7.5 – Introduction to Aspect

7.5 – Introduction to Aspect

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7.5 – Introduction to Aspect
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7.5 – Aspect

We have thus far learned the present and past tense for verbs. In this lesson, we are going to add on to our understanding of verbs with a discussion of aspect. Let’s begin by looking at the following English sentence:

1. Petr was writing a paper.

In this sentence, we see that Petr was in the process of writing a paper. We know nothing about whether he finished the paper or not (he very well might have or he might have gotten interrupted). It could be part of a larger sentence, as follows:

1A. Petr was writing a paper while we were working outside.

1B. Petr was writing a paper when his phone rang.

The point here is that example #1 above describes his activity of writing as an open-ended process without saying definitively whether the paper was completed. Compare this with example #2:

        2. Petr wrote a paper on Czech history.

In this example, we clearly see that the act of writing a paper was completed. In a very real sense, the act of writing a paper proceeds toward a goal (a completed paper). The difference between describing actions as in #1 and in #2 is known as aspect. Sometimes we describe actions in an open-ended way which does not indicate whether an action was completed (Imperfective Aspect), while at other times we describe the completion of an action (Perfective Aspect).

In Czech, imperfective aspect and perfective aspect are separate verbs that have to be learned as a pair. Very often (though by no means always), a perfective verb is formed by adding a prefix to the imperfective verb. Examples of pairs are given in the chart below:






to read



to do



to write



to eat

We will learn that imperfective and perfective verbs can be used in all tenses in Czech, but for this first lesson we will focus on their use in the past tense, since this is the area where their differences are easiest for English speakers to perceive.

The sentences below are an example of the imperfective and perfective verbs in use:



Imperfective verbs are used to convey:

  • process of an activity (as opposed to completion) – here the imperfective verb just states that you were engaged in the activity.

Včera jsem četla dobrou knihu.

I read (some of) a good book yesterday.

Včera jsme jedli v dobré restauraci.

Yesterday we ate in a good restaurant.

  • repeated actions are often expressed with imperfective because the focus is more on the activity itself:

Když studoval na univerzitě, Tomáš dělal domácí úkoly každý den.

When Tomáš was a student (lit. studied) in college, he did/used to do his homework every day.

Perfective verbs are used when you want to stress:

  • completion of an action – here the entirety of an action is performed to completion:

Přečetla jsem dnes nový román.

I read (through) a new novel (to completion). / I finished reading…

Snědl jsem koláč.

I ate (up) a kolache.

  • doing all of something (eating all the pizza, drinking a whole glass of something, etc.; often with words like celý ‘the whole, entire _____’ or všechny ‘all of the _____’

Udělal jsem všechny domácí úkoly.

I did all my homework (to completion).