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10.64 Primary and Secondary Tenses

Make sure you read Croy's discussion of the past tense (secondary tense) and the non-past tense (the primary tenses: present and future).

It is very important to understand that the only time you have tense is when you are dealing with what is called an indicative verb, which is the verb that is used in making statements. For the indicative verbs, you will have three forms of the past tense (the imperfect past, which you learn in this lesson, plus the aorist, which you will learn next week, and the pluperfect, which you will learn week after next), and two forms of the present tense (you have already learned the present tense, and you will learn the perfect tense week after next), and one future tense (which you will learn next week).

However, you will not have these tenses for any other verb forms! So you do not have tenses for the infinitive, for example. You are learning some new finite verb forms this week, but you will not be learning any new infinitives.

The same goes for other verb forms you will learn later in the semester, such as the imperative form (the form for giving commands to people), or participles (verbal adjectives, as we also have in English: writing, written, speaking, spoken, etc.). The six tenses that are listed here by Croy apply only to the indicative verb system.

Croy also talks about the "kind" of action in this section. The technical linguistic term for "kind" of action is aspect. Aspect is an extremely important feature of the Greek verb system, and you will be learning more about aspect next week. The present tense that you learned already and the imperfect tense that you are learning this week have the same aspect, even though they are different tenses. Because they are the same aspect, however, you can create the imperfect past tense using the same verbal stem you have been using to create the present tense.

Since the imperfect past tense is created using the present stem of the verb, it does create a sense of "unfolding" action in past time. However, it would be a mistake to mechanically translate the imperfect using the English continuous past every time you see an imperfect verb in Greek. So, for example, the imperfect verb ἔμενον does not have to be translated as "I was staying." You can simply translate the verb as "I stayed" or you can translate it as "I was staying." You should choose the best translation in English based on the English context. It would be wrong to assume that the Greek imperfect past tense is the same as the English continuous past! Greek and English have completely different verb systems, and there is no automatic rule you can use to find an English verb that is exactly equivalent to a Greek verb.

The main thing to remember about the imperfect verb forms which you are learning this week is that these verbs are about action that is in the past. What kind of English past tense verb you use to translate the imperfect is a question of English grammar and style. And don't worry: you will be learning a lot more about Greek verbal aspect next week, so the way that the Greek past tense functions will become more clear to you then.

Biblical Greek Online. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. Page last updated: April 9, 2005 8:06 PM

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