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Perfective Aspect

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English

The perfective aspect is one of the two main aspects of the English language. It tells us that an action or state has been completed. The perfective aspect is the opposite of the progressive aspect (which tells us something is ongoing or continuing). When we use the perfective aspect we show that the action has finished and is no longer continuing.

The perfective aspect is sometimes called the completed aspect. This can help you to remember that the perfective aspect is used when an action or state has been completed.

Perfective Verbs

Before we go on to look at the different tenses, and examples, let's first look at a list of perfective verbs so we're all on the same page regarding what we're talking about. We'll then look at how to write in the perfective tense, why the perfective tense is important, and then how the perfective tense compares to the imperfective tense (we'll get to what the imperfective tense is later).

Perfective verbs:

  • I had eaten
  • she has been
  • he ran
  • he has run
  • she sat
  • I stood

These perfective verbs all show an action to be completed.

Perfective Examples

Let's have a look at some examples of the perfective aspect.

We had eaten already.

This is an example of the perfective aspect being used in a sentence. Due to the use of the past participle 'eaten', we know that the subjects in the sentence, 'we', are no longer eating. The process of eating is therefore complete, which shows us that the sentence is written in the perfective aspect.

They had played together.

This is another example of the perfective aspect in a sentence. Because the verb 'played' is a past participle, we can see that the subjects of the sentence are no longer playing together and, therefore, that the action is complete.

How do you write in the perfective aspect?

Most of us know how to form a sentence in the perfective aspect without even realizing it. When you need to form a sentence that uses the perfective aspect, we can follow the steps below:

  • Auxiliary verb + past participle

An auxiliary verb (sometimes called a 'helping verb') is used alongside another verb to help express aspect or tense.

In the perfective aspect:

  • The verb root 'to have' (including had, has, etc.) is often used as an auxiliary verb .

  • A past participle typically expresses a completed action. It is a verb used in the perfective aspect as it shows something is no longer continuing.

Importance of Perfective Aspect

Now that we can define what the perfective aspect is, we need to think about how and why it is used in spoken and written English.

Why do we use the perfective aspect?

The perfective aspect is used to show that an action is completed. We have already explored how we form a sentence in the perfective aspect, but why do we do this?

If we consider real-world situations, it is often useful to show that an action or state is completed. We do this by using the perfective aspect alongside different tenses. Without the perfective aspect, we would not be able to know whether an action has finished occurring.

Let's consider how the perfective aspect works with tense.

The Perfective Aspect and Tense

The perfective aspect is combined with the past, present, and future tense to create verb tenses. There are twelve verb tenses in total that help us to describe specific actions and when / how they occurred. We have three tenses past, present, and future, that can be expressed as either perfective or progressive.

Past tense + perfective aspect = perfect past tense (one of the twelve verb tenses)

Below you can see a table showing how the perfective aspect is combined with tense to create verb tenses:

Past Tense

Present tense

Future Tense

Perfective aspect

Perfect past tense

Perfect Present Tense

Perfect Future Tense

Notice that the name for the verb tense changes 'perfective' to 'perfect'. This does not change the aspect being used or the meaning of the verb tense. It still shows that it is a past tense sentence using the perfective aspect.

Examples of Perfective Aspects in the Perfect Tense

We will now take a look at an example of each of these verb tenses being used in a sentence. Try and notice the difference between the perfective aspect being used in past, present, and future tense.

Perfect past tense

He had met her before the dinner.

This sentence is written in the perfect past tense. We can see the auxiliary verb paired with the past progressive to show us that the action (in this case, the action is the subject meeting 'her') has already happened.

By using the auxiliary verb 'had' we can also see that the sentence not only describes a completed action but that it is also in the past tense.

Perfect present tense

She has finished her homework.

This sentence is written in the perfect present tense. This time we can see that the auxiliary verb has changed to a different form and is now 'has' (this is the present form of the verb 'have' and makes the difference between the perfect present tense and the past tense). The auxiliary verb is still paired with a past participle (the -ed verb 'finished') and shows us that the sentence is written in the perfective aspect.

By using the auxiliary verb 'has' we can see that the sentence (although still completed and in the perfective aspect) is written in the present tense.

Perfect future tense

Anne will have cooked by then.

This time, the sentence is written in the perfect future tense. The auxiliary verb 'have' has been paired with the past participle 'cooked' to show us that the sentence is written in the perfective aspect. The verbs 'will have' show us that this sentence is written in the future tense but that the action is still completed.

The perfective Aspect vs. The Imperfective Aspect

  • The perfective aspect tells us when actions have been completed.

  • The imperfect (ongoing) aspect tells us when an action or state is continuous and ongoing. This doesn't necessarily mean that is happening currently, but that it will continue to happen.

When an action / state is continuous and ongoing it is known as the progressive aspect. This aspect is also sometimes referred to as the progressive aspect (as it is the opposite of the perfective aspect).

Perfective vs. Imperfective Examples

Let's now have a look at some examples of perfective and imperfective forms of the same verbs. In the table, the infinitive verb is listed first so was can see how the verb form changes to be conjugated into either the perfective form or the imperfective form.

Conjugation is the process carried out on verbs when you change them to a different form or tense so that it makes the most sense in the sentence. Before verbs are conjugated, they are in their infinitive form (for example, 'to eat' or 'to be' are infinitive forms of 'eat' and 'be').

Verb (infinitive form)

Perfective form

Imperfective form

to eatshe has eatenshe was eating
to runshe ranshe was running
to standshe stoodshe was standing
to speakshe spokeshe was speaking
to climbshe has climbedshe was climbing

Perfective - Key Takeaways

  • The perfective aspect is one of the two aspects used in the English language, along with the progressive aspect.

  • It is used to show that an action or state has already been completed.

  • The perfective aspect is paired with a tense to create verb tenses. These verb tenses are perfect past tense, perfect present tense, and perfect future tense.

  • The second aspect is the progressive aspect which shows that the action is ongoing (the opposite of the perfective aspect).

Perfective Aspect

Perfective in English refers to a type of aspect that shows something is complete and/or finished.

  • He had done the homework.

This shows that the action of doing 'the homework' is completed.

Perfective refers to an action that has been completed/finished.

Final Perfective Aspect Quiz

Question

What does the perfective aspect show?

Show answer

Answer

That an action or state is completed.

Show question

Question

What are the two main types of aspects?

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Answer

Perfective and progressive.

Show question

Question

True or false: aspects are combined with tense to create noun tenses.


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Answer

False. They are combined to create verb tenses.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is used to form the perfective aspect?

  1. Verb + participle

  2. Auxiliary verb + past participle

  3. Auxiliary verb + participle

Show answer

Answer

 b. Auxiliary verb + past participle.

Show question

Question

What root verb is used as the auxiliary verb in a perfective aspect sentence?


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Answer

'To have'. 

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Question

Which of the following verbs is often used as a past participle?

  1. An -ed verb

  2. An -ing verb

Show answer

Answer

a. An -ed verb.

Show question

Question

What is the perfective aspect sometimes called?


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Answer

The completed aspect.

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Question

What is the progressive aspect sometimes called?


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Answer

The ongoing aspect.

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Question

Which of the following is not a verb tense that uses the perfective aspect?

  1. Perfect present tense

  2. Prefect present tense

  3. Perfect past tense

Show answer

Answer

B.

Show question

Question

True or false: the auxiliary verb ‘had’ is often used in perfective aspect sentences.


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Answer

True.

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Question

Why is the progressive aspect considered the opposite of the perfective aspect?


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Answer

The progressive aspect shows that something is not finished, whereas the perfective aspect shows that something has finished.

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Question

What does a past participle commonly express?


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Answer

A completed action.

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Question

What is an auxiliary verb paired with?


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Answer

Another verb. When in the perfective aspect it is commonly paired with an -ed verb.

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Question

What does the term '-ed verb' mean?


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Answer

A verb ending in the letters 'ed', for example, 'played'.

Show question

Question

How many verb tenses (aspects combined with tenses) are there in total?


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Answer

There are twelve verb tenses in total. Four of these are made using the perfective aspect.

Show question

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