Picture of Nick Savchenko
greek perfect tenses
by Nick Savchenko - Thursday, 9 February 2012, 10:49 AM
  I'm finishing the LGO course and it looks like it doesn't cover usage of greek perfect tenses. It's not quite clear for me about the distinction between aorist and perfect in greek - both these tenses express something that happend once in past and has been finished.

Maybe, it's clear for English speakers, who have perfect tenses in their native language, but in Russian there is no perfect, just continuous and non-continuous past. So I can't feel the difference between aorist and perfect and I'm confused about that...

I also noticed that perfect is used very rarely in modern Greek - am I right?
Picture of Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets
Re: greek perfect tenses
by Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets - Friday, 10 February 2012, 07:23 AM
  There is no perfect in my native language either (I'm French), but luckily I've got a good understanding of the perfect. One thing first: the Greek perfect doesn't work exactly the same as the English perfect. In particular, unlike the English perfect, it cannot be used to indicate an action that started in the past and is continuing in the present. In particular, it cannot be used with an indication of origin in time (like English "since") or duration (like English "for"). In Greek, you use the present tense in those cases (as in French).

So what is the Greek perfect for? Basically, the Greek perfect indicates a state resulting from a past action. So while a sentence in the perfect describes a past event, like a sentence in the aorist, unlike the aorist the focus isn't on that action itself but on its consequences in the present. That's the reason why you can't indicate time with a perfect: the focus is on the current time, not on the past.

Here are a few examples:
Τα έχω μάθει τα ελληνικά: I've learned Greek (i.e. I can speak it now).
Βιβλία που έχω διαβάσει: books I've read (i.e. books I know).

In both cases, the focus isn't on the action described but on its result in the present. The English perfect is used here as well, but it's only one of its uses. In Greek that's the only use the perfect has, which is why it isn't so common.

Compare with those:
Τα έμαθα τα ελληνικά πριν τέσσερα χρόνια: I learned Greek four years ago (a time is given, so the focus is on the past, and one must use the aorist rather than the perfect).
Βιβλία που διάβασα όταν είχα καιρό: books I read when I had time (same here, an indication of time is given, so the perfect cannot be used).

That's about it. Just remember: the Greek perfect is only used to mark states resulting from a past action. As long as you remember that, using it shouldn't be a problem.
Picture of Nick Savchenko
Re: greek perfect tenses
by Nick Savchenko - Saturday, 11 February 2012, 04:04 PM
  Thank you very much, Christophe! Your explanation is very clear.
Picture of Greg Brush
Re: greek perfect tenses
by Greg Brush - Friday, 10 February 2012, 10:46 AM
  What a wonderful explanation by Christophe! Bravo on making clear and understandable a sometimes difficult grammatical issue!

The only thing I would add is that, in keeping with his wording, the Greek past perfect describes a state that existed at some time in the past (because of some past action) and the effect that state had on another subsequent action in the past; the future perfect describes a state that will exist at some time in the future (because of some future action) and the effect that state will have on another subsequent action in the future.

As far as how common it is, the present perfect is seen on a regular basis in more educated writing, especially formal writing; the past perfect is seen on occasion, while the future perfect is rarely seen.

Greg Brush