The perfective aspect is makes it so that the verb is viewed "outside" the verb, while imperfective verbs have an internal view into the verb.

This makes sense for past tense verbs, in order to view a past perfective (preterit) verb from the outside, it is already done, while past imperfective (imperfect) verbs just show something is in the past but have no indication that it has stopped (and therefor continue to have an internal view of it).

To say, "I walked," just tells the action but does not give any internal information about what happened during the process of walking. "I was walking," implies something happened during walking (stopped, hit by a bus, abducted by aliens, etc.), which gives interior composition, or "I used to walk," which implies that it was a continuous thing, giving an internal view into that as well.

This also makes sense for the future tense, "I will hit him," implies that the action will take place, but it does not give away any information about what will happen during that process, while "I will be hitting him," might imply that it would be continuous or something might happen in the process of hitting.

What I don't understand is how the perfective aspect can represent boundedness in the present (where a person would always have an internal view of it). If you are doing something in the present, it is continuous (and therefor imperfective), and the moment you talk about it without having any internal structure (perfective), it exists in the past and you are just using the preterit tense.

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    To be sure, many languages (like Russian) don't allow a perfective aspect in the present tense: perfective verbs don't have present-tense forms; they are interpreted as having future meaning. Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 22:24
  • Which languages are you thinking of that have a present perfective?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 4:49
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    Apparently there's an entire book on the topic: The Present Perfective Paradox across Languages. The author seems to agree with you that's conceptually difficult to treat an ongoing action as perfective; apparently the common strategy is to relax the semantics of either the "presentness" or the "perfectiveness" of putatively present-perfective forms (like the "historical present" mentioned by StoneyB, or present-is-future, or "perfective" just means "unspecified aspect"). Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 10:07
  • @leoboiko Quite so. For English I incline toward regarding the 'present' which our 'simple present' designates (when in fact it designates a 'present' and not merely a 'non-past') as a field rather than a point in time--which is consistent with ordinary imperfective use. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 11:45
  • Perfective is not an aspect in English, continuous/progressive is.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


In English, at least, the ordinary simple present is imperfective; but there are genres in which a perfective use is common.

  • In sports broadcasts, for instance: "He shoots, he scores!" describes an ongoing course of action but the individual events are expressed immediately after they happen.

  • Oral storytelling has always alternated frequently between simple past and simple present; jokes in particular are most often told entirely in the simple present. And the convention in English is that summaries of plots (in the programs at plays and operas, for instance) are told in the simple present.

  • "Art" fiction often employs present-tense narrative; indeed, it has become something of conventional mannerism in much contemporary fiction. And it is not unknown for even very sober historical accounts to switch for a time into the "historical present", particularly when recounting events from a particular individual's point of view.

In all these genres the primary effect aimed at in using the simple present is to make the events more immediate, as if they occur immediately before our eyes.

  • I'd say your three examples are really all the same thing.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 4:49
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    @curiousdannii Indeed they are. I distinguished genres in which they are commonly used. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 11:41
  • This answer says nothing about the present perfect aspect (I have walked), and why it differs from the preterit forms (I walked; I had walked).
    – amI
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 18:09
  • @amI OP is asking about verbforms with perfective aspect. The English construction which bears the name perfect (past, present, participial or infinitival) does not express perfective aspect. The name is a historical coincidence, not a linguistic description, and what the construction does express is not aspect sensu stricto but a complex mixture of temporal reference and aspect-in-the-sense-Aktionsart. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 18:27
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    @aml We really need a new name for the English perfects. Perhaps retrospective present, retrospective past. Or even more radically, name them in English: lookback present, lookback past. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 21:18

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