The imperfect represents an action as still going on, or a state as still existing, in the past: Κῦρος οὔπω ἧκεν, ἀλλ' ἔτι προσήλαυνε
Imperfect of Continuance.—The imperfect thus represents an action as continuing in the past: διέφθειραν Ἀθηναίων πίντε καὶ εἴκοσι,
The imperfect of
ἄγγελον ἔπεμπον καὶ τοὺς νεκροὺς ὑποσπόνδους ἀπέδοσαν
ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς τοιάδε
a. In messenger's speeches the speaker may go back to the time of receiving a command:
ἰέναι σ' ἐκέλευον οἱ στρατηγοὶ τήμερον
The imperfect, when accompanied by an expression of past time, is used of actions which had been in progress for some time and were still in progress (cp. cross1885):
τὸ Πήγιον ἐπὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἐστασίαζε
Imperfect of Customary Action.—The imperfect is used to express frequently repeated or customary past actions:
ἐπεὶ εἶδον αὐτὸν οἵπερ πρόσθεν προσεκύνουν, καὶ τότε προσεκύνησαν
a. The repetition of a simple act in the past is expressed by πολλάκις with the aorist ( cross1930).1894
Iterative Imperfect.—ἄν may be used with this imperfect ( cross1790): ἐπεθύ_μει ἄν τις ἔτι πλείω αὐτοῦ ἀκούειν
Conative Imperfect.—The imperfect may express an action attempted, intended, or expected, in the past.
ἔπειθον αὐτούς, καὶ οὓς ἔπεισα, τούτους ἔχων ἐπορευόμην
Θηβαῖοι κατεδουλοῦντ' αὐτούς
ἠπείγοντο ἐς τὴν Κέρκυ_ραν
a. Here may be placed the imperfect equivalent in sense to ἔμελλον with the infinitive. Thus, φονεὺς οὖν αὐτῶν ἐγιγνόμην ἐγὼ μὴ εἰπὼν ὑ_υῖν ἃ ἤκουσα. ἔτι δὲ τρια_κοσίους Ἀθηναίων ἀπώλλυον
Imperfect of Resistance or Refusal.—With a negative, the imperfect often denotes resistance or refusal (
τὴν πρόκλησιν οὐκ ἐδέχεσθε
ὁ μὲν οὐκ ἐγάμει, ὁ δὲ ἔγημεν
οὐδὲ φωνὴν ἤκουον, εἴ τις ἄλλο τι βούλοιτο λέγειν
If simple positive and negative are contrasted, the aorist is preferred with the latter: τὰ ὑπάρχοντά τε σῴζειν (positive with present) καὶ ἐπιγνῶναι μηδέν (negative with aorist)
παρεῖναι καὶ μὴ ἀποδημεῖν
Imperfect of Description.—The imperfect describes manners and customs; the situation, circumstances, and details, of events; and the development of actions represented as continuing in past time.
ἐκεῖνός τε τοὺς ὑφ' ἑαυτῷ ὥσπερ ἑαυτοῦ παῖδας ἐτί_μα_, οἵ τε ἀρχόμενοι Κῦρον ὡς πατέρα ἐσέβοντο
ἐστρατήγει δὲ αὐτῶν Ἀριστεύς
N.—The imperfect often has a dramatic or panoramic force: it enables the reader to follow the course of events as they occurred, as if he were a spectator of the scene depicted.1899
The imperfect is thus often used to explain, illustrate, offer reasons for an action, and to set forth accompanying and subordinate circumstances that explain or show the result of the main action. Descriptive adverbs are often used with the imperfect.
ἐνταῦθα ἔμεινεν ἡμέρα_ς πέντε· καὶ τοῖς στρατιώταις ὠφείλετο μισθὸς πλέον ἢ τριῶν μηνῶν, καὶ πολλάκις ἰόντες ἐπὶ τὰ_ς θύρα_ς ἀπῄτουν· ὁ δὲ ἐλπίδας λέγων διῆγε καὶ δῆλος ἦν ἀνιώμενος
Inchoative Imperfect.—The imperfect may denote the beginning of an action or of a series of actions: ἐπειδὴ δὲ καιρὸς ἦν, προσέβαλλον
Imperfect for Present.—In descriptions of places and scenery and in other statements of existing facts the imperfect, instead of the present, is often used by assimilation to the time of the narrative (usually set forth in the main verb).
ἀφί_κοντο ἐπὶ τὸν ποταμὸν ὃς ὥριζε τὴν τῶν Μακρώνων χώρα_ν καὶ τὴν τῶν Σκυθηνῶν
—Imperfect of a Truth Just Recognized.—The imperfect, usually some form of εἶναι, with ἄρα, is often used to denote that a present fact or truth has just been recognized, although true before: οὐδὲν ἄρ' ἦν πρᾶγμα
τοῦτ' ἄρ' ἦν ἀληθές
The imperfect may refer to a topic previously discussed: ἦν ἡ μουσικὴ ἀντίστροφος τῆς γυμναστικῆς εἰ μέμνησαι
The epistolary imperfect is rare in Greek. See cross1942 b.1905
ἔδει, ἐχρῆν.—The imperfect of verbs expressing obligation or duty may refer to present time and imply that the obligation or duty is not fulfilled:
σι_γήσα_ς ἡνίκ' ἔδει λέγειν
Imperfect for Pluperfect.—The imperfect has the force of the pluperfect in the case of verbs whose present is used in the sense of the perfect ( cross1886).
In subordinate clauses, the action expressed by the imperfect may be (a) contemporaneous with or (b) antecedent to that set forth by the main verb: (a)
τοσοῦτοι ἦσαν οἱ ξύμπαντες ὅτε ἐς τὴν πολιορκία_ν καθί_σταντο
Imperfect and Aorist.—The imperfect and aorist often occur in the same passage; and the choice of the one or the other often depends upon the manner in which the writer may view a given action. The imperfect may be represented by a line, along which an action progresses; the aorist denotes a point on the line (either starting point or end), or surveys the whole line from beginning to end.
a. The imperfect of ‘continuance’ or ‘duration’ implies nothing as to the absolute length of the action; cp.
πάλιν κατὰ τάχος ἐκόμιζε τὴν στρατιά_ν
b. The imperfect puts the reader in the midst of the events as they were taking place, the aorist simply reports that an event took place: ἔπειτα ψι_λοὶ δώδεκα ἀνέβαινον, ὧν ἡγεῖτο Ἀμμέα_ς, καὶ πρῶτος ἀνέβη
The following statement presents the chief differences between imperfect and aorist as narrative tenses.
|circumstances, details, course of||mere fact of occurrence, general state-|
|progress, enduring condition, con-||consummation (culmination, final is-|
|tinued activity||sue, summary process)|
|general description||isolated points, characteristic examples|
|actions subordinate to the main||main actions, without reference to|
Herbert Weir Smyth [n.d.], A Greek Grammar for Colleges; Machine readable text [info] [word count] [Smyth].