In some languages, aspect and time are very clearly separated, making them much more distinct to their speakers. There are a number of languages that mark aspect much more saliently than time. Prominent in this category are Chinese and American Sign Language, which both differentiate many aspects but rely exclusively on optional time-indicating terms to pinpoint an action with respect to time. In other language groups, for example in most modern Indo-European languages (except Slavic languages), aspect has become almost entirely conflated, in the verbal morphological system, with time.
In Russian, aspect is more salient than tense in narrative. Russian, like other Slavic languages, uses different lexical entries for the different aspects, whereas other languages mark them morphologically, and still others with auxiliaries (e.g., English).
In literary Arabic (الفصحى, al-Fusha) the verb has two aspect-tenses: perfective (past), and imperfective (non-past). There is some disagreement among grammarians whether to view the distinction as a distinction in aspect, or tense, or both. The "Past Verb" (فعل ماضي, fi'l maadiy) denotes an event (حدث, hadath) completed in the past, but says nothing about the relation of this past event to present status. For example, "وصل", wasala, "he arrived", indicates that arrival occurred in the past without saying anything about the present status of the arriver - maybe he stuck around, maybe he turned around and left, etc. - nor about the aspect of the past event except insofar as completeness can be considered aspectual. This "Past Verb" is clearly similar if not identical to the Greek Aorist, which is considered a tense but is more of an aspect marker. In the Arabic, aorist aspect is the logical consequence of past tense. By contrast, the "Verb of Similarity" (فعل المضارع, fi'l al-mudaara'ah), so called because of its resemblance to the active participial noun, is considered to denote an event in the present or future without committing to a specific aspectual sense beyond the incompleteness implied by the tense: يضرب "yadribu", he strikes/is striking/will strike/etc. Those are the only two "tenses" in Arabic (not counting "أمر"، "amr", command, which the tradition counts as denoting future events.) At least that's the way the tradition sees it. To explicitly mark aspect, Arabic uses a variety of lexical and syntactic devices.
Contemporary Arabic dialects are another matter. One major change from al-Fusha is the use of a prefix particle (ب "bi" in most dialects) to explicitly mark progressive, continuous, or habitual aspect: بيكتب, bi-yiktib, he is now writing, writes all the time, etc.
Aspect can mark the stage of an action. The prospective aspect is a combination of tense and aspect that indicates the action is in preparation to take place. The inceptive aspect identifies the beginning stage of an action (e.g. Esperanto uses ek-, e.g. Mi ekmanĝas, "I am beginning to eat.") and inchoative and ingressive aspects identify a change of state (The flowers started blooming) or the start of an action (He started running). Aspects of stage continue through progressive, pausative, resumptive, cessive, and terminative.
- Although the perfective is often thought of as representing a "momentary action", this is not strictly correct. It can equally well be used for an action that took time, as long as it is conceived of as a unit, with a clearly defined start and end, such as "Last summer I visited France".
- Grammatical aspect represents a formal distinction encoded in the grammar of a language. Although languages that are described as having imperfective and perfective aspects agree in most cases in their use of these aspects, they may not agree in every situation. For example:
- Some languages have additional grammatical aspects. Spanish and Ancient Greek, for example, have a perfect (not the same as the perfective), which refers to a state resulting from a previous action (also described as a previous action with relevance to a particular time, or a previous action viewed from the perspective of a later time). This corresponds (roughly) to the "have X-ed" construction in English, as in "I have recently eaten". Languages that lack this aspect (such as Portuguese, which is closely related to Spanish) often use the past perfective to render the present perfect (compare the roughly synonymous English sentences "Have you eaten yet?" and "Did you eat yet?").
- In some languages, the formal representation of aspect is optional, and can be omitted when the aspect is clear from context or does not need to be emphasized. This is the case, for example, in Mandarin Chinese, with the perfective suffix le and (especially) the imperfective zhe.
- For some verbs in some languages, the difference between perfective and imperfective conveys an additional meaning difference; in such cases, the two aspects are typically translated using separate verbs in English. In Greek, for example, the imperfective sometimes adds the notion of "try to do something" (the so-called conative imperfect); hence the same verb, in the imperfective (present or imperfect) and aorist, respectively, is used to convey look and see, search and find, listen and hear. (For example, ηκουομεν ēkouomen "we listened" vs. ηκουσαμεν ēkousamen "we heard".) Spanish has similar pairs for certain verbs, such as (imperfect and preterite, respectively) sabía "I knew" vs. supe "I found out", podía "I was able to" vs. pude "I succeeded (in doing something)", quería "I wanted to" vs. quise "I tried to", no quería "I did not want to" vs. no quise "I refused (to do something)". Such differences are often highly language-specific.
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