Talk:Perfect (grammar)

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Headline text[edit]

'Perfect' and 'progressive' are not tenses, they are aspects. --Xeon 06:33, 28 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Both are tenses. Aspect is what we call aspect in Slavic linguistics. --VKokielov 01:13, 14 Apr 2005 (UTC)
And in general linguistics too. I think this page needs expanding greatly to increase scope beyond English BovineBeast 21:59, 11 July 2005 (UTC)


What about "I was eating"? At school they told me that was the perfect tense (past).

That's imperfect tense. Matt Yeager (Talk?) 00:43, 29 January 2006 (UTC)

I agree that "I was eating" is not an example of a perfect tense, but I find it unsettling that this page is in need of an expert, that one of the external links is to an article on perfect tenses (though I take issue with its interpretation that such tenses require the auxiliary verb, "to have"), and that "Perfect tense" redirects to this article, "Perfect aspect."

I have a dictionary compiled by people who obviously didn't hesitate to employ, or to consult with, experts, and which states rather nicely that in a grammatical sense, "perfect" can be used as an adjective "noting an action or state brought to a close prior to some temporal point of reference, in contrast to imperfect or incomplete action," or "designating a tense or other verb formation or construction with such meaning." If perfect can designate a kind of tense, why does Wikipedia redirect away from "perfect tense"? Moreover, this fine fifteen pound book goes on to define the noun as "the perfect tense," "any verb formation or construction in the perfect tense," or "a perfect form, as English He had cooked a meal before six o'clock, or Latin ōrāculum audīvī 'I heard the oracle.'"

Nor does the dictionary shy away from "aspect," for which it gives no less than five definitions pertaining strictly to grammar. As for "perfective," it gives three: "noting an aspect of verbal inflection, as in Russian, which indicates completion of the action or state denoted by the verb," "the perfective aspect," and "a form in the perfective."

For those inclined to fit everything into simple, systematic categories, I'd like to point out that "perfect" also has a more general sense beyond the jargon of grammarians, yet quite applicable to tenses, aspects, grammar, and linguistics: "to bring to completion, finish."

So let's have an article on all the tenses which are perfect, including the good old past tense. (Or is it that preterit one?) Unfree (talk) 09:18, 18 December 2007 (UTC)

Perfect Aspect[edit]

The current entry is not quite correct, at least not for English. It says

--For example, "I have gone to the cinema" implies both that a previous action happened ("I went to the cinema") and that a current state resulted ("I am now in the cinema"). This differs from the simple "I went to the cinema", which implies only that an action happened, with no relevance to the present.--

In fact, in English, "I have gone to the cinema" does not at all imply that "I am now at the cinema." And someone who is now at the cinema would not say "I have gone to the cinema." I have more likely gone and left. Rather, perhaps, the present state is not being at the cinema now but rather a state of experience, that is, some one who has ever been to the cinema. "I have gone to the cinema" could refer to something I did today, but it could just as well refer to having gone weeks or months or years ago.

Reply to Above - Perfect Aspect with 'go' and 'be'[edit]

You're right in saying that "I have gone to the cinema" is unclear in meaning. This is because it's a strange thing to say -- the context of when one might actually say this is hard to imagine. "She has gone to the cinema" does, however, clearly tell us that she is not here, and that she is either en route to, or actually sitting in, the cinema now.

What if the conversation had gone as follows?
"I bet you've never gone to the cinema."
"That's not true."
Might she not continue with precisely those words, "I have gone to the cinema"?
Similarly for "she," when speaking in "her" presence, consider a precedent:
Maria told Phoebe Gina had never gone to the cinema, but Phoebe stood up for her: "I happen to know she has gone to the cinema, haven't you, Gina?" Unfree (talk) 09:41, 18 December 2007 (UTC)

Using the verb 'go' in an example of the present perfect can be confusing, especially for speakers of American English. Many native speakers of English unambiguously express these two meanings using 'be' to indicate a previous experience with present relevance, and 'go' to indicate present location. For example:

I have been to France = At some point in my life, I travelled to France (and I'm probably going to talk about that now).

She has gone to France = She left for France at some point in the past, and she is there now.

Not so fast, if you please. This native speaker of English (American style) am not so provincial as to neglect to wonder whether her present whereabouts would be so precisely determined if that statement were given, even in England, in response to the challenge of "I doubt very much she has ever gone to France." Unfree (talk) 09:54, 18 December 2007 (UTC)

Perfect in other languages[edit]

How did Romance languages like Italian and Spanish develop the perfect tense construction 'have + past participle' or 'to be + past participle' similar to the construction in Germanic languages when the perfect tense in Latin did not use this construction?

confusing / incorrect examples?[edit]

I am finding the examples very confusing. In particular the supposed present perfect progressive example I have been overcome is the same as the present perfect passive. If this were correct, the same words would have active voice in one case and passive in the other which seems absurd.

I have been overcome is surely only passive voice. 'To be overcome' is always passive. 'To be overcoming' is active and progressive. I suspect that most of the 'progressive' examples are wrong and confuse the active with the passive.

I propose: I have been overcoming for the present perfect progressive. Similarly, past perfect progressive would be I had been overcoming and future perfect progressive I will have been overcoming.

The passive forms of these are quite naturally I have been being overcome and so on.

I would strongly dispute the claim that formations with 'have been being' and 'had been being' are incorrect. They seem awkward, and do not occur often, but they are grammatically clear and express a meaning which cannot be expressed another way. For example I had not sat down on the bench because it had been being painted or Tomorrow the reservoir will have been being filled for two weeks. --Tdent 12:05, 19 September 2006 (UTC)

I agree with you and was going to comment along these lines. I am going to modify the article accordingly. --Poludamas 05:26, 20 September 2006 (UTC)

I suspect that to be overcome by grief is passive, but to be overcome with grief is active. In the former case, "overcome" is a past participle, and in the latter, it's an adjective. You might say you were overcome by your opponents, but not that you were overcome with them -- unless, of course, you were engaged with your opponents when the plague arrived and overcame everybody! Unfree (talk) 10:32, 18 December 2007 (UTC)

Perfect vs. perfective[edit]

I've been trying to understand the difference between these two concepts, and I think I've got it, as far as the present perfect is concerned (as compared, for example, with the pretérito indefinido of Spanish, the passé composé of French, or some other preterite). However, for the other tenses, I fail to see the difference between:

  • the past perfect and the plus-que-parfait;
  • the future perfect and the futur antérieur;


They seem to mean exactly the same. I wonder if this could be clarified. FilipeS 23:00, 2 December 2006 (UTC)

Perfect in Spanish[edit]

I'm more familiar with the definition of perfect aspect as an action that takes place before a reference action or timepoint. I think there is some resultative aspect than enfasises on the result of an action.

At least in Spanish the socalled perfect tenses indicate an action finishing before a (absolute) reference timepoint (in the past, present or future). They use to appear with a time reference in Spanish. So the pretérito pluscuamperfecto (plus-que-parfait in French, or pluparfait in English), e.g.

  • (yo) había comido cuando tú llamaste

means something likes "I had already finished eating when you called", or the futuro perfecto (french future antérieur)

  • habré comido cuando llegues ("I will have eaten when you come")

implies the ending of a future action before a second, future event takes place. That's probably the reason of the anterieur denomination in French: the action is anterior to a second event. Spanish has also a pretérito anterior, also a perfect tense, almost equivalent to the pluscuamperfecto, the only diference being that the pretérito anterior takes place immediately before the reference event.

I would say that the perfect aspect is a relative aspect (a past action relative to a second event, which can be in the past, present or future) while the perfective aspect is not (the action is just complete, with no reference to a second action/event). Xavier 17:08, 9 December 2006 (UTC)


this page did not help me at all so please put more exercices plaese

Changed example verb[edit]

After reading comments like Tdent's, above, on the confusion between active/passive of "I have been overcome", I decided to change the example verb in most of the article from the intransitive "overcome" to a transitive verb where the passive voice would be obvious ("I have been throwing the ball" vs. "The ball has been being thrown by me"). I don't like this solution very much: the double conjugations of "be" in the passive voice sound very awkward. If anyone can think of a better verb to illustrate the perfect aspect in all its variations, feel free to change it.

Also, we could definitely use some examples of the perfect aspect in other languages (see Preterite), so if you know anything, please contribute! Thanks. Indeterminate 06:56, 16 November 2007 (UTC)

Yeah, I don't like this solution. Lets see, sixteen perfect aspects:
  • "I have woken" ('I have woken on time every day now for months) present perfect.
  • "I had woken" (I had woken on time, but then I went back to sleep.) past perfect
  • "I will have woken" (As of tommorrow, I will have woken on time every day this week.) future perfect.
  • "I would have woken" (I would have woken if the damned alarm clock had gone off.) infinitive perfect
Perfect passive:
  • "I have been woken". (Argh, I have been woken by that dog one time too many.) present perfect passive
  • "I had been woken". (I had been woken by that dog almost every day, but now that I complained to the neighbors, its been taken care of.) past perfect passive
  • "I will have been woken". (If he barks again, I will have been woken for the 3rd time tonight.) future perfect passive
  • "I would have been woken" (I would have been woken lst night, if I hadn't worn earplugs). infinitive perfect passive
Perfect progressive:
  • "I have been waking" (I have been waking refreshed ever since they put the dog inside.) This is present perfect progressive.
  • "I had been waking" (I had been waking refreshed, until that damned rooster moved in next door.) past perfect progressive
  • "I will have been waking" (I will have been waking refreshed for 3 months now, once I strangled the rooster by the neck). future perfect progressive
  • "I would have been waking" (I would have been waking refreshed, if it weren't for that rooster) infinitive perfect progressive
Perfect passive progressive:
  • "I have been being woken" (I have been being woken by that dog as long as I can remember.) present perfect passive progressive
  • "I had been being woken" (I had been being woken by the dog, and so I took some sleeping pills.) past perfect passive progressive
  • "I will have been being woken" (I will have been being woken since January.) future perfect passive progressive
  • "I would have been being woken" ... infinitive perfect passive progressive
Phew. Them's there a lot of voices. For completeness sakes alive, there are sixteen more:
  • "I wake" I wake every morning at six. present
  • "I woke" I woke up this morning at six. past
  • "I will wake" I will wake tomorrow at six. future
  • "I would wake" I would wake every day at dawn infinitive
Imperfect passive:
  • "I am woken." (Every day, I am woken by that damned dog.) present passive
  • "I was woken." (I was woken by the barking). past passive
  • "I will be woken." (I will be woken again, if I don't do something about it.) future passive
  • "I would be woken." (I would be woken if I didn't wear ear plugs'.) infinitive passive
Imperfect progressive:
  • "I am waking" I am waking refreshed these days present progressive
  • "I was waking" I was waking refreshed until recently. past progressive
  • "I will be waking" I will be waking in time to make the meeting. future progressive
  • "I would be waking" I would be waking on time if my alarm clock worked infinitive progressive
Imperfect passive progressive
  • "I am being woken" I am being woken every day by the barking. present passive progressive
  • "I was being woken" I was being woken by the dog, but then I shot it. past passive progressive
  • "I will be being woken" I will be being woken by the dog for as long as it stays alive. future passive progressive
  • "I would be being woken" I would be being woken by that dog, if I hadn't shot it. infinitive passive progressive
  • "I do wake", I do wake on time. present infinitive
  • "I did wake", I'm telling you, I did wake on time!. past infinitive
  • "I am going to wake" I made a promise that I am going to wake on time. future infinitive (??)

I suppose there are imperative versions ...
I've just verified all of these against the output of RelEx.
Not all verbs can be used in this multitude of ways, and the current example looses this. linas (talk) 18:28, 28 May 2008 (UTC)
Well, somebody removed my example a month ago anyway. Feel free to add your examples to the page. If you want them to take less space, maybe we could put them in a table with the perfect versions on the left and their complementary imperfect versions on the right. That might be rather wide, though. Indeterminate (talk) 04:00, 30 May 2008 (UTC)

Dear educated native speakers. I'm having a severe argument with a friend of mine about whether the construction "I have been being woken" is really legitimate. By now I've found a number of text books which either directly forbid them, or make the impression that they don't exist (Murphy's book and Swan's book, in particular). And not a single one (except for a few doubtful on-line sources) which would explicitly state their lawfulness. Could you provide a couple of authoritative references? --Seador (talk) 22:10, 7 November 2009 (UTC)

As a native speaker, I'd be fairly clueless as to what that clause was supposed to mean. kwami (talk) 08:24, 5 January 2010 (UTC)
Hm... Can't it simply mean "Somebody has been awaking me"? --Seador (talk) 15:45, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
The perfect and progressive clash semantically. I think "I have been being woken" could only mean "I have been woken". It sounds like broken English, as if you were to say "I am being here" instead of "I am here". I suppose with the proper convoluted context, the reader might be able to extract meaning from it. — kwami (talk) 20:21, 29 August 2010 (UTC)
But isn't this strange? I mean, there is a distinct difference between "Somebody has been awaking me" and "Somebody has awoken me". How can that difference disappear when we transform the sentences into equivalent passive constructions "I have been being woken" and "I have been woken", respectively?--Seador (talk) 11:46, 1 September 2010 (UTC)
I'm a native speaker and the difference doesn't disappear for me. The possible meanings are perfectly clear to me. To answer the original question: yes, it's legitimate. There's really nothing wrong with it, but it's not something you'll hear or see too often.Temporal Fugitive (talk) 23:52, 31 May 2011 (UTC)
I would be grateful for a clarification(?) Except for the examples given under the subtitle "Infinitives:" shouldn't all the other references to "infinitive" (e.g. "infinitive perfect"), be listed as "conditional" instead (i.e. conditional perfect)? In my understanding the infinitive is the verb (wake). Appreciated. ELeP 6 December 2011, 13:42 (UTC)

neither aspect nor tense[edit]

The perfect is neither aspect nor tense, but rather a conflation of the two--at least in the opinions of some who know what they're talking about. Even if we have a legitimate dispute on this, I don't think we should prejudice the issue by using "aspect" in the title of the article. Any suggestions on what would be better? Just fudge the issue by calling it "perfect (grammar)", maybe? kwami (talk) 08:24, 5 January 2010 (UTC)

I agree; just call it "Perfect_(grammar)" and have a disambiguation page. How does an editor rename a page? Eldin raigmore (talk) 16:48, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
Since there hasn't been any objection over the past few months, and since the article formerly at perfect tense seemed to duplicate some of the information from here and was wrong about the rest, I've made that a redirect, as well. I don't think there's really any reason to have a disambig page, though. There's already perfect (disambiguation). Gordon P. Hemsley 20:10, 17 June 2010 (UTC)
It is definitely taught as a tense in any Latin course. Tomgg (talk) 03:18, 30 July 2011 (UTC)

"Perfect" may not be an aspect.[edit]

"Perfect" may not be an aspect. It's open to debate. Some think it's a tense; some think it's a mood; some think it's an aspect; some think it depends on the language. Eldin raigmore (talk) 16:46, 5 April 2010 (UTC)

"Anterior" is never correctly used as a substitute for "perfect".[edit]

"Anterior" is never correctly used as a substitute for "perfect". "Anterior", often called "relative past" is a "relative tense"; the other two "relative tenses" are "simultaneous" ("relative present") and "posterior" ("relative future"). The difference between "past" ("absolute past") and "anterior" ("relative past") is that, the past-tensed verb is about a situation which took place prior to the speech-act, while the anterior-tensed verb is about a situation which took place prior to some other, more-topical (or more-focal) event which is also being spoken of. Similarly, the difference between "future" ("absolute future") and "posterior" ("relative future") is that, the future-tensed verb is about a situation which will take place after the speech-act, while the posterior-tensed verb is about a situation which took place, or takes place, or will take place, after some other, more-topical (or more-focal) event which is also being spoken of. And, the difference between "pressent" ("absolute present") and "simultaneous" ("relative present") is that, the pressent-tensed verb is about a situation which overlaps in time with the speech-act, while the simultaneous-tensed verb is about a situation which overlapped, or overlaps, or will overlap, in time, some other, more-topical (or more-focal) event which is also being spoken of. In English, and in several other languages, the perfect (better-called "retrospective" IMO) encodes that the retrospective verb concerns an event which was/is/will be anterior to some other, more-topical or more-focal time, but whose effects were/are/will be still relevant at that time; and it is upon these effects that the speaker wishes to call the interlocutors' attention. So, while, at least in some languages (English among them), everything "perfect" is also "anterior", it is not the case that everything "anterior" is also "perfect". They aren't synonyms at all, though they are related terms for English and some other languages. Eldin raigmore (talk) 17:00, 5 April 2010 (UTC)

(Note: We had a discussion about this on some other page, and agreed to restrict 'anterior' for relative tense. — kwami (talk) 21:00, 17 June 2010 (UTC))


Would it be worth explaining that the word 'perfect' is used to mean 'past' because past events are complete/final/unalterable? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Paul Murray (talkcontribs) 02:28, 24 August 2013 (UTC)