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Aspect in Serbo-Croatian Verbs

The Serbo-Croatian verb system has a property called aspect. Aspect distinguishes between verbs which are perfective and imperfective. Most verbs have both perfective and imperfective forms. However, there are some non-paired verbs (which are used for both aspects - or, which can be considered as not having aspect). In addition, there are also some imperfective verbs which have perfective counterparts, but which are often used for both imperfective and perfective aspects.

What do we mean by imperfective and perfective? English and the Romance languages do not have aspect in the same way that the Slavic languages do, but they do often have an imperfect tense. The imperfect is a past tense, indicating habitual actions, general conditions in the past, and actions begun in the past that were taking place when something else happened. Here are some examples of statements in the imperfect:

I used to go to work on Saturdays.
He was eating when the phone rang.
When she was a child, she didn't like to eat vegetables.

Many languages also have a perfect tense, which indicates actions that have been completed. An example is the sentence: "Yesterday I went shopping." The action (shopping) was completed at a particular time in the past (yesterday). This is in contrast to the statement: "I used to go shopping," which tells us about past habits.

In English and the Romance languages - among many other languages - one verb is placed in different tenses to distinguish between perfective and imperfective actions. Serbo-Croatian, however, accomplishes this by having verb-pairs, the uses of which are not limited to the past tense. One element of the pair is imperfective, the other perfective. The imperfective element is used to describe continuous, incomplete, and habitual actions. The perfective aspect describes actions that will be completed, or which will happen only once. Almost all present tense statements are made with the imperfective aspect - present tense actions are by their nature incomplete and ongoing. The perfective form is found in present tense constructions as an infintive (following a modal verb, for example, and in the Serbian da clauses which fulfill the same purpose), in the imperative, and in many dependent da clauses. Here are some examples of the differences between the two aspects:

Pijem crno vino kad jedem meso.

I drink red wine when I eat meat.
It is a habitual action: each time I eat meat, I drink wine.

Moram kupiti razglednicu

I must buy a postcard.
In this case, the need to do something now, and finish it, is being expressed.