This post's answer says that "to need" is imperfective because a perfective must be successfully completed, while many of the responses to this post seem to imply that a perfective doesn't need to complete it's objective but simply be a changed state. Can anyone clear this discrepancy up?

  • 6
    imho to talk about perfective/imperfective as some kind of linguistic universals without concrete language data is counter-productive.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 17:11
  • "because a perfective must be successfully completed" that sounds like they're mixing up "perfective" and the so-called "perfect".
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 23:19

2 Answers 2


A perfective predicate regards the action as a whole, and only subsets of that whole are regarded as imperfective. 'To need' is no different than 'to eat' in terms of whether you can consider starting, progressing, interrupting or completing the action, or the entire (therefore started and stopped) action. In English, the only real imperfective predicates are those that use the active participle (verb+'ing').


To answer your question, you will need to be able to understand the concepts of lexical and viewpoint aspect. The notion of "being completed/complete" is irrelevant for the definition of the viewpoint aspect or the lexical aspect. The viewpoint aspect is not concerned with the internal properties of the situation - it is the domain of the lexical aspect. The two aspects interact and impose mutual restrictions on their application, but they deal with different situation aspects.

If you consider things cross-linguistically, you'd better be armed with good understanding of these concepts. One will find utterly misleading information about the verb aspect even in reference grammar works and specialized works on aspect (I provided quotes in my answer in the first thread linked to in the OP).

The false idea that Slavic languages have "two distinct verb-forms whose basic meanings correspond closely to these two aspectualities" seems to be generally rooted in this same problem of reducing situation aspects to the notions of "completion", "being complete" etc.

The confusion this creates in understanding the situation aspect is immense. So, we do have a class of verbs in Slavic languages that are (almost always) perfective, but the perfective interpretation is enforced through the lexical composition of these verbs and these verbs having an inherent culmination point. Clearly, we cannot view the situation from the inside if it is dead.(If these verbs are seen from the perspective of the viewpoint aspect, they would more properly be referred to as "never-imperfective verbs").

Now, for most people, the inevitable conclusion that comes from this observation is that the grammatically/morphologically contrasting verb class then has to be imperfective. In reality, the other class of verbs (the supposed "imperfective" class) encompasses all sorts of aspectual differences, and without the context it's anyone's guess which sort of situation is referred to by these verbs.

So, no, the situation having or not having an identifiable culmination point does not play into the definition of perfectivity/imperfectivity. The perfective/imperfective interpretation of situations is affected by the same factors in both English and Serbian. The grammatical expressions vary to an extent of course, but in the end it all boils down to the same simple contrast.

The very title of the other thread "Why is the verb "to need" and "to observe" always imperfective in Slavic languages?" gives a nice illustration of the confusion that the false premise of the existence of perfective/imperfective opposition in Slavic languages leads to. The fact that "need" and "observe" do not have their supposed "perfective" counterparts is in no way peculiar to these verbs. No stative verb has this so-called "perfective" counterpart and they don't for a very simple reason: there is no context in which one can conceptualize these verbs as reaching any sort of a culmination point. If the perfective-imperfective opposition were actually what the two classes of Slavic verbs are about, one would have in place an alternative form for "need" "observe" "have" etc. There are no such forms, and it is not a fluke, but a linguistic fact that can be explained in simple terms.

The verbs "need", "observe" etc. can be used perfectively or imperfectively, both in English and Serbian. There are grammatical differences in the expression of perfectivity/imperfectivity contrast in the two languages, but they shouldn't be exaggerated. The expression of perfectivity/imperfectivity is subject to the same kind of semantic limitations common to all languages, different forms of grammatical expression aside.

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