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The Joys of Grammar

December 3, 2011

I am spending this weekend studying for finals. It’s a fairly dreary thing to do under these circumstances, isolated in my room away from the world. As such, it’s the little things that cheer me up.

Today, in reading my Sallust, I came across an imperfect that seemed out of place and when I looked it up, the commentary told me it was an “epistolary imperf[ect] standing for present at the time of writing, but the act is described as past relative to the time when the recipient of the letter will read about it ” (Ramsey, 35n5 p.158). I just love that (1) there is a name for this tense and (2) the Latin writer considered the question of the relative relationship with time between the author and reader.

I am sure that English speakers do this without thinking in letters and it’s not as awesome as it appears. However, it amused me for a moment, so I thought I would share it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. linebrick permalink*
    December 4, 2011 6:38 pm

    the name of this tense is going to make its way into my thesis, darby. you’re my hero.

  2. December 4, 2011 9:37 pm

    “right now I was writing the words you will be reading right now” ?

    • December 6, 2011 9:05 am

      Precisely. Kind of funny, isn’t it? I guess we don’t really do that in English after all…

    • December 7, 2011 7:47 pm

      élan i think in english we’d just use the future perfect instead y’know?

      • December 8, 2011 1:46 am

        But it’s a bit weird — given that we might use the future perfect in English, and Latin (unlike English or Greek) has a future perfect in fairly common use, it’s interesting that Sallust (at least) uses the imperfect.

      • December 8, 2011 3:54 am

        While Latin does certainly use the future perfect, Ramsey gives the feeling that this is a specific and traditional use of the imperfect in Latin. However, Rmasey does…overstate things sometimes.

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