Some languages, e.g., Russian (1), Bulgarian (5) or Greek, show perfective readings of morphosyntactically imperfective verbs:

(1) Jakov ezdil    na more dvazhdy za poslednij god.
    J.    rode.IPF on sea  twice   in last      year
'During the last year Jacob twice went to the seaside.'

The reading in (1) is unambiguously existential perfect. What are the possible semantic mechanisms that cause such effects?

I'm thinking maybe it's the temporal adverbials that introduce the perfective aspect. But they don't just do it by themselves:

(2) Jakov ezdil    (*za) dva chasa.
    J.    rode.IPF (*in) two hours.
'Jacob rode {for, *in} two hours.'

How do the two adjuncts in (1) collaborate to produce the effect? Are there some implicit operators that do the job under certain conditions? I suspect that there is a certain projection (Perf) playing a role, but I can't figure out the details. If there's literature that addresses the question directly, please point me to it.

To give a pair without motion verbs:

(3) Jakov chital   lekcii dvazhdy za poslednij god.
    J.    read.IPF lectures twice   in last      year
'During the last year Jacob twice gave a lecture.'

(4) Jakov chital   lekciju (*za) dva chasa.
    J.    read.IPF lecture (*in) two hours.
'Jacob read the lecture {for, *in} two hours.'

And an example from Bulgarian (from Iatridou, Anagnostopouluo & Izvorski (2001) Observations about the form and meaning of the Perfect):

(5) ženata    običala     Ivan ot   1980 nasam
    woman.DEF love.IPF.PT I.   from 1980 till.now
 'the woman who has loved Ivan since 1980'
  • Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 22:19
  • 2
    A question for you, @Ivan Kapitonov: is there any difference between "Jakov ezdil na more dva raza v proshlom godu" (1) and "Jakov sjezdil na more dva raza v proshlom godu."
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 5:46
  • @AlexB.: As far as I see here, not in any interesting respect. There are effects, however, without "dva raza": "sjezdil" only allows the 'once'-reading, while "ezdil" suggests multiple occurrences. But that's another thing already, and rather trivial )) Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 10:08
  • @IvanKapitonov, without time adjuncts it is indeed rather trivial. I think your confusion is caused partly by the terms you use. What's called "perfective" in English is not the same as Russian SV, same applies to English "imperfective" and Russian NSV.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:38
  • @IvanKapitonov I would suggest you to keep the original examples in your question when you are adding better ones, otherwise it is difficult to make sense of answers referring to (1) and (2)
    – J-mster
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 22:25

2 Answers 2


The examples you chose are not particularly fortunate but the problem you're alluding to is one commonly encountered when it comes to aspect or tense. For instance, present tense is often used to refer to future events "We're leaving at 5 tomorrow." And even here you could argue that the aspect is misaligned too. And there are many instances in Slavic languages where verbs with imperfective morphology have broadly perfective meanings (and vice versa).

The problem you have is that you chose a verb of motion which has the following properties in most Slavic languages:

  1. has separate forms for imperfective and repetitive
  2. does not have a clear perfective counterpart
  3. has irregular non-analytic future tense

This has led many people to perceive what is essentially an imperfective verb as having perfective meanings or being perfective in the first place. I've encountered this intuition among native speakers as well as some experts.

This is not helped by the fact that the literature on aspect is very sketchy and ignores much of the data available. The fundamental problem is a fixation with what people often refer to as 'perfective' or 'imperfective' meanings. They're just too general to make sense in every context.

I find a functional constructionist approach much better to help make sense of the extremely rich and varied area of aspect usage. This combines the morphology and lexicon of aspect and tense with the semantics situated within the TAM (Tense Aspect Modality) space. You don't then ask what is the aspectual meaning of this verb but rather where in the TAM space is a particular Tense-Aspect construction located. For example, you could say Repetivitive-Past is used to talk about past experience not continuing in the present, Imperfective-Present is used to talk about historical narratives, Perfective-Past is used to talk about negatively or emotionally evaluated past repeated experiences. Each of the tense-aspect combinations have multiple such meanings (similarly to English) - I gave the non-prototypical ones - some of which seem directly in contradiction to what you'd predict from the aspectual meaning. Which is why it makes more immediate semantic sense to look at them as separate but related constructions than if you just look at the abstract meaning of 'aspect' and try to go from there.

I did a more detailed analysis of Tense-Aspect-Modality in Czech here. The same principle would work for Russian but the individual constructions would be different - which makes for a more principled cross-linguistic comparison.

  • Thank you for the answer! I find the idea of TAM space interesting, will give it a thought. What I don't see immediately is how one goes about things like possible adverb modifications, for instance. In other words, it seems that such a usage-based approach answers when I use which verb form (pragmatics), rather than what its direct meaning components are (semantics). Or an I missing something? Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 13:58
  • And besides that, I've changed my examples to better ones (hopefully). Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 14:15
  • @Dominik Lukes, you said "the literature on aspect is very sketchy and ignores much of the data available." Care to elaborate?
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:27

"Ездил" (ezdil) is a so-called repetitive verb, meaning "went several times; went to and fro", its non-repetitive counterpart is "ехал" (ekhal). Your analysis of (1) as "unambiguously existential perfect" looks wrong, as for me. The meaning of the Russian perfective aspect is the action that has either beginning (поехал, "poekhal", went, began going) or end (приехал, "priekhal", came, came and remained), all the other kinds of actions are expressed by the imperfective aspect, they include repeated actions, and the ones which are expressed by the English continuous aspect. Since (1) is about a repeated action expressed by a repetitive verb, there is no perfective meaning in it.

See also this discussion, the question there is the same as yours: https://russian.stackexchange.com/questions/8017/Несовершенный-вид-в-значении-совершенного

  • I must disagree. I'm not talking about "Russian perfective aspect" or "совершенный вид" here. What I am talking about is semantic perfect which characteristically creates a "perfect time span" that has a left and a right boundary. I don't see how (1) isn't that. And besides that, "я ездил туда однажды" 'I went there once' is perfectly well-formed, so I doubt that the characterisation of "ezdil" as repetitive makes sense. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 21:16
  • @IvanKapitonov - As far as I know, perfect has just one time boundary, the latest one, not two. Anyhow, (1) has neither. What are the boundaries? The meaning of perfect is "the action that happened before something else". As for "я ездил туда однажды", it means "I went there and came back" which excellently corresponds to the "went to and fro" meaning of the repetitive verbs. You've got to learn more about perfect, for example here, read at least the first sentence in that article.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 21:29
  • 2
    If you go beyond reading the first sentence, e.g., this section of that article, and further on here, you'll learn that perfect and perfective are not exactly the same, and there is not necessarily "before" in perfective. Then, for the boundaries I would refer you to Sabine Iatridou's work. Then, where did you get that definition of 'repetitive'? Finally, yes, I need to learn quite a bit about perfect, otherwise I wouldn't be asking. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 21:56
  • @IvanKapitonov - Look, you seem to be confusing the terms "perfective" and "perfect". The title of your question reads "perfective readings of imperfective verbs" which is definitely about the Russian aspect, not to say that you have Russian examples, then you write "existential perfect" and "semantic perfect", and you deny 'talking about "Russian perfective aspect" or "совершенный вид" here'. Who's Sabine Iatridou and what work of hers do you mean? Anyhow, I vote to close your question.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 22:17

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