I have been reading into Balto-Slavic languages and come across a problem. "To need" is always imperfective.

If I use the imperfective past verb, "to need," I am going to be still, presently needing something (because the verb is viewed internally).

That works fine, but what if I needed something in the past and I stopped needing it? If I stopped needing something, that would mean that the "process" of needing has concluded and I am viewing it from outside the duration of that action. This would require a perfective though, and almost none of the Slavic languages have them for that verb.

My reference words are наблюдать and нуждаться.

NOTE: I am talking about the perfective aspect NOT a perfect tense.

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    I'm not a Russian expert, but I see that Russian has the pairs тре́бовать(ся) /потребовать(ся). Aug 21 '17 at 21:10
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    I was more thinking of verbs like нуждаться
    – Anon
    Aug 21 '17 at 21:58
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    Most Slavic constructions are something like To me x needs, To me x is necessary, x requires etc where English would have I need x. It's a mistake to start from English, translate a single word, and then wonder why the resulting translation seems unexpressive. Aug 22 '17 at 4:56
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    наблюдать has понаблюдать, not sure if your premise there is correct. Aug 26 '17 at 12:12
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    @MarkBeadles понаблюдать is a resultless perfective (like most of the по- ones), it merely points to the fact that the process of observation was finished. What the asker is looking for, I think, is a way to express an instantaneous event of observing something. Theoretically, it would be *наблюсти, but for some reason, it's not a word. Some use наблюдать where you'd expect perfective; more commonly, synonyms are used such as заметить. Czech AFAIK has no problem perfectivising pozorovat into zpozorovat. Then again, I'm not sure sledovat has a perfective pair. Aug 31 '17 at 20:05

I believe you are asking this question because you have read that the perfective is used for completed actions. This is perfectly true. But it is important to understand in what sense they are completed.

Actions described by perfective verbs are completed in the sense that they stop because they have accomplished their object. For example:

Я открыл дверь. (I opened the door.)

This is a completed action. It is not simply discontinued as if it had ceased to be interesting and rewarding to the one doing it. It is completed because it has accomplished its purpose. Opening a door allows one to see what is on the other side and to pass through. If one is telling a story, saying that a door was opened moves the narrative ahead by one step. This ability to propel the narrative is what it means for a verb to be perfective.

The verbs you cite simply do not describe such a decisive action. For example "наблюдать" means "to observe" in the sense of "I observed how the birds raise their young." This is an extended passive activity which does not create new possibilities all by itself. Thus it is an imperfective idea.

The same applies to needing something as expressed by "нуждаться". Needing is not a real action it is more of a state. It is not a decisive action like opening a door or an act which one can carry to completion. On cannot "do a needing". One can only cease to need. Thus it too is an imperfective idea.

  • I think the use of perfective vs. imperfective in such circumstances is somewhat language-dependent. In French, "il a fallu" can be used in some circumstances for past needs Aug 29 '17 at 3:30
  • Wouldn't the difference in aspect be better explained by the difference in meaning between "il a fullu" and "нуждаться"? It seems the first refers to a condition which is met in order for something else to happen. The second refers to an unmet need.
    – David42
    Sep 18 '17 at 1:08

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