I have just recently learned that the perfect tense in Latin can serve also as an aorist tense as well as a perfect tense and that the perfect tense in Latin is simply the result of the original Proto-Indo-European aorist and perfective aspect merging in Proto-Italic (all of these to the best of my knowledge and what I have been told).

Concerning the meanings of the aorist and perfect in general, I understand the differences. The aorist simply indicates the completion of an action, the perfect indicates a state resulting from the completion of an action. I am simply interested in the following:

  1. Does Latin distinguish between the aorist and perfect at all via any means other than inflection, specifically in the perfect?
  2. If the above holds true, how would one go about distinguishing between an aoristic use of the perfect, or a perfective use of the perfect?
  • 9
    If a main clause with a perfect form has a subordinate clause with a subjunctive form, the subjunctive follows so-called secondary sequence for the aorisitic use (therefore, the subjunctive is either imperf. or pluperf.), whereas it follows primary sequence for the latter (perfective) (therefore, the subjunctive is either pres. or perf.). In other words, the tense of the subjunctive in a subordinate clause will generally tell you how to translate the perfect form in the main clause.
    – cnread
    Sep 14, 2018 at 16:53
  • 4
    @cnread That would make a good answer!
    – Draconis
    Sep 14, 2018 at 18:33
  • 1
    Here's an example of what @cnread has said: cenam paravi ut sumeremus 'I prepared dinner so that we could eat' (aorist); cenam paravi ut sumamus 'I have prepared dinner so that we can eat' (perfect).
    – Anonym
    Sep 17, 2018 at 1:00

1 Answer 1


There is, in fact!

As you mention, the Latin "perfect tense" is a combination of the present perfective and past aoristic tense-aspect combinations, which remained separate in Greek (the "perfect" and "aorist"). So a "perfect" verb form can be either a present perfective (an action was completed in the past and affects the present) or a past aoristic (an action happened in the past and we don't care about its duration).

The distinction is purely semantic by Latin times, not morphological, with some verbs using PIE perfective forms (cucurrī) and some using PIE aoristic forms (dixī) pretty much arbitrarily.


The famous "sequence of tenses" depends on the semantic tense, not on the morphological tense-aspect combination! The primary sequence is used for non-past verbs, and the secondary sequence is used for past verbs.

Thus, a present perfective "perfect" will invoke the primary sequence, and a past aoristic "perfect" will invoke the secondary sequence.

Cum doleam, vinum nimium bibō.
I'm drinking too much wine because I'm sad.
(Present aoristic → primary)

Cum doluerim, vinum nimium bibī.
I drank too much wine (and am now drunk) because I was sad.
(Present perfective → primary)

Cum doluissem, vinum nimium bibī.
I drank too much wine (and it's over now) because I was sad.
(Past aoristic → secondary)

Cum doluissem, vinum nimium bibēbam.
I was drinking too much wine (habitually or for a long time) because I was sad.
(Past imperfective → secondary)

  • This Q helps with the, more recent, "acta est fabula, plaudite". What does PIE stand for....passive indirect example?? The revelation may make me feel stupid; but better stupidity than ignorance. How are you faring with the truncated word-fragments?
    – tony
    Jun 6, 2019 at 15:42
  • @tony Ah, that's my bad, it's not a universally-used abbreviation. PIE is "Proto-Indo-European", the oldest ancestor of Latin we can reconstruct with any certainty.
    – Draconis
    Jun 6, 2019 at 15:43
  • In Q: latin.stackexchange.com/a/14147/1982, Seb quoted Nepos (Epaminondas 5.4): "nam paritur pax bello, itaque qui ea diutina volunt frui bello exercitati esse debent". When I asked about the translation Seb gave "exercitati esse debent" to be a perfective; but, didn't sound certain. Translating = "they are obliged to be (having been) trained". Given that something is taking place at the moment of speaking (debent = they are obliged), does this expression qualify as a present perfective?
    – tony
    Jul 8, 2020 at 10:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.