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aspect

Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English by Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech (Longman, 2002)

Definition:

The verb form that indicates completion, duration, or repetition of an action. (Compare with tense.) Adjective: aspectual.

The two primary aspects in English are the perfect (sometimes called perfective) and the progressive (also known as the continuous form). As discussed below, these two aspects may be combined to form the perfect progressive.

In English, aspect is expressed by means of particles, separate verbs, and verb phrases.

See also:

Etymology:

From the Latin, "how [something] looks"

Examples and Observations:

  • Perfect Aspect
    The perfect aspect describes events occurring in the past but linked to a later time, usually the present. The perfect aspect is formed with has, have, or had + the past participle. It occurs in two forms:
    Perfect Aspect, Present Tense:
    "History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created."
    (William Morris)

    Perfect Aspect, Past Tense:
    "At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice."
    (Maya Angelou)

  • Progressive Aspect
    The progressive aspect usually describes an event that takes place during a limited time period. The progressive aspect is made up of a form of be + the -ing form of the main verb.
    Progressive Aspect, Present Tense:
    "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
    (Bill Cosby)

    Progressive Aspect, Past Tense:
    "I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything."
    (Steven Wright)

  • The Difference Between Tense and Aspect
    "Traditionally both aspects [perfect and progressive] are treated as part of the tense system in English, and we commonly speak of tenses such as the present progressive (e.g. We are waiting) or even the past perfect progressive (e.g. We had been waiting), which combines two aspects. There is a distinction to be made, however, between tense and aspect. Tense is more concerned with past time versus present time and is based on morphological form (e.g. write, writes, wrote); aspect is concerned with duration, and in English is a matter of syntax, using parts of be to form the progressive, and of have to form the perfective."
    (Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1994)


  • Present Perfect Progressive and Past Perfect Progressive
    "The perfect aspect most often describes events or states taking place during a preceding time. The progressive aspect describes an event or state of affairs in progress or continuing. Perfect and progressive aspect can be combined with either present or past tense. . . .

    "Verb phrases can be marked for both aspects (perfect and progressive) at the same time:

    • present perfect progressive:
      God knows how long I've been doing it. Have I been talking out loud?
    • past perfect progressive:
      He had been keeping it in a safety deposit box at the Bank of America.
      For months she had been waiting for that particular corner location.
    The perfect progressive aspect is rare, occurring usually in the past tense in fiction. It combines the meaning of the perfect and the progressive, referring to a past situation or activity that was in progress for a period of time."
    (Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad, and Geoffrey Leech, Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Longman, 2002)

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