For those who came in late, "perfect" and "perfective" aspects are not the same. Perfect aspect pertains to actions that have been completed at the time referenced by the tense. So English past perfect would be "had eaten," present perfect "has eaten," and future perfect "will have eaten."

Perfective aspect, on the other hand, conveys that the action is conceived as a simple whole. http://www-01.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsAPerfect.htm

My question is, do the terms "imperfect aspect" and "imperfective aspects" also refer to distinct concepts?

  • 2
    As I understand it the imperfect is a tense-aspect that refers to past imperfective. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 6:08
  • 3
    It varies from language to language, like all such terminology; unlike phonetics, which can be measured and replicated, there is no International Standard semantic or grammatical terminology. These terms (and others) may refer to the same phenomena in one language and be quite distinct in another, depending on tradition and the beliefs and purposes of the grammarians using them.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:39

3 Answers 3


The problem with all grammatical labels used across languages is that they either lose or add some information. A further problem is that the terms are not used consistently by individual researchers or research paradigms.

So the answer to this question is both yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that perfect is generally applied to tense-related phenomena and perfective to aspect based phenomena (with the proviso that this is not often in the same language). So you're better off using perfect when talking about tenses and perfective when talking about aspects.

No, in the sense, that tense and aspect are closely interlinked phenomena. In Slavic languages they mostly have independent morphology but in Germanic languages, they mostly don't. So the 'perfect' in 'present perfect' describes the same facet of the tense that 'perfective' describes independently.

I once compared the English tense system with Czech to some interesting results. I found a lot of functional overlap but also many differences. Ultimately, using similar terminology was broadly helpful but also with a lot of potential for confusion: http://www.slideshare.net/bohemicus/presenting-aspect-as-tense.

  • The question is about differences between "imperfect" and "imperfective", and your answer seems to be about "perfect" and "perfective".
    – michau
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 14:03

Perfect can be either an aspect (sometimes analysed as a tense) or a verb form. Imperfect is just a verb form. Aspects are (sort of) comparable across languages. Verb forms are language-specific, and an "imperfect verb" from one language may have nothing in common with an "imperfect verb" from another language.

The notion of a "perfect aspect" is ambiguous; it's better to talk about the retrospective aspect (also called anterior tense; referring to an event before the reference point) and/or the resultative aspect (referring to relevance of a past event). Note that perfect verb forms can sometimes express other aspects, e.g. the experiental aspect ("I have been to China three times").

There are perfective and imperfective aspects, but there is no such thing as an "imperfect aspect". As far as I can tell, those who speak of an "imperfect aspect" either mean "lack of a perfect aspect" or "an imperfective aspect", which are completely different things.

There are several aspects that can be said to be in some way "opposite" to the perfect (retrospective/resultative) aspect. The prospective aspect (also called posterior tense) refers to an action after a reference point ("He was about to fall"). The anti-perfect aspect (also called discontinuous past tense) refers to a past event disconnected from the reference point ("He used to live here" [1]). Neither of these aspects is called "imperfect".

The name imperfect is commonly used in description of verb forms in Romance languages, which usually express the past tense with the imperfective aspect. I don't know of any sensible use of the name imperfect for describing verb forms in non-Romance languages. If it's used, it doesn't tell us anything about the semantics. For example, the form sometimes called Imperfekt in German doesn't show any distinctions in terms of the perfective/imperfective aspect.


In my opinion, they should.

E.g. in Finnish perfective olen purenut (I have biten/gnawed) could be combined either with 'tätä palaa' (imperfect+infinite) or 'tämän palan' (perfect+finite). The verb itself is mostly perfective, as counterpointed with a frequentative/imperfective 'pureskella'.

This phrase could also have an imperfective aspect: *olen pureskellut (perfect, imperfective/ pureskelin (imperfect, imperfective) * X tämän palan loppuun (this piece till the end; perfect+finite) / tätä palaa vähän aikaa (this piece for a while, imperfect+finite). Any combination could be grammatical (although not necessarily of a highly frequent usage).

If we stick to the IE paradigm of perfectiveness/imperfectiveness being represented by the verbs only, then we would get 'a perfect tense of an imperfective (frequentative) verb'.

In Russian, the verbs касаться/коснуться (to touch) are perfective, while трогать/дотронуться (to touch) are imperfective.

The forms дотронуться/притронуться/потрогать would be a perfect-type of imperfective verb, while касаться would be an imperfect-type of perfective.

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