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Allen and Greenough/ New Latin Grammar

IMPERFECT TENSE

471. The Imperfect represents a present tense transferred to past time. Hence all the meanings which the Present has derived from the continuance of the action belong also to the Imperfect in reference to past time.

a. The Imperfect is used in descriptions:—

    erant omnīnō itinera duo ... mōns altissimus impendēbat (B. G. 1.6), there were in all two ways ... a very high mountain overhung.

b. With iam diū, iam dūdum, and other expressions of duration of time, the Imperfect denotes an action continuing in the past but begun at some previous time (cf. § 466).

In this construction the Imperfect is rendered by the English Pluperfect:—

    iam dūdum flēbam (Ov. M. 3.656), I had been weeping for a long time.

    cōpiās quās diū comparābant (Fam. 11.13.5), the forces which they had long been getting ready.

c. The Imperfect sometimes denotes an action as begun (Inceptive Imperfect), or as attempted or only intended (Conative Imperfect; cf § 467):—

    in exsilium ēioiēbam quem iam ingressum esse in bellum vidēbam (Cat. 2.14), was I trying to send into exile one who I saw had already gone into war?

    hunc igitur diem sibi prōpōnēns Milō, cruentīs manibus ad illa augusta centuriārum auspicia veniēbat (Mil. 43), was Milo coming (i.e. was it likely that he would come), etc.?

    sī licitum esset veniēbant (Verr. 5.129), they were coming if it had been allowed (they were on the point of coming, and would have done so if, etc.).

Note— To this head may be referred the imperfect with iam, denoting the beginning of an action or state: as, —iam que arva tenēbant ultima (Aen. 6.477), and now they were just getting to the farthest fields.

d. The Imperfect is sometimes used to express a surprise at the present discovery of a fact already existing:—

    ō tū quoque aderās (Ter. Ph. 858), oh, you are here too!

    ehem, tūn hīc erās, mī Phaedria (Ter. Eun. 86), what! you here, Phœdria?

    ā miser! quantā labōrābās Charybdī (Hor. Od. 1.27.19), unhappy boy, what a whirlpool you are struggling in [and I never knew it]!

e. The Imperfect is often used in dialogue by the comic poets where later writers would employ the Perfect:—

    ad amīcum Calliclem quoi rem aībat mandāsse hīc suam (Pl. Trin. 956), to his friend Callicles, to whom, he said, he had intrusted his property.

    praesāgībat mī animus frūstrā mē īre quom exībam domō (Pl. Aul. 178), my mind mistrusted when I went from home that I went in vain.

Note— So, in conversation the imperfect of verbs of saying (cf. as I was a-saying) is common in classic prose:—

    at medicī quoque, ita enim dīcēbās, saepe falluntur (N. D. 3.15), but physicians also,—for that is what you were saying just now,— are often mistaken.

    haec mihi ferē in mentem veniēbant (id. 2.67, 168), this is about what occurred to me, etc. [In a straightforward narration this would be vēnērunt.]

f. The Imperfect with negative words often has the force of the English auxiliary could or would:—

    itaque (Dāmoclēs) nec pulchrōs iliōs ministrātōrēs aspiciēbat (Tusc. 5.62), therefore he could not look upon those beautiful slaves. [In this case did not would not express the idea of continued prevention of enjoyment by the overhanging sword.]

    nec enim dum eram vōbīscum animum meum vidēbātis (Cat. M. 79), for, you know, while I was with you, you could not see my soul. [Here the Perfect would refer only to one moment.]

    Lentulus satis erat fortis ōrātōr, sed cōgitandī nōn ferēbat labōrem (Brut 268), Lentulus was bold enough as an orator, but could not endure the exertion of thinking hard.

For the Epistolary Imperfect, see § 479; for the Imperfect Indicative in apodosiscontrary to fact, see § 517. b, c.

 

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