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Hebrew—An Introduction to Reading the Old Testament
About this course
Lesson 3: Verbs—imperfect
Progressiveness (step 5 of 9)
The meaning of the imperfect aspect
perfect = viewed as complete
imperfect = viewed as in progress
A visual illustration of the difference between perfect (left) and imperfect (right) aspect.
Remember this? As we explained in the last lesson, the two basic aspects of Hebrew verbs are perfect and imperfect. With the perfect aspect, the author is viewing the action as a completed whole, whereas the imperfect aspect sees the action as progressive. Hence the imperfect aspect is most often used to represent present or future actions—though it is not restricted to this. It is also commonly used to represent the subjunctive (“may you ____”), contingency (“if you ____, ...”), customary actions (“you always ____”), or permission (“you may ____”).

Thus, we translate imperfects by giving great attention to the context, and seek to think about the aspect more than the inferred tense—just as we discussed with perfect verbs.
Imperfects in the songs we've learned

We saw one imperfect in our first worship song—נוֹדֶה. You will recall that this comes from the root יָדָה. You can see that the weak first letter of the root (the י) has fallen off. In addition, this verb is irregular with the addition of the וֹ. But no worries. You know the song and so know this irregular form!

As for the meaning of the imperfect aspect here, it is clearly implying a simple future action, as indicated by the phrase it is found in.

וְשִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם נוֹדֶה — “and your name unto eternity we will thank.”

This song contains two imperfects, however neither of them is in the qal stem which we have learned and so you need not yet worry about the form. As for their meaning, the context once again dictates both to be simple future.

וְחֶרְפַּת עַמּוֹ יָסִיר — “and the reproach of his people he will remove
זֶה קִוִּינוּ לוֹ וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ — “we have waited for him and he will save us

Finally, in our most recent song, we saw a single imperfect appear twice—this time in the qal and mostly not irregular. I say “mostly” because the first letter in the root (ע) is guttural. And gutturals, as you will recall, love to attract a-class vowels. Thus, it is תַּעֲרֹג and not תִּעְרֹג.

As for meaning, we find here an example of a customary action which is best expressed with the present tense in this case.

כְּאַיָּל תַּעֲרֹג עַל־אֲפִיקֵי־מָיִם — “as a deer pants over streams of water”
כֵּן נַפְשִׁי תַעֲרֹג אֵלֶיךָ אֱלֹהִים — “so my soul pants unto you, God”
Photograph by Frank Vassen Link
In the next lesson step we learn a new song with three more imperfect verbs.