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Aspect: aspect

Values: Imp Inch Perf Prosp

Latin morphologically distinguishes (at least) three aspects: imperfective, inchoative and perfective.

The distinction between these three aspects can be made for every tense and mood of finite verbal forms, except for the imperative mood, where only the imperfective aspect appears. Aspect expresses the way the action, event or state of the verb is considered and presented in its development, and it is distinct both from temporal reference and Aktionsart (which pertains to lexicon, and not to morphology).

The different participial and infinitival forms (participles, gerundives/gerunds and infinitives) are principally distinguished by their aspects, since they do not actually express the grammatical category of tense (even if this is implied by some of their traditional denominations). On the contrary, it does not seem justified to assign an aspect to the supine form, as this appears as a fully nominal form, not so different from common (and productive) deverbal noun formations with an U-stem.

Imp: imperfective aspect

The imperfective aspect uses the simple verbal stem (root + possible thematic vowel; called infectum in Latin), to which the suffixes for mood/tense & person/number are attached. It expresses the unfinished, ongoing or continuous nature of an action, an event or a state, and can be regarded as the “basic” aspect in Latin.

The imperfective aspect is not to be confused with the so-called imperfect tense, which is the imperfective aspect of a past tense.

Tense & Mood / Nominal form ‘to love’ ‘to see’ ‘to read’ ‘to seize’ ‘to hear’
Present indicative amo uideo lego capio audio
Past indicative amabam uidebam legebam capiebam audiebam
Future indicative amabo uidebo legam capiam audiam
Present subjunctive amem uideam legam capiam audiam
Past subjunctive amarem uiderem legerem caperem audirem
Present imperative (2nd pers. sing.) ama uide lege cape audi
Future imperative (2nd pers. sing.) amato uideto legĭto capĭto audīto
Present participle (masc. nom. sing.) amans uidens legens capiens audiens
*Gerundive** (masc. nom. sing.) amandus uidendus legendus capiendus audiendus
Infinitive (active) amare uidēre legĕre capĕre audire

* see Note about non-traditional aspects

Latin always expresses the imperfective aspect by means of synthetic (i.e. simple) verb forms, except possibly for an attested construction with the present participle and the copula, of the type amans sum, of durative nuance.

Some verbal stems show irregular variations in their imperfective forms for historical reasons:

All Latin verbal stems inflect for imperfective in the active or passive voice (and possibly both), with the only notable exceptions of memini ‘to remember’ and odi ‘to hate’ (“perfective” verbs), and coepi ‘to begin’.


Inch: inchoative aspect

The inchoative aspect is characterised by the suffix -sc-, and corresponding verb forms follow the third conjugation (the one of legĕre), i.e. have an athematic stem. It expresses the beginning or the unfolding of an action or event as it is happening.

Tense & Mood / Nominal form ‘to become white’
Present indicative albesco
Past indicative albescebam
Future indicative albescam
Present subjunctive albescam
Past subjunctive albescerem
Present imperative (2nd pers. sing.) albesce
Future imperative (2nd pers. sing.) albescito
Present participle (masc. nom. sing.) albescens
Infinitive albescere

Given its nature, the inchoative aspect appears constrained by semantic factors with regard to which verbal roots it can be associated with; most often it is used with (possibly denominal/deadjectival) stems denoting a state in their imperfective forms (“stative” verbs), but it is not limited to them:

The inchoative forms are seen to alternate with imperfective and perfective ones:

Sometimes, an original inchoative meaning appears to have come to overlap with a more “basic” imperfective one, or it might even have shifted and no longer be so transparent (pango ~ paciscor is an example), but morphologically there still subsists a distinction. Verbs displaying an inchoative aspect are traditionally lemmatised directly under their inchoative forms (cfr. VERB).

For some stems displaying an inchoative form, the respective imperfective form has fallen out of use (and is sometimes not even clearly retraceable anymore) or the ties between the two have gone completely lost with time, so that the once inchoative form has been absorbed into a new paradigm where it acts as the imperfective form, opposed to a perfective one; in such cases, we recognize the new configuration and label the verb with the imperfective aspect:


Perf: perfective aspect

Perfective stems (perfectum in Latin), to which the suffixes for mood/tense & person/number are attached, show a high degree of variation across different conjugations and even internally to the same conjugation paradigm (especially for the third conjugation). Historically, the Latin perfective represents the convergence of different aspects (aorist and perfect) and patterns starting from Proto-Indo-European, which later became all integrated into paradigms showing a basic imperfective/perfective contrast. The perfective aspect expresses an action as a whole, in its completed state, as a result.

The perfective aspect is not to be confused with the so-called perfect tense, which is the perfective aspect of a(n originally) present tense, often described as having shifted to a simple past reference. Latin has no perfective imperative. Perfect finite and non-finite verb forms might show slight variations, again as a result of historical processes, but they are all functioning and labeled as perfective.

Tense & Mood / Nominal form ‘to love’ ‘to remind’ ‘to read’ ‘to seize’ ‘to hear’
Present indicative (~past reference?) amaui monui lēgi cepi audiui
Past indicative amaueram monueram lēgeram ceperam audiueram
Future indicative amauero monuero lēgero cepero audiuero
Present subjunctive (~past reference?) amauerim monuerim lēgerim ceperim audiuerim
Past subjunctive amauissem monuissem lēgissem cepissem audiuissem
Perfect participle (masc. nom. sing.) amatus monitus lectus captus auditus
*Future participle** (masc. nom. sing.) amaturus moniturus lecturus capturus auditurus
Infinitive amauisse monuisse lēgisse cepisse audiuisse

* see Note about non-traditional aspects

There are no synthetic forms for perfective passive forms, so that, to express them, Latin resorts to a periphrastic construction putting together the perfect participle and the copula in the given tense/mood and person/number, e.g. amatus sum/eram/ero/sim/essem/es/esse ‘I have been/was/will be/… loved’ etc.

Some verbs express the perfective aspect by means of suppletive forms:

Some verbal stems only appear in their perfective forms: memini ‘to remember’ and odi ‘to hate’ (“perfective” verbs), and coepi ‘to begin’.


Prosp: prospective aspect

If the prospective aspect is used in the annotation (see Note), it appears only in two non-finite forms, i.e. the gerundive/gerund (morphologically just one form, with possibly different behaviours on the syntactic level) and the so-called “future” participle: the former is characterised by the affix -nd- and the latter by the affix -(s/t)ur-, both attached to the verbal stem (root + possible thematic vowel). An archaic infinitive form is also attested, with affix -ssere. The prospective aspect represents an action as yet to come, as impending, and as such, in Latin, it may often assume nuances of necessity and inevitability.

The prospective aspect differs from a future tense in that, while the reference point of the latter is absolute and fixed at the moment of its utterance, the former is relative and is fixed independently by other means. So, a prospective aspect for the past tense would represent an action that, from the present perspective of the speaker, would have yet had to occur at the referred time, but probably has already occurred now. In Latin, this reference point always has to be specified by another element in the clause, as the prospective aspect (contrary to other aspects) is limited to a couple nominal verbal forms, which do not bear a temporal reference by themselves.

Nominal form ‘to love’ ‘to remind’ ‘to read’ ‘to seize’ ‘to hear’
Gerundive/gerund (passive) amandus monendus legendus capiendus audiendus
Future participle (active) amaturus moniturus lecturus capturus auditurus
Infinitive (active; archaic) *amassere ?monessere ?legessere ?capessere ?audissere

Latin has no synthetic finite forms for the prospective aspect, but uses these nominal forms in periphrastic, copular constructions to make up for that, with the auxiliary expressing mood/tense & person/number (itself usually in the imperfective, “neutral”, aspect).

These forms can be regularly formed from any verbal stem, taking into account morphological and semantical compatibility with passive or active voice, and “inherent” aspects (e.g. the perfective verbs memini ‘to remember’ and odi ‘to hate’).


Note: “non-traditional” aspects for Latin

It might be argued that the nominal forms of gerundive/gerund (morphologically identical, syntactically possibly distinct) and future participle do not actually express the imperfective and perfective aspect respectively, as could be suggested by a possible reading of their forms (ger.: imperfective stem + -nd-; fut. part.: perfective stem + -ur-) and reflected by a more “conservative” annotation style. They seem instead to represent instances of some other aspect tied to the notion of relative, immediate future and/or necessity (as a secondary value). In UD, this aspect is well identified by the prospective aspect.

The gerundive is sometimes described as a “future passive participle”, but, like for the future participle (active), this “future” cannot be actually identified with a future tense. In fact, while a Latin finite future verbal form has an “absolute” reference point (the moment of the utterance), one observes that no Latin nominal verbal form (i.e. participles, gerundives, infinitives and supines) expresses the grammatical category of time by itself, while on the contrary it expresses the state of an action or event with respect to a main predicate, i.e. an aspect (except possibly for the supine). The introduction of the prospective aspect would acknowledge this matter of fact and supply the key to distinguishing all Latin participial forms from each other without misleadingly recurring to the Tense feature. One would have the following scheme for the traditional nomenclature, with amo ‘to love’ as an example:

Voice/Aspect Imperfective (Inchoative) Perfective Prospective
Active Present participle: amans (Present participle: amascens) - Future participle: amaturus
Passive - - Perfect participle: amatus Gerundive: amandus

(“Voice” is intended as morphological, not syntactical, voice here.)

The use of both prospective participial forms in periphrastical constructions (amaturus sum ‘I am [soon] going to love’, distinguished from amabo ‘I will love’; amandus sum ‘I am [soon] going to be loved; I am to be loved, I need to be loved’, distinct from amabor ‘I will be loved’) is also in line with the periphrastical formation of perfect passive forms, which make use of the perfect participle in absence of any synthetic form; here, in the absence of synthetic prospective forms (e.g. a “future” infinitive, as opposed to the “present” one).

Aspect in other languages: [arr] [bej] [bg] [bm] [cs] [ga] [gub] [hu] [hy] [hyw] [la] [myu] [myv] [pcm] [ru] [sl] [tpn] [tr] [tt] [u] [uk] [urb] [urj]