A binary approach to Spanish tense and aspect: on the tense battle about the past


  • Paz Gonzalez University of Leiden, The Netherlands
  • Henk Verkuyl University of Utrecht




perfecto, pluscuamperfecto, imperfecto, indefinido, aorist, completion, anteriority, stative, nonstative, discrete, continuous, progressive, terminative, durative, tense, aspect


The present paper aims at accounting for the Spanish Imperfecto, Perfecto, Pluscuamperfecto and the Indefinido by applying three binary tense oppositions: Present vs Past, Synchronous vs Posterior and Imperfect(ive) vs Perfect(ive). For the sixteen Spanish tense forms under analysis a binary approach leads to covering twelve of them. Their relation with the preterital forms outside the range of the three oppositions is accounted for by two surgical operations: (a) the notion of Imperfect(ive) is severed from the notion of ongoing progress by restricting it to underinformation about completion and by seeing continuous tense forms as involving a more complex semantics; (b) the notion of (non-)stative is strictly severed from interference of information coming from the arguments of a verb. These theoretical moves make the way free for a formal-semantic insight into the interaction of Spanish tense and aspect. It also paves the way for a principled distinction between completion and anteriority. Restricted to tense forms pertaining to the past, our analysis sheds light on the struggle for survival of tense forms outside the binary system.

Author Biographies

Paz Gonzalez, University of Leiden, The Netherlands

Leiden University Center of Linguistics

Latin American Studies

Assistant Professor

Henk Verkuyl, University of Utrecht

Emeritus Professor of Linguistics




How to Cite

Gonzalez, P., & Verkuyl, H. (2017). A binary approach to Spanish tense and aspect: on the tense battle about the past. Borealis – An International Journal of Hispanic Linguistics, 6(1), 97–138. https://doi.org/10.7557/