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Aorist (//; abbreviated AOR) is a grammatical term used to denote particular verb forms in certain languages. It is used particularly with regard to Ancient Greek, and to certain other Indo-European languages such as Proto-Indo-European, Sanskrit, Armenian and Macedonian, as well as languages influenced by the Indo-European tradition, such as Georgian. In these languages the aorist is usually a form that expresses perfective aspect and often refers to past events. It is thus comparable in meaning to what is called the preterite in grammars of some languages.
The word comes from Ancient Greek ahóristos "indefinite", as the aorist was the unmarked (default) form of the verb, and thus did not have the implications of the imperfective aspect, which referred to an ongoing or repeated situation, or the perfect, which referred to a situation with a continuing relevance; instead it described an action "pure and simple".
In Proto-Indo-European, the aorist appears to have originated as a series of verb forms expressing manner of action. Proto-Indo-European had a three-way aspectual opposition, traditionally called "present", "aorist", and "perfect", which are thought to have been, respectively, imperfective, perfective, and stative (resultant state) aspects. By the time of Classical Greek, this system was maintained largely in independent instances of the non-indicative moods and in the nonfinite forms. But in the indicative, and in dependent clauses with the subjunctive and optative, the aspects took on temporal significance. In this manner, the aorist was often used as an unmarked past tense, and the perfect came to develop a resultative use, which is why the term perfect is used for this meaning in modern languages.
Other Indo-European languages lost the aorist entirely. In the development of Latin, for example, the aorist merged with the perfect. The preterites (past perfectives) of the Romance languages, which are sometimes called 'aorist', are an independent development.
The Past Definite (also known as the Simple Past or Past Historic) possesses an aorist sense. The Past Definite is a literary tense, not used in spoken language. However, in recent decades its use has been declining in frequency, even in writing.
In the Ancient Greek, the indicative aorist is one of the two main forms used in telling a story; it is used for undivided events, such as the individual steps in a continuous process (narrative aorist); it is also used for events that took place before the story itself (past-within-past). The aorist indicative is also used to express things that happen in general, without asserting a time (the "gnomic aorist"). It can also be used of present and future events; the aorist also has several specialized senses meaning present action.
Non-indicative forms of the aorist (subjunctives, optatives, imperatives, infinitives) are usually purely aspectual, with certain exceptions including indirect speech constructions and the use of optative as part of the sequence of tenses in dependent clauses. There are aorist infinitives and imperatives that do not imply temporality at all. For example, the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:11 uses the aorist imperative in "Give (δός dós) us this day our daily bread", in contrast to the analogous passage in Luke 11:3, which uses the imperfective aspect, implying repetition, with "Give (δίδου dídou, present imperative) us day by day our daily bread."
An example of how the aorist tense contrasts with the imperfect in describing the past occurs in Xenophon's Anabasis, when the Persian aristocrat Orontas is executed: "and those who had been previously in the habit of bowing (προσεκύνουν prosekúnoun, imperfect) to him, bowed (προσεκύνησαν prosekúnēsan, aorist) to him even then." Here the imperfect refers to a past habitual or repeated act, and the aorist to a single one.
There is disagreement as to which functions of the Greek aorist are inherent within it. Some of the disagreement applies to the history of the development of the various functions and forms. Most grammarians differentiate the aorist indicative from the non-indicative aorists. Many authors hold that the aorist tends to be about the past because it is perfective, and perfectives tend to describe completed actions; others that the aorist indicative and to some extent the participle is essentially a mixture of past tense and perfective aspect.
Because the aorist was not maintained in either Latin or the Germanic languages, there have long been difficulties in translating the Greek New Testament into Western languages. The aorist has often been interpreted as making a strong statement about the aspect or even the time of an event, when, in fact, due to its being the unmarked (default) form of the Greek verb, such implications are often left to context. Thus, within New Testament hermeneutics, it is considered an exegetical fallacy to attach undue significance to uses of the aorist. Although one may draw specific implications from an author's use of the imperfective or perfect, no such conclusions can, in general, be drawn from the use of the aorist, which may refer to an action "without specifying whether the action is unique, repeated, ingressive, instantaneous, past, or accomplished." In particular, the aorist does not imply a "once for all" action, as it has commonly been misinterpreted, although it frequently refers to a simple, non-repeated action.
Although quite common in older Sanskrit, the aorist is comparatively infrequent in much of classical Sanskrit, occurring, for example, 66 times in the first book of the Rāmāyaṇa, 8 times in the Hitopadeśa, 6 times in the Bhagavad-Gītā, and 6 times in the story of Śakuntalā in the Mahābhārata.
In the later language, the aorist indicative had the value of a preterite,[clarification needed] while in the older language it was closer in sense to the perfect. The aorist was also used with the ancient injunctive mood, particularly in prohibitions.
The Indo-European aorist was inherited by the Slavic languages in general; it is obsolete, or virtually so, in most of them, but does function in South Slavic languages like Bulgarian and Macedonian language. Until recently, in Serbian and Croatian languages, the aorist had mostly been used in literary language and legal writing. The predominantly young users of the modern means of communication (SMS, email) have found advantages of using the rarely spoken verb forms like aorist and imperfect as they require fewer characters than compound verbs, thus bringing them back to popular use.
In Bulgarian, which has produced a new regular formation, the aorist is used in indirect and presumptive quotations. Bulgarian has separate inflections for aorist (past imperfective) and general perfective. The aorist may be used with the imperfective, producing a compound perfective–imperfective aspect.
The aorist in Macedonian is called "past definite complete tense" (минато определено свршено време) and it refers to a completed action in the past tense. It most often corresponds to the simple past tense in English: I read the book, I wrote the letter, I ate my supper, etc. In contemporary standard Macedonian, the aorist is formed almost exclusively from perfective verbs. The formation of the aorist for most verbs is not complex, but there are numerous small subcategories that must be learned. While all verbs in the aorist (except сум) take the same endings, there are complexities in the aorist stem vowel and possible consonant alternations. All verbs (except сум) take the following endings in the aorist:
|јас -в||ние -вме|
|ти -∅||вие -вте|
|тој -∅||тие -а / -ја|
(The sign ∅ indicates a zero ending, i.e., nothing is added after the stem vowel.)
In the Indo-European languages Greek and Sanskrit, the aorist stem is marked by several morphological devices (the aorist indicative also has the past-tense augment ἐ- e-, which contracts with the initial vowel). Three aorist morphological devices stand out as most common:
|Morphology||Description, examples of aorist tense and aorist imperative|
|suffixing of s||The first, weak, s-, or sigmatic aorist is the most common in Greek. |
|zero-grade of ablaut,|
lack of suffix / nasal infix
|The second or strong aorist uses the bare root of the verb without the e of ablaut or the present-tense suffix or nasal infix. |
|reduplication||Reduplication is more common in the perfect, but a few Greek verbs use it in the aorist. The reduplicated aorist is more common in Sanskrit, e.g. ájījanam "I gave birth."|
|Look up aorist in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|