The aspect of a verb defines its temporal flow and how it extends over time. For example, if it occurs just once, habitually, continuously and so on. The difference between “I swim” (simple), “I am swimming” (continuous) and “I have swum” (perfect) is in their aspect. Some tenses combine two or more aspects. For example, “I have been swimming” merges “perfect” and “continuous” aspects.

Aspects are highly productive in Persian, to the extent that just in the indicative past category, there are sixteen tenses. This is probably more than the total of tenses found in many other languages. As a result, not all Persian tenses can be named according to the pattern used in English and some aspects need to be introduced literally.

Perfect aspect

The perfect aspect describes an action occurred prior to the referenced time and typically, brings its consequence into focus. For example, “I have lost my keys” implies “I can’t get in the house” and “I have had lunch” implies “I’m not hungry now”. English tense terminology sometimes conflicts with the linguistic definition of aspects. For example, English “past perfect” (pluperfect) does not have perfect aspect even though it is called “perfect”. The English “present perfect” (e.g. “I have gone”) is similar to Persian present perfect but English does not have any equivalent for other perfect tenses of Persian. For example, the past precedent perfect tense, which can be loosely called “pluperfect perfect”, describes a past action that has occurred prior to another past action and has relevance to present or future time reference.

Imperfective aspect

The imperfective aspect denotes the duration of an action in the referenced time. It is typically used to describe habitual, repeated or ongoing actions. It does not give any information about an action’s end point and completion, hence called “imperfective”. English does not have imperfective aspect. In languages that have this aspect, the verb “to run” is conjugated in “past simple” (more precisely, in perfective past) in the sentence “I ran five miles yesterday” and in imperfective past in the sentence “I ran five miles every morning”.

Perfective aspect

The perfective aspect describes an action as a complete whole. It does not imply neither relevance to another time reference (as opposed to perfect aspect) nor duration (as opposed to imperfective aspect). English does not have a tense that exclusively describes a perfective aspect. For example, English “past simple” can be used to express both perfective and imperfective aspects: “I ran five miles yesterday” (perfective) vs. “I ran five miles every morning” (imperfective).

Precedent aspect

The precedent aspect (Persian: پیشین “pišin”) is a subset of perfective aspect. It is used to express an action that precedes another action in the same time reference. For example, in the sentence “When the police arrived, the thief had escaped”, the action of escaping precedes the action of arriving and as a result, the verb “to escape” is conjugated in precedent aspect.

The term “precedent” is the author's suggestion. In common linguistics, no term has been dedicated for an aspect describing an action whose occurrence precedes another action in the same referenced time. It is typically viewed as a tense (pluperfect) rather than an aspect. However, regarding Persian, it seems necessary to consider it an aspect because it is found in several tenses both in past and future e.g. past precedent and future precedent.

Progressive aspect

The progressive aspect can be categorized as a subset of imperfective aspect. It is used to express an ongoing action. Regarding Persian, the terms “progressive” and “continuous” cannot be used interchangeably. The progressive aspect is different from continuous aspect. In Persian, the progressive aspect is only used when an action is in progress. As a result, it does not have a negative form. For a progressive tense, it is ungrammatical to say, for example, “I was not studying” because the action of studying was not in progress. The progressive aspect is mainly used in the spoken form of Iranian Persian. In written Persian, the imperfective aspect is used to express ongoing actions. There are also special structures for this purpose (similar to French “être en train de”: to be busy doing something).

Anterior aspect

The anterior aspect (Persian: مقدم “moǧaddam”) is a subset of perfective aspect. It is used to express an action that precedes any other action in the same time reference including an action that has precedent aspect. In other words, its occurrence is “anterior” to any other action in the same time reference. The anterior aspect is not used in modern Persian and for this reason, anterior tenses will not be discussed here. For more information, you can refer to the author’s pages on anterior tenses written in Persian e.g. گذشته‌ی مقدم گزارشی.