Simple Verb Tenses in Old Church Slavonic

Feb 4, 2015 by

Simple Tenses in OCSVerbs in Old Church Slavonic (OCS) are inflected for person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and number (singular, dual, or plural). There are three simple tenses (present, imperfect, and aorist) and three compound tenses (perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect). Here, we consider the three simple tenses.

Present Tense

The present tense is used for actions either contemporaneous with the time of the utterance (present time) or subsequent to the time of the utterance (future time). There is no (simple) grammatical future tense in OCS, so that the present tense is used in reference to future time. There is also no distinction made between a continual action ongoing at the time of the utterance (English: I am walking) and a situation surrounding the time frame of the utterance (English: I walk).

The present tense forms are constructed from the present tense stem (see Lunt 2001: 86, columns e, f) by adding one of the corresponding person-number endings (see Lunt 2001: 95). The 1st person singular ending is added directed to the (sometimes modified) stem (see column e); all other person/number endings are added to a stem augmented by:

  • ę in 3rd person plural or i for all other forms ß for i-verbs, ě-verbs, and ša-verbs (classes 1 and 2)
  • ǫ in 3rd person plural or e for all other forms ß for all other verbs (classes 3 through 9)

Here are the present tense paradigms of two common verbs, glagolati ‘to say’ (class 5) and moliti ‘to beg’ (class 1):

 

Singular

Dual

Plural

1st Person

глагол҄ѭ глагол҄ѥвѣ глагол҄ѥмъ

2nd

глагол҄ѥши глагол҄ѥта глагол҄ѥтє

3rd

глагол҄ѥтъ глагол҄ѥтє глагол҄ѭтъ

 

Singular

Dual

Plural

1st Person

мол҄ѭ моливѣ молимъ

2nd

молиши молита молитє

3rd

молитъ молитє молѧтъ

Note: In some OCS texts, the ending –ta of the 2nd person dual is used in place of –te for the 3rd person dual.

For more on the present tense, see Lunt (2001: 95-97).

How to distinguish the imperfect vs. the aorist?

There is not one but two (simple) “past tenses” in OCS: imperfect and aorist. How do we tell them apart in texts?

Morphology: look for suffix -ах-, -аах-, and -ěах- as signs of imperfect verb forms.

Meaning:

  • the aorist denotes an action completed in the past and viewed without regard to the duration of the action (‘I said’); typically used for relating events in a narrative sequence to indicate the proper order of successive events;
  • the imperfect indicates a continual past action (‘I was saying’) or a habitual one (‘I used to say’); typically used for relating events backgrounded in relation to another action.

 

How to form the imperfect tense?

The forms of the imperfect are obtained from the infinitive-aorist stem (see Lunt 2001: 86, column d, boldfaced part), to which the corresponding person/number endings are added (see Lunt 2001: 100). As can be seen from the table in Lunt (2001: 100), all imperfect endings share the distinctive marker -ěax-; to it the endings of the aorist are added. When the -ěax- is added to a stem ending in а or ѣ, the ě in ‑ěax- is dropped. The ě in ‑ěax- triggers First Palatalization, turning stem-final k and g into č and ž, respectively. Following the palatals č, ž, and j, the ě in ‑ěax- is changed to а, resulting in the suffix -аах-. Here are the paradigms for glagolati ‘to say’ and moliti ‘to beg’.

 

Singular

Dual

Plural

1st Person

глаголаахъ глаголааховѣ глаголаахомъ

2nd

глаголаашє глаголаашєта глаголаашєтє

3rd

глаголаашє глаголаашєтє глаголаахѫ

 

Singular

Dual

Plural

1st Person

мол҄јаахъ мол҄јааховѣ мол҄јаахомъ

2nd

мол҄јаашє мол҄јаашєта мол҄јаашєтє

3rd

мол҄јаашє мол҄јаашєтє мол҄јаахѫ

For more on the imperfect, see Lunt (2001: 100-102).

 

How to form the aorist tense(s)?

There are three types of aorist formations: asigmatic (or root, or simple aorist), sigmatic (or s-aorist), and new aorist. As the names imply, sigmatic aorist was formed by the addition of -s- (“sigma” in Greek) to the base, while asigmatic aorist was formed without this extension. These two continued the more archaic formation of the aorist and were later supplanted by a new innovative paradigm. The new aorist is relatively more prevalent (in our texts).

The starting point for constructing the aorist forms is the infinitive-aorist stem (see Lunt 2001: 86, column b). The three types of aorist are considered from the rarest to the commonest.

Asigmatic aorist (= Root aorist, = Simple aorist) is formed by a relatively small number of verbs; only about 650 examples with 28 verbs are attested. These forms have no special aorist marker, only the person/number endings (see Lunt 2001: 104, top table), added to the stem. The simple aorist paradigms for three verbs are given below:

Stem

мог-

ид-

двиг-

 

‘be able’ ‘go’ ‘move’

 

1st Sg.

могъ идъ двигъ

2nd

можє идє движє

3rd

можє идє движє

 

1st Du.

моговѣ идовѣ двиговѣ

2nd

можєта идєта движєта

3rd

можєтє идєтє движєтє

 

1st Pl.

могомъ идомъ двигомъ

2nd

можєтє идєтє движєтє

3rd

могѫ идѫ двигѫ

Sigmatic aorist (= s-aorist) is yet another aorist formation which was in decline by the time of the OCS texts. Nevertheless, several common verbs formed the aorist in this manner, i.e. to the infinitive-aorist stem add the suffix -s-, then the person/number endings (see Lunt 2001: 104, bottom table). The suffixation of -s– triggered certain sound changes, including the following:

RUKI: When the infinitive-aorist stem ends in r, -u, -k, or -i, the suffixed -s- turned into -x-.

g and l: When the infinitive-aorist stem ends in -g or -l, the suffixed -s- turned into -x-.

The sigmatic aorist paradigms of three verbs is given below.

Stem

рєк-

вєд-

ѧ-

 

‘say’ ‘lead’ ‘take’

 

1st Sg.

рѣхъ вѣсъ ѧсъ

2nd

рєчє вєдє ѧ, ѧтъ

3rd

рєчє вєдє ѧ, ѧтъ

 

1st Du.

рѣховѣ вѣсовѣ ѧсовѣ

2nd

рѣста вѣста ѧста

3rd

рѣстє вѣстє ѧстє

 

1st Pl.

рѣхомъ вѣсомъ ѧсомъ

2nd

рѣстє вѣстє ѧстє

3rd

рѣшѧ вѣшѧ ѧсѧ

Note: In certain verbs, mostly those with stems ending in r, ę, i, ě, an ending -tъ is added to the 2nd and 3rd persons singular. Thus, pitъ from piti ‘to drink’, načętъ from načęti ‘to begin’, bystъ from byti ‘to be’, dastъ from dati ‘to give’ (stem: dad-, see Lunt 2001: 97, section 6.71).

The new aorist, also termed the ox-aorist, was an innovative formation which eventually replaced the other two aorists. This aorist is typically formed by those verbs whose infinitive-aorist stem ends in a consonant, or those with the -nǫ- suffix that end in a consonant when the -nǫ- is dropped. The forms are a blend of the simple aorist forms and forms where -ох- intervenes between stem and ending. For purposes of comparison, some paradigms are given for verbs which also form other types of aorist.

Stem

двиг-

ид-

рєк-

вєд-

 

‘move’ ‘go’ ‘say’ ‘lead’

 

1st Sg.

двигохъ идохъ рєкохъ вєдохъ

2nd

движє идє рєчє вєдє

3rd

движє идє рєчє вєдє

 

1st Du.

двигоховѣ идоховѣ рєкоховѣ вєдоховѣ

2nd

двигоста идоста рєкоста вєдоста

3rd

двигостє идостє рєкостє вєдостє

 

1st Pl.

двигохомъ идохомъ рєкохомъ вєдохомъ

2nd

двигостє идостє рєкостє вєдостє

3rd

двигошѧ идошѧ рєкошѧ вєдошѧ

This aorist is not formed by those verbs whose stem ends in -a-, -n-, or -r-.

For more on the aorists, see Lunt (2001: 102-108).

 

Sources:

Lunt, Horace G. (2001) Old Church Slavonic Grammar. Mouton de Gruyter.

 

 

 

 


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  • Ilya Zlatanov

    A simple rule for beginners /although not quite true/ is that the perfective aspect usually forms aorist and the imperfective aspect – imperfect.Or, as prof. Maslov puts it /speaking about Bulgarian/, the aorist moves the story forward and the imperfect depicts the scenery. Another useful tip is French – imperfect=imparfait and aorist = passé composé/passé simple. However this is an oversimplification.

    • I like Maslov’s description, thanks! Yes, there is a correlation between OCS tenses and Russian (or Bulgarian, I’d assume) aspect, but I am afraid that it would confuse my students more than it’d help them…

      • Ivan Derzhanski

        You’ve told them already that the OCS aorist and imperfect are like the past simple and past continuous in English; this is good enough. In Modern Bulgarian the opposition is a three-way one (imperfect imperfective, aorist imperfective, aorist perfective), which as I argued in my PhD thesis is a very close match to the abstract semantic opposition of state, process (energeia) and event (kinesis).