The difference between tense and aspect, in a nutshell.
This morning I received a question about how the present perfect tense works in English:
Is the following sentence correct in terms of grammar ‘Yet ongoing political stabilization has been beneficial for further political and legal development of the country’? I am a little bit embarrassed by the use of present perfect tense for the event which has not been completed yet but is progressing, so it is impossible so far to predict for sure an outcome of it.
Here is my reply.
The “has been” refers not to the state of completion of the stabilization, nor even that the benefits are already palpable and therefore contain some complete benefits. The use of this tense is predicated by the fact that we are still in the time period the writer has in mind. It does not really equate to perfective aspect, but to cut-off or periodization of times.
This is the difference between tense and aspect, in a nutshell.
Interestingly, languages which use verbs with a mind to their aspect of success or completion or change of state have a tendency to use a past tense in ‘l’. Not only does Slavic use “l” for the past but even Chinese uses “l” for the past tense marker, but they make it a separate word with its own symbol and call it “le”.
Languages more concerned with periodising the effect of the verb in the past rather than worrying about whether it was finished or not (tense rather than aspect) tend to use “n” or “t/d” as past tense markers. Germanic, Turkish, Hungarian, Japanese – the range of languages in this category is surprisingly broad.
And then there are languages where the verb doesn’t change at all for the past and the timing or completeness of the actions are marked by accompanying adverbs.
So for those of you who have been saying to me that there is no such thing as aspect, only tense, and that tense and aspect are the same thing, you will understand the subtle difference when you see why it was all rather confusing for my correspondent.