido for a completed action . In Spanish, representative of the other Romance languages, the terms tense and aspect are not as clearly separated from one another as in the Slavic languages . This is because the aspect distinction is expressed morphologically only in the past tenses, so the aspect coincides with the tense designations. Nonetheless, when considering the aspect, the focus is not on the "time levels", ie the tenses, but rather the temporal structure of actions, the "reference to the direction of time".

For the aspect, it is decisive what extent an action has, whether it is completed or is still ongoing and how the speaker is integrated into this situation. If one follows Reichenbach's considerations, then a perfect aspect would exist if the reference time R includes the event time E or follows it . If the reference time R is included in the event time E , one speaks of an imperfective aspect.

History of the term

Aspect is a loan translation of the term "видъ" ( vid , German "view") from the Old Church Slavonic grammar of Meletij Smotrićkyj (1619), which in turn is a loan translation to the word εἶδος (eidos) from the Greek grammar of Dionysius Thrax from the 2nd Century BC Goes back.

The Russian linguist Nikolai Ivanovich Gretsch (1830) introduced the term "видъ" (today's orthography: "вид") into Russian grammar; However, he understood it to be the morphological relationship between the basic and derived form of a verb. Karl Philipp Reiff , a Swiss philologist and lexicographer, gave in a later French translation (1829) the Russian word "видъ" with the designation "aspect". This is how the term initially used for Slavic languages ​​also found its way into the terminology of Romance studies.

It was the philologist Georg Curtius (1846) Privatdozent at the University of Berlin and later professor for classical philology at the University of Leipzig who made the first attempt to expand the category of the aspect to other Indo-European languages and thus began to develop the tense of the aspect and to be conceptually separated from the later type of action. Curtius made a distinction in his work between “Zeitstufe” and “Zeitart”. In the time stage, he saw the temporal standpoint of an action, whereas the type of time determined the manner in which the verbal action took place.

Karl Brugmann (1887), a student of Curtius at the University of Leipzig, studied the Indo-European verbal system at the same time. Together with Berthold Delbrück , he developed Curtius' approach further, as he was of the opinion that the concept of the type of time was too vaguely delimited from the time stage. It was also Brugmann who included the term “action” in the scientific discussion; he saw in the "action" expressed more the way in which the action of a verb takes place in contrast to the "time stage".

The Slavist Sigurd Agrell (1908) provided the first scientifically based definition of the term “type of action” or differentiation between “aspect” and “type of action” . Until then, these terms had been used synonymously, but this is still the case in some cases up to the current literature.

Kinds of Aspect

Illustration of the aspects

Imperfect aspect

The imperfective aspect ( Latin imperfectum 'unfinished') considers an action without regard to its closure, i.e. to a state that either lasts (durative) , is constantly repeated (iterative) or usually takes place (habitual) .

Tóte píjena scholío stin Athína. "I went to school in Athens at the time." (Greek)
Paul fumait des cigarettes fortes.   "Paul smoked strong cigarettes." (French)
Anna aveva una bicicletta.   "Anna owned ( " had " imperf.) A bicycle." (ital.)
Francisco fumaba habanos fuertes.   "Francisco was still smoking strong cigars." (span.)
George was reading a book yesterday evening.   "Georg read a book last night." (engl.)
On chce pisać list.   "He wants to write the letter (imperf., 'Sometime') " (Polish)

According to the Greek tense that expresses this aspect ( Paratatikos ) is called in the context of the Greek this aspect also paratatisch .

Perfect aspect

The perfective aspect ( Latin perfectum 'completed') regards an action as a whole or as completed, either with regard to a one-off event (selective) or its beginning (ingressive) or end (resultative) .

Chtes píga stin Athína.   "I drove ('went') to Athens yesterday." (Greek)
Paul fuma / a fumé une cigarette.   "Paul smoked a cigarette." (French)
Anna ebbe una bicicletta.   "Anna got ( 'had' perfectly) a bike." (ital.)
Francisco fumó habanos fuertes.   "Francisco was already smoking strong cigars (at the time)." (span.)
George visited London last week.   "Georg visited ( 'had' perfectly) London last week." (engl.)
On chce napisać list.   "He wants to write the letter
(perfective - 'he has the specific intention to do this too') "

According to the tense that expresses this aspect in Greek (aorist) and to avoid confusion with the perfect aspect, this aspect is also called the aoristic aspect .

Perfect aspect

The perfect aspect (according to the Greek tense perfect ) considers a completed action and the resulting ongoing result at the same time:

Écho pái stin Athína.   "I 'm to Athens gone (perfektisch) ."> "I have been to Athens." (Greek)
Tethneka.   "I died (perfect) ."> "I am dead." (ancient Greek)

In grammars that name the perfective aspect described above differently (especially in grammars of Greek), the perfect aspect is sometimes also called perfective .

The aspect in modern Greek

The modern Greek language not only preserved the three tempo-related aspects of ancient Greek , but systematically extended them to all time levels . Only in the indicative present tense is there no morphological distinction between perfect and imperfective aspects, since it is logically impossible to describe an event of the present as closed - it would thus implicitly become an event of the past.

In the first example, the common verb see is used, which is formed irregularly for the various aspects with two different word stems, the present tense stem vlep ... and the aorist stem dh ... , the perfect is not synthetically inflected, but analytically realized with auxiliary verb + aparémfato :

  • tha se dho ávrio ( θα σε δω αύριο ) - "I'll see you tomorrow."
  • tha se vlepo kathe mera ( θα σε βλέπω κάθε μέρα ) - "I will see you every day."
  • tha se écho dhi ( θα σε έχω δει ) - "I will have seen you [... and therefore know about something]"

The second example uses a regular aorist shape:

  • tha sou grápso ( θα σου γράψω ) - "I will write to you [once, on this matter]."
  • tha sou gráfo ( θα σου γράφω ) - "I will write to you - [always until you come back]."
  • tha sou écho grápsi ( θα σου έχω γράψει ) - "I will have written to you [and you have the letter in your hand]."

The aspect in the Slavic languages

The Slavic languages divide their verbs into perfect and unfinished, which express the perfective and imperfective aspect. These verbs each form a pair of aspects; the respective aspect partners are mostly derived from one another. The resulting two stems can be conjugated in all three time stages with the exception of the perfective aspect. No present tense forms can be formed from this. The formation of the aspect verb forms from one another does not follow fixed rules. To choose the verb form, knowledge of the associated unfinished or completed variant is a prerequisite. But there are some distinguishing features:

  • Verbs without a prefix are usually unfinished. They are completed by prefixing, e.g. B.
unfinished accomplished
Bulgarian jam ( ям ) iz jam ( из ям )
Upper Sorbian jěsć z jěsć
Lower Sorbian jěsć z jěsć
Polish jeść z jeść
Russian jest ' (есть) s " jest ' ( съ есть)
Serbo-Croatian jesti (јести) po jesti ( по јести)
Czech jíst po jíst, s níst
Slovak jesť z jesť
Ukrainian jisty (їсти) z ” jisty ( з ' їсти)
Slovenian jesti pojesti
German eat vs. eat up

However, the prefixation of the unfinished aspect usually brings about a change in meaning, albeit sometimes minimal, since the prefixes are usually also prepositions. In Bulgarian and Polish , the following pair of aspects results for writing :

unfinished accomplished
пиша ("pisha") на пиша (" na pisha")
pisać na pisać
write (often) write (once)

The completed aspect can, however, also mean writing down, since the prefixed form напиша is formally composed of на and пиша or napisać is formally composed of na and pisać, where на or na has the meaning of auf, an, in or zu.

  • In some completed verbs formed by prefixing, the unfinished form is formed by inserting a suffix behind the root (which is underlined in the following examples).
unfinished accomplished unfinished
Polish zw na zw na z yw
Russian zv at ' ( зв ать) na zv at ' ( на зв ать) na z yv at ' (на з ыв ать)
Serbian зв ати / zv ati na zv ati ( на зв ати) na z iv ati (на з ив ати)
Czech zv át na zv at na z ýv at
Slovak outdated: zv na zv na z ýv
Ukrainian zv aty ( зв ати) na zv aty ( на зв ати) na z yv aty (на з ив ати)
German call vs. to name
  • Some aspect pairs consist of verbs with different roots, e.g. B.
unfinished accomplished
Upper Sorbian brać wzać
Lower Sorbian braś wześ , weześ
Polish brać wziąć
Russian brat ' (брать) vzjat ' (взять)
Czech brát vzít / sebrat
Slovak brať zobrať / vziať
Ukrainian braty (брати) uzjaty (узяти)
Slovenian vzeti jemati
German to take

The use of the aspect in each Slavic language varies slightly. In Czech, for example, in the sentence Země oběhne slunce jednou za rok (the earth orbits the sun once a year) the completed aspect is used, since here the closure of the plot is considered for one year and applied to all other years. In Russian (and other) of the unfinished aspect is here applied because of the repeated sequence is the action in the foreground, especially since there are generally for this reason in the Russian in the present tense no perfect aspect: Земля обращается вокруг Солнца за один Année (Zemlya obraschtschajetsja wokrug Solnza sa odin god) .

Some South Slavic languages ​​such as Serbo-Croatian , Bulgarian and Macedonian know both the aspect-related verb stems as well as different aspect-related past tenses like Greek or the Romance languages.

The aspect in the Romance languages

In the Spanish , French , Catalan and Italian languages , a category of the aspect can only be identified in the past tenses, which are distinguished by the pairs of opposites of Pretérito imperfecto vs. Pretérito indefinido or Pretérito perfecto simple ; Imparfait vs. Passé simple , as well as in Italian Imperfetto vs. Show Passato remoto (see also the interplay of tense, aspect and type of action in the Spanish past tenses Indefinido, Imperfecto ).

The distinction between perfective and imperfective of the Latin past tense perfect (which, however, could also express the perfect aspect) and imperfect has been regularly preserved in the Romance languages . In some languages, the historical, synthetically formed perfect largely disappeared from the spoken language and was replaced by a periphrastic auxiliary verb formation (usually referred to as the compound past ), which, however, also expresses the perfective aspect. However, this compound form also occasionally takes on perfect or resultant meanings.

Classification of the aspect in the French language (as a paradigm of the Romance languages )

Examples from Italian:

Imperfect   Mentre vedevo la TV ...   "While I was watching TV ..."
Perfect (historical perfect)   Vidi un usignolo.   "I saw (saw) a nightingale."
Perfect (compound perfect)   Ieri ho visto un film nuovo.   "I saw a new film yesterday."
Perfect   Questo film l ' ho visto .   "I've seen this film (I know)."

In languages ​​that still regularly use the historical perfect, periphrastic formation has also taken on other meanings, for example in Portuguese , where the pretérito perfeito composto denotes a process that began in the past and that continues and will continue, which also comes close to the perfect aspect .

The aspect in the Semitic languages

In the verb system of the Afro-Asian and thus also of the Semitic languages , the aspect is the essential category, the time stage was originally not expressed grammatically. In Hebrew and Arabic, for example, a distinction is traditionally made between perfect and imperfect , but these do not designate tenses, but the corresponding aspects. The time level is derived from the context, but not from the actual grammatical form. Alternatively, in translations from these languages, the past tense is used for the perfect tense and the present or future tense is used for the imperfect. Example:

  Perfective Imperfect
Arabic kataba yaktubu
Hebrew kataḇ jiktoḇ
German "he wrote" "He writes / he will write"

Aspect realization in English

The English language , which has largely lost inflective elements, nevertheless has a regular system for differentiating between aspect-related categories, which, however, are purely time-related. In English, the progressive form , which is formed with the auxiliary verb to be ("to be") and the present participle active , has established itself as a progressive aspect, that is, the currently taking place of an action. In contrast, the simple form of the verb often has a perfective meaning (except for state verbs). The habitual aspect can only be expressed syntactically in the simple past with used to  + INF ('used to + INF'), otherwise it can be expressed lexically.

  • I sang a song - "I sang a song" (perfective)
  • I'm singing - " I'm singing " (progressive, present tense)
  • I was singing - "I was singing" (progressive, simple past)
  • I will be singing - "I will be singing" (progressive, future tense)
  • I used to sing before leaving high school - "Before leaving high school , I used to sing" (imperfectively)

Other languages ​​with aspect categories in the verb system


  • Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon Language . Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-476-00937-8 .
  • Manfred Krifka, Wolfgang Hock: Conceptual history of aspect and type of action . Berlin ( ( page no longer available , search in web archives: ) - collection of materials for the seminar “Aspect and Constitution of Time ”).@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  • Heinz F. Wendt: The Fischer Lexicon - Languages . Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-596-24561-3 .
  • Г. И. Копылова, Т. А. Рамсина : Учебник русского языка для лиц говрящих на испанском языке. (Russian language manual for Spanish speakers) . Издательство "Высщая Школа" , Moscow 1966 (in Russian with explanations in Spanish, aspects of the verb on pp. 91–98, lesson 13).
  • Ю. С. Маслов : Избранные труды. Аспектология. Общее языкознание . Языки славянской культуры , М. 2004.
  • Agustín Mateos: Etimologías griegas del español . Editorial Esfinge, México 1961.
  • Agustín Mateos: Etimologías latinas del español . Editorial Esfinge, México 1961.
  • А. Д. Шмелёв, Анна А. Зализняк : Введение в русскую аспектологию . М. 2000.
  • Östen Dahl: Tense and Aspect Systems . Blackwell, Oxford 1985, ISBN 0-631-14114-6 .
  • Bernard Comrie: Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems . Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics, 1976, ISBN 978-0-521-29045-6 (English).
  • Hans-Jürgen Sasse : Recent activity in the theory of aspect: Accomplishments, achievements, or just non-progressive state? In: Linguistic Typology . tape 6 , no. 2 , 2002, p. 199-271 .
  • Meletij Smotryckyj : Hrammatiki Slavenskija Pravilnoe Syntagma. Jevje 1619. Church Slavonic grammar. Edited and introduced by Olexa Horbatsch. Sagner, Frankfurt am Main 1974 ( Specimina philologiae Slavicae 4, ISSN  0170-1320 ).

Web links

  • Christoph Haase: Cognitive representation of temporality in English and in German. Dissertation, Technische Universitat Chemnitz, 2002, (PDF).
  • Heyka Krause: Semantics of the German perfect. Problems and suggestions for analysis. University of Leipzig, June 7, 2007, pp. 1–18, (PDF).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wolfgang Klein: Time in Language . Routledge, London 1994
  2. a b c d e f Helmut Glück (Ed.): Metzler Lexikon Sprach . Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-476-00937-8 .
  3. ^ Östen Dahl: Tense and aspect systems in the languages ​​of Europe. Blackwell, Oxford 1985. Differentiated: Karen Ebert: Progressive Markers in Germanic Languages. In: Ö. Dahl (Ed.): Tense and Aspect in the Languages ​​of Europe. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin 2000, pp. 605-654. (For the German, especially section 4)
  4. Bernd Kortmann: The Triad “Tense-Aspect-Aktionart”. Problems and possible solutions. In: Carl Vetters (Ed.): Perspectives on aspect and Aktionart. Belgian journal of linguistics, 6th, Ed. de l'Univ. de Bruxelles, Bruxelles 1991, pp. 9-27 ( ).
  5. ^ Carlota Smith: The parameter of aspect. Kluwer, Dordrecht 1997.
  6. ^ Hans Reichenbach: Elements of Symbolic Logic. Macmillan Co., New York 1947.
  7. Martin Becker: Die Indegrienzen des Romanischen Imperfekts ( Memento from January 13, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF.) In: Günther Grewendorf, Arnim von Stechow (Ed.): Linguistic reports. Issue 221. Helmut Buske, Hamburg 2010, ISSN  0024-3930 , pp. 79-108.
  8. Ángeles Carrasco Gutiérrez: Reichenbach y los tiempos verbales del español. Dicenda. Cuadernos de Filología Hispánica. 12, 1994, pp. 69-86, ISSN  1988-2556 ( ).
  9. Silvia Ramírez Gelbes: Aspectualidad y significado léxico: el caso de intentar en el discurso académico. Espacios Nueva series. Estudios literarios y del lenguaje. Año II / No. 2, 2006, pp. 242-261 ( ).
  10. Erwin Koschmieder: Time reference and language. A contribution to aspect u. Tense question. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1971, ISBN 3-534-05775-9 , reprint by BG Teubner, Leipzig 1929.
  11. Meletij Smotryckyj: Hrammatiki Slavenskija Pravilnoe Syntagma. Jevje 1619. (German: Kirchenslavische Grammatik. ).
  12. Horst G. Klein : Tempus, Aspect, Action Type. Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1974, p. 76
  13. Nikolai I. Grec: Prostrannaja russkaja grammatical. Saint Petersburg 1830
  14. ^ Karl Philipp Reiff: Grammaire raisonnée de la langue russe, précédée d'une introduction sur l'histoire de cet idiome, de son alphabet et de sa grammaire. Saint Petersburg 1829
  15. Georg Curtius: The formation of tenses and modes in Greek and Latin presented in a linguistic comparison. Wilhelm Besser, Leipzig 1846.
  16. ^ Karl Brugmann, Berthold Delbrück : Outline of the comparative grammar of the Indo-European languages . Karl J. Trübner, Strasbourg 1887
  17. Sigurd Agrell: Aspect change and action type formation in the Polish verbs. A contribution to the study of the Indo-European Preverbia and its meaning functions. Lund 1908.
  18. Imparfait
  19. ^ Pretérito imperfecto
  20. Past Progressive or Past Continuous
  21. So with Hans Ruge : Grammar of Modern Greek. Phonology, form theory, syntax . 3. Edition. Romiosini, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-923728-19-0 , p. 67 .
  22. Passé simple or Passé composé
  23. Pretérito indefinido (Gramática, 1931) also as Pretérito perfecto simple (Esbozo, 1973), Pretérito absoluto also historical perfect
  24. Simple Past
  25. About the verbal aspect in modern Greek:
  26. Czech Language News, Format = PDF, KBytes = 80 ( Memento from May 5, 2005 in the Internet Archive )
  27. Olaf Krause: On the meaning and function of the categories of the verbal aspect in language comparison. Pp. 1–31, (PDF).
  28. Delphine Denis, Anne Sancier-Chateau: Grammaire du français. Le Livre de poche, Librairie générale française, Parisn 1994, ISBN 2-253-16005-9 .
  29. Hans-Christoph Goßmann: Outline of the Hebrew grammar . Frankfurt am Main 1988, ISBN 3-89228-671-X .