Welcome to my blog - New Testament Greek Geek! My primary aim with this site is to provide valuable tools and information regarding biblical studies. In our fast pace society, new topics and conversations about the Bible are springing forth daily. I hope to engage both new and old topics through essays, book reviews, and ramblings. Futile debates and quarrels regarding theological/doctrinal viewpoints are not advocated here. My prayer is that this blog would provide edification and encouragement for its readers and advance the cause of Christ.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Verbal Aspect

Stanley Porter defines verbal aspect as . . . “a synthetic semantic category (realized in the forms of verbs) used of meaningful oppositions in a network of tense systems to grammaticalize the author’s reasoned subjective choice of conception of a process” (Porter, Verbal Aspect, 88). There is not a clear consensus on this definition nor on standard terminology relating to verbal aspect. Rob Plummer offers 26 online lesson videos to help teach Greek grammar and this is a wonderful online resource. I typed out what Plummer states in his Learn Greek video 2.1 "The Greek Verbal System" starting at about 5:20, 
This terminology is a little bit different from what David Alan Black uses. In fact, his terminology on verbal aspect is kind of non-standard. The standard terminology, which is different from his, the progressive perspective, is called imperfective aspect. The wholisitic aspect is called perfective aspect, which he calls it I believe, let me glance here and see. He calls it aoristic aspect, which is not standard terminology. He does use the term imperfective but then he uses the perfective to describe the stative. Again I am giving you the more standard terminology for verbal aspect. I realize that it differs from the book here but you need to follow me on this.
What's interesting about Plummer's remarks is that there doesn't appear to be any kind of strict standard regarding terminology. This is a relatively new field in the study of linguistics and therefore it is lacking from many traditional grammars. These aspects are generally divided up differently and contain different names and sometimes definitions. It is very possible to say there is no exact standard in terminology. I was trained from Dr. Black’s grammar. He sets forth three aspects with helpful terminology that I have never felt I needed to forsake. How are Greek grammarians treating verbal aspect? Well, lets take a look:

William D. Mounce (Basics of Biblical Greek):

1.     Completed (also called perfective)
2.     Continuous (also called imperfective)
3.     Punctilear

David Alan Black (Learn to Read New Testament Greek):

1.     Imperfective
2.     Perfective
3.     Aoristic

Dr. Black states, “[T]he essential signification of the Greek tense system is the kind of action—whether it is represented as ongoing, finished, or simply as an occurrence. Hence there are really only three tenses in Greek (as in English): past, present, and future. The other ‘tenses’ are, in fact, merely alternate uses of these three tenses in conjunction with three aspects (imperfective, perfective, and aoristic)” (Black, 15). 

Daniel B. Wallace (Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics)

1.     Internal (or Progressive)
2.     External (or Summary)
3.     Perfective-Stative (a.k.a. Stative, Resultive, Completed)

Gary A. Long (Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Greek)

1.     Perfective
2.     Imperfective
3.     Resultive/Stative

James Allen Hewett (New Testament Greek)

1.     Durative, incomplete action
2.     Unitary, complete action
3.     Completed action emphasizing result or state of being

John H. Dobson (Learn New Testament Greek)

1.     Continuing action (represented by —) I am saying
2.     Repeated action (represent by ……) – I say

John D. Harvey (Greek is Good Grief)

1.     Progressive
2.     Summary
3.     Completed-Stative

John D. Harvey writes, “It is helpful to think of three kinds of action (also known as “aspect”). Progressive action tenses present the action as in progress without regard to its beginning or end (e.g., I am reading the book). Summary action tenses present the action as viewed as a whole without regard to its continuity or completion (e.g., I read the book). Completed-Stative action tenses present the action as completed, but with continuing results (e.g., I have read the book)” (18). 

It might be true that aoristic is not used by other grammarians but surely we cannot call these terms standard or non-standard. If anything, aoristic should set the standard in terminology for it keeps students from having to learn new terms and it keeps the “grief” at a minimum! A more suitable way to refer to one's choice of terminology in verbal aspect is preference rather than standard. Certain teachers prefer certain terms over others for various reasons and this is their preference. 


  1. First a caveat: I have no formal training in Koine Greek, as I have been self-studying for a few years now, but with no set systematic approach (I have the following grammars: Black, Mounce, Porter (his Fundamentals and Idioms), Wallace, Hewett, and other works). With that out of the way, one of the reasons I began studying verbal aspect two years ago – thus stymying my systematic study – was disparity I saw both in how the perfect tense-form was identified, and its outworking.

    I also began reading some works specifically from the field of linguistics. It seems the names here are pretty much settled: perfective: complete (not necessarily completed), imperfective (action in progress, as a process; durativity of a state for stative lexemes). However, the perfect tense-form remains in dispute. Having read the material I have, I’m convinced that Porter is correct in that the perfect reflects stativity - though, importantly, this is not to be understood as an Aktionsart function.

    The late Rodney Decker followed Porter (who followed yet furthered the work of K. L. McKay), and wrote an excellent article slightly reworking Mounce


    …thus providing a fairly straightforward pedagogue on verbal aspect.

    After working my way through most of Porter’s Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood (whew!), and reading Decker’s Temporal Deixis and his other online resources, most especially his distillation of Porter’s massive tome “Poor Man’s Porter” (http://ntresources.com/blog/documents/porter.pdf), and Constantine Campbell’s works on verbal aspect (along with a work of McKay), as well as quite a bit of other literature, I wrote a ‘somewhat brief’ (it got longer as I progressed!) multi-part series on verbal aspect:


    The main caveat here is that I adopted Porter’s controversial view that temporal reference is not encoded into the verb itself, even in the indicative mood; but, I don’t think this will prevent a reader from getting the gist of Porter’s approach on aspect in a general sense.

    Part 1 explains the concept of verbal aspect from the English, while part 2 begins a more comprehensive explanation of aspect and how it used in Koine Greek.

    From your article here, for Mounce, your 3 point should be a sub-point of number 1, an aorist (perfective, or 'complete' aspect) may or may not be punctiliar. From what I can glean, Mounce doesn’t have a separate name for the aspect of the perfect tense-form. Wallace follows Fanning’s conception of verbal aspect.

  2. Sorry, meant to add:

    McKay uses aorist for the aspect of the aorist tense-form. But, for what it's worth, my opinion is that we should standardize the terms as per their usage in the discipline of linguistics. Thus perfective is what I prefer. Pedagogically, the terms can be overcome by the understanding that in Koine Greek τελειόω means "make perfect/complete," which would correspond to the aorist, or perfective aspect, as it is used to denote complete actions (he ate). This is as opposed to the imperfective (he was eating), which points to the action in progress.