I self-studied Greek long ago, and I found this Perfect Imperative. Now all the Greek grammars I looked at just throw it at you, expecting you to either completely ignore or downright not have what seems like a natural and inevitable reaction to me: «WTF DOES THIS MEAN?!?!?!». Seriously: Perfect usually means past, so how do I make an imperative referring to something past? So I'm wondering: what other languages have Imperative Perfect, and what is the meaning of this mood-tense combination, generally speaking and also in particular in Greek?

My guess

What I guessed was that, putting together imperative, a command, and perfect, a completed action of which we can see the result (an interpretation of perfect that probably comes from the English Present Perfect, which I have been told to be used for actions of which the result is presently visible, with the example my professor always makes being "I have written 20 letters"), the Greek Imperative Perfect was a command of which one thought they already knew the result, in some sense. For example, in the Gongyla poem by Sappho (see p. 47 here, older version here pp. 239-240, something close to my reconstruction here), I accepted the Perfect Imperative because a command was perfectly fitting with "κέλομαι", and the "known result" was described later on in the poem.


I asked about this on Greek SE, but it's still in commitment, and since I've recently opened a blog where I will sooner or later upload translations of a fragment by Sappho I reconstructed (in a way that is clearly wrong in the sense that all authoritative sources give another version that is incompatible with mine) to have an Imperative Perfect, and thus I will have to explain what I.P. means, presumably, I decided to ask here as well in a broader less language-specific fashion, also because of a mild curiosity about how common such a mood-tense combination is.


I understand the overall meaning of your question as relations between forms and semantics of imperative and various forms of past tense.

In Sanscrit (another ancient language), the Imperative did belong to a group of present-tense forms, although some endings of Imperative were similar to those of imperfective forms.

Also, injunctive forms in Sanskrit were conveying the meaning of imperative having forms partially similar to a past tense.

(The source, in Russian)

The living languages offer us at least two examples with imperatives that are both past and perfective.

In French, the Past Imperative (impératif passé) is used only to describe something that should have been done by a certain time (I think it is used in sentences of 'it-should-have-been-done-by-yesterday style):

Aie écrit ce rapport demain.

Have this report written by tomorrow. (quoted from this page)

In Russian, the past perfective imperative conveys a meaning of rude command (third person perfective past tense):

Вернул на место!

returned-P.T.-Sg.-Masc. - to - place-Acc. Neut. Sg. Inanimate

You (to a man), give it back at once!

Заплатил сейчас же!

payed-PT-Sg.-Masc. - now - INTENSIFIER

You (to a man), pay immediately!

The thing is that in Ancient Greek, as far as I remember, the imperatives had two forms similar to past tenses. The Aorist Imperative conveyed the meaning of perfectiveness, yet not necesserily related to a past. cf:

λέγε (imperatīvus praesentis) - speak!

εἰπέ (imperatīvus aoristi) - say!

(the source, in Russian)

The Perfective Imperative in Ancient Greek is, according to Corien Bary (p. 5) similar to that existing in Slavic languages.

Therefore, my conclusion is that the Perfective Imperative in Ancient Greek is a form of modal command regarding an action that should have been done, from a speaker's point of view, by a certain time beforme the moment of utterance. It was also used as a form of command for a single action (p. 5, another source in English, where the cited form of imperative 'raised the sails!' makes a lot of sense from a Slavic point of view: urgent, emotionally intensified command, and/or a reference to a one-time action).

| improve this answer | |
  • So can we say that the Perfect Imperative in Greek is similar to the impératif passé in modern French? And the Slavic language thing, is it like the Aorist Imperative in Greek? From what you say, I would infer that… – MickG Jun 10 '17 at 13:02
  • To prevent confusion, the Greek aorist (though perfective in meaning) is not the same as the perfect; the OP is asking about perfect imperatives (e.g. εἰρήσθω "let it have been said!"), not aorist imperatives. – TKR Jun 10 '17 at 16:06
  • @TKR as you might notice from my answer, the thing is that perfectiveness and 'past tense' not always go hand in hand in a language having past and perfective forms of imperatives. – Manjusri Jun 10 '17 at 16:25
  • @MickG They are similar in perfectiveness, but, as TKR has noticed and as I had somehow casually pointed it out in my response, not in tenses (a perfect imperative in Ancient Greek does not necessarily have a connotation of past tense). The Slavic imperatives are similar in perfectiveness to those of the AG, but, unlike in Greek, they convey the meaning of both perfectiveness and a past tense, while the Ancient Greek imperatives could mean either perfectiveness or past tense. Or both. I suppose that the key idea of the imperatives in AG is a modality, not a tense or an aspect. – Manjusri Jun 10 '17 at 16:29
  • "They" = AG Perf.Imp. & Slavic, AG Aorist Imp. & Slavic, or AG Perf.Imp. and impératif passé? Also, «The Slavic imperatives […] convey the meaning of both perfectiveness and a past tense», I cannot quite see the past tense meaning from those translations… Side note: «INTENCIFIER» or «INTENSIFIER»? – MickG Jun 10 '17 at 16:56

Formally, Latin has perfect imperatives, too. They are very rare and usually only used with verbs that exist only in the perfect stem, like meminisse "to remember" with the imperative forms memento! and mementote!

| improve this answer | |
  • I suppose formally, mementō(te) is a future perfect imperative (“Will have remembered it already, dammit!”). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 10 '17 at 12:37
  • 1
    Also, I bet you meant "perfect IMPERATIVES", not "perfect infinitives", right? – MickG Jun 10 '17 at 13:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.