How does languages with imperfect aspects typically convey distinctions between habitual, iterative, and progressive aspects?

In English, which does not mark its verbs for imperfect aspect, we have progressing "-ing," we have adverbial to convey habitual aspect ("always," "usually," "regulary") and even an auxiliary, "keep," that can convey iterative aspect.

In languages that do have imperfect aspect but no verb inflections or auxiliaries that mark distinct habitual, progressive, or iterative aspects, how are the concepts that answer to the latter three names conveyed? For example, is the use of adverbials to make these distinctions the most common strategy?

  • Interestingly, the imperfect tense (as a matter of fact, I'm not sure to what extent the tense corresponds with the aspect) in Greek and Latin can be used to express the habitual-iterative aspect (is there a difference between iterative and habitual?) in the past. The conative "aspect" (he tried to escape/kill/etc.) is also expressed by the imperfect tense in Latin, as is the durative aspect in both languages, especially Greek. I would group conative and iterative with durative in some way.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 4:11
  • In Greek, iterative can be expressed in subordinate clauses by means of the subjunctive mood in the present, the optative in the past (usually). There is often also an iterative conjunction or relative pronoun at work, such as "whoever" or "when(ever)". Note that iterative and intensive can also be expressed by a suffix in Latin (-ta-), and the iterative in Greek present (-sk-, also used for inchoative).
    – Cerberus
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 4:14
  • As I understand it, there is a difference between iterative and habitual aspect. The former indicates repeated action (as in "he kept punching the tiger") and the latter indicates states of affairs that occur always, usually, or regularly. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitual_aspect and en.wiktionary.org/wiki/iterative_aspect Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 4:04
  • Oh OK. I guess in Latin and Greek they are both expressed by the imperfect if the action is in the past.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Mar 3, 2013 at 4:18

1 Answer 1


Russian has two types of verbs: perfect VS imperfect. Perfect verbs are normally distiguished by prefixes added to verb stems. For imperfect verbs, no distinction between habitual/iterative aspects is made, but progressive is marked by a combination of prefix + durative suffix.

Finnish and Estonian have three types of perfective tenses, two imperfect tenses, and two primary objective cases to mark perfect VS imperfect actions. Habitual, iterative and progressive aspects are marked by partitive case endings. Verbs also have iterative / progressive suffixes, but their usage is arbituary and the aspects of actions are presented with object cases.

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