Home > 8. The Dragons of Grammar > Aspect: A Dragon’s Nest of Possibilities

Aspect: A Dragon’s Nest of Possibilities

You never know. RT had just about given up on finding any new Dragons of Grammar when out of the blue he found a trove of dragon eggs!

Now any dragon egg would give a Faberge egg a run for its money; these eggs are so rare and come in such a wide range of sizes and shapes (but the form is always beautiful), that any human artifact would come in a shabby second at a respectable auction.

But these eggs are fragile indeed. They require much time and patience on the part of mama dragon (who incubates the eggs) while papa dragon goes off in search of the rarest of rare Etruscan salamis, which he painstakingly cuts into slivers for his brood.

And so it is with any visitors to the happy nest; all must wait up to 3 months for the tiny fry to emerge; it may take another 3 months before the dragonlets begin revealing their grammatical secrets to strangers. One must be patient, and so RT has chosen a relatively talkative dragonlet to start off the latest DoG post: the dragonlet of Aspect.

At first glance, English speakers may think that aspect is relatively straightforward. The basic distinction drawn by aspect is between a completed or an ongoing action. For instance: “I ate all my Etruscan salami, papa,” or “I was eating my Etruscan salami when you asked, papa.” Technically, our dragonlet will inform you, a completed action is said to be in the perfective aspect, an ongoing action, in the imperfect aspect.

There are two further common distinctions: aspect can indicate a repeated or habitual action: “I’ve always eaten the salami you give me, papa.” And aspect can indicate an action taking place in the past from the point of view of a past action–this is the past perfective aspect.

But things are seldom that easy. Aspect is often confused with tense. Both grammatical categories indicate the passage of time, the difference being that tense places an act in time as related to the subject or speaker; aspect describes the flow of time within the action.

Whoa, that dragonlet is subtle! Let’s look at some examples of aspect in English:


A. Past Tense

I went (perfective aspect)

I used to go (habitual aspect)

I was going (imperfective aspect)

I had gone (past perfective aspect)

B. Present Tense

I lose (perfective aspect)

I am losing (imperfective aspect)

I have lost (past perfective aspect)

I have been losing (habitual aspect)

C. Future Tense

I will see (perfective aspect)

I will be seeing (habitual aspect)

I will have seen (consequential aspect)

I am going to see (planned aspect)


Whew! And that’s right, RT added a couple of new aspect distinctions in his future tense examples. Because there’s a dragon’s nest of possibilities for making distinctions of aspect: prospective (an action occurring after an event that has been referred to); inceptive (the beginning stage of an action or event); inchoative (an event that changes something); progressive; pausitive; regressive…wow, thank you, Mr. Einstein dragonlet!

But fortunately our dragonlet is getting hungry. He wants to know when his next feast of Etruscan salami will happen. Gold stars for knowing what aspect that’s in.      RT

Illustration: Bird’s Eggs, Joseph Meyer, 1885-1890; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

  1. November 27, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Woh! That’s complicated!

    • November 27, 2012 at 1:24 am

      LS: you bet, but not impossible, and you never know when you’ll need it…thx for stopping by! RT

  1. December 4, 2012 at 8:09 pm

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