Latin and many other Romance languages do not have perfect aspect, but Greek has perfect aspect and Iberia was a land for Ancient Greek colonies. So how and when Spanish integrates perfect aspect into others existing Latin aspects (like perfective and imperfective aspects which also exist in Greek)?

  • 2
    Out of curiosity, why's this question here and not on Spanish SE?
    – user5306
    Jun 4, 2020 at 3:17

2 Answers 2


I think this question is confused

Latin did have a perfect aspect, it was only available in the present, past, and future tenses (these verb forms are usually described as the perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect tenses respectively). This was a true perfect and not a perfective aspect in Classical Latin, that sense developed later as the Classical perfect "tense" evolved into the Spanish preterite (with perfective aspect)

The new perfect aspect using the descendant of habeo (or sum for some verbs, especially intransitive verbs of movement) + inf, which can be conjugated into whatever tense you like, is present in pretty much all Romance languages (although some conservative Romanian varieties prefer the old perfect tense). It seems to be a pretty-much universal feature of Vulgar Latin meaning it would likely already have developed by the end of the Republic

  • Isn't the Latin perfective available in all three tenses? Amāveram "I had loved", amāvī "I have loved", amāverō "I will have loved"?
    – Draconis
    Jun 3, 2020 at 15:16
  • ah yeah, you're right, will correct the post
    – Tristan
    Jun 3, 2020 at 15:19
  • Portuguese does not have a periphrastic perfect formed with habeō either; it uses the preterite (= old perfect) as Latin did. It does have a similar construction with ter, but this is not a simple perfect: its meaning is more along the lines of ‘lately I’ve been …ing’ rather than just ‘I have …ed’. Also, what do you mean by “a true perfect and not a perfective aspect in Classical Latin”? The Germanic past tense is not a perfective aspect, and nor is the Greek aorist – but the Classical Latin perfect is a perfective (or rather, aoristic-perfective) aspect. Jun 3, 2020 at 15:27
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    Wikipedia states that Portuguese had an haver perfect, but that now the use of ter has displaced it. As ter occupies the sense habeo had in vulgar latin, this doesn't seem a problem. The comment about Greek and Germanic was not well thought through or worded and is probably best off removed, I'll edit
    – Tristan
    Jun 3, 2020 at 15:31
  • what I meant though is that the Germanic past is generally considered to have perfective aspect in most descendants (although I understand that in German it is moreorless just a past tense with no particular aspect and is sometimes called the imperfect to contrast with the compound perfect tense). My understanding was also that the aorist also had perfective aspect but my knowledge of Greek is fairly basic
    – Tristan
    Jun 3, 2020 at 15:33

Latin did in fact have a perfective aspect! (I'm going to use the term "perfective" for the aspect here, because "perfect" has a different meaning in traditional Latin grammar, but "perfective aspect" and "perfect aspect" are the same thing.)

Classical Latin had a three-way distinction of tense (past, present, future) and a three-way distinction of aspect (perfective, imperfective, aoristic) which could be mixed and matched freely.

Some combinations looked the same as others:

        Imperf. Aoristic Perfective
 Future  amābō   amābō     amāverō
Present   amō     amō       amāvī
   Past amābam   amāvī    amāveram

In particular, present perfective ("I have loved") and past aoristic ("I loved") look identical, due to two different PIE "tenses" merging in Proto-Italo-Celtic (*). But we know they were distinct functions, because of certain grammatical features that change if a verb is past vs present tense: present perfective acts like a present, and past aoristic acts like a past.

In Vulgar Latin somewhere around the first few centuries CE, a new form was invented for the present perfective (amātum habeō), and the old form was used only for the past aoristic. This is where most Romance languages got their "perfect" tense, though in many cases its meaning has shifted. I'm not very good at Spanish, but I believe Spanish kept the perfect semantics, while e.g. French and Italian didn't—but I would chalk this up to the vagaries of language change, not to any Greek influence.

(*) If you accept the existence of Proto-Italo-Celtic; if you don't, it happened separately in Proto-Italic and Proto-Celtic.

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    – prash
    Jun 4, 2020 at 13:27

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