The Imperfect Tense

The Kind of Action:

The imperfect tense expresses a linear or continuous action in past time. The time element is more predominate because it is exclusively used with the Indicative mode.

 The Progressive Imperfect

This use denotes action in progress in past time. This is the most common use of the tense. It draws a picture of a past event. Only the context determines whether the action is completed.

 The Iterative Imperfect

This action of the imperfect is represented as recurring at successive intervals in past time. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether an act is merely descriptive or a series of actions. The context must be studied carefully to determine which it is. It is translated into English by “kept on”.

 The Customary Imperfect

This use represents an action that occurred on a regular or ordinary basis in past time. It emphasizes the regularity of the action over a period of time in the past. English would the customary imperfect by “used to”.

The Inceptive Imperfect

This use denotes the beginning of an action or that which was upon the point of occurring, in past time. The action is continuous in past time, but the emphasis is on the beginning, not its progress. It occurs frequently in the New Testament. It may be translated by “one went to doing.”

 The Inchoative Imperfect

This use denoted an action as merely begun in the past, but not carried out yet. May be expressed in English with “began.”

 The Conative Imperfect

This use denotes an action that was interrupted in the past. The action was begun, but not completed.

 The Tendential Imperfect

The use denotes an action that was intended or attempted in the past, but was never carried into effect. Expressed by “tried to.”

 The Periphrastic Imperfect

By using the present participle and the imperfect of ἐιμί the linear idea of the imperfect is intensified. It may be employed by the “Progressive Imperfect” or sometimes by the “Iterative Imperfect.” It occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the historical books.

 The Potential Imperfect

This use signifies a wish that is known to be unattainable. It may also be used to express a wish politely or hesitantly. It seems to soften a remark. It signifies dissatisfaction with the present state of things and a wish that the result was different. The imperfect is used when the present fails to express the lack of reality of the situation. This use rarely occurs.

 The Imperfect of Obligation

This is used with verbs expressing propriety, possibility, obligation, or necessity, when the action expressed is not lived up to. Like the “Potential Imperfect,” it is used where one would expect to find the Present tense.