AskDefine | Define imperfect

Dictionary Definition

imperfect adj
1 not perfect; defective or inadequate; "had only an imperfect understanding of his responsibilities"; "imperfect mortals"; "drainage here is imperfect" [ant: perfect]
2 having the attributes of man as opposed to e.g. divine beings; "I'm only human"; "frail humanity" [syn: fallible, frail, weak] n : a tense of verbs used in describing action that is on-going [syn: progressive, progressive tense, imperfect tense, continuous tense]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • (US) ɪmˈpɝːfɪkt, ɪmˈpɝːfɛkt


  1. Not perfect
  2. unisexual: having either male (with stamens) or female (with pistil) flowers, but not with both.



not perfect unisexual


not perfect


  1. Something having a minor flaw
  2. A tense of verbs used in describing a past action that is incomplete or continuous.


sthg having a minor flaw
past tense

Extensive Definition

The imperfect tense, in the classical grammar of several Indo-European languages, denotes a past tense with an imperfective aspect. In English, it is referred to as the past continuous tense.
The term originated with the Latin language because "imperfect" refers to an uncompleted or abandoned action.

Imperfect in Indo-European languages


In English, the imperfect or past continuous tense is manifested in the verb phrases:
  • "I was eating..."
  • "I used to eat..."
"eating" and "eat" are present verb tenses, but the action is made to happen in the past. Contrast to "I ate...", which uses the past tense of the verb.
Note that "Back then, I would eat early, and would walk to school..." signifies not the conditional, but rather, past actions of imperfect tense in English, but one must use care when translating to other languages.
In modern linguistics, and especially in TEFL contexts, it is more usual to refer to this as the "past continuous" or the "past progressive" tense.


Conjugation of the imperfect indicative: Notes:
  • The imperfect tense is signified by the signs ba and bā.
  • The imperfect tense forms of esse are used as auxiliary verbs in the pluperfect tense of the passive voice along with perfect passive participles.

Romance languages

In Romance languages, the imperfect is generally a past tense. Its uses include representing:
  • An action that was happening, used to happen, or happened regularly in the past and ongoing
  • People, things, or conditions of the past
  • A time in the past
  • A situation that was in progress in the past when another isolated and important event occurred (the former using the imperfect, while the latter uses the preterite).
  • A physical or mental state or condition in progress in the past. Often used with verbs of being, emotion, capability, or conscience. The following verbs are often used in the imperfect in several Romance languages:
A common mistake of beginners learning a Romance language is putting too much emphasis on whether the time the action occurred is known. This generally does not affect how the imperfect tense is used. For example, the sentence "Someone ate all my cookies." (when translated) is not a good candidate for the imperfect. Fundamentally, it is no different from the sentence "We ate all the cookies." Note this fails the repeatability requirement of the imperfect, as it is only known to have happened once. On the other hand, the sentence "I used to have fun in the 1960s." is a good candidate for the imperfect, even though its time frame is known. In short, knowing when an action occurred is not nearly as important as how long it occurred (or was and still is occurring).


In order to form the imperfect tense for French regular verbs, take the present tense "nous " (we) form, subtract the -ons ending, and add the following:
Examples: Notes:
  • Verbs that terminate in a stem of -cer and -ger undergo minor orthographic changes to preserve the phonetic sound or allophone. Verbs whose root terminates in the letter "i" maintain the letter despite the consecutiveness in the "nous" and "vous" forms.


Conjugation of the imperfect indicative: Notes:
  • Verbs are formed by dropping the -re suffix and adding -vo, -vi, -va, -vamo, -vate, and -vano.
  • There is only one irregular verb in the imperfect tense: essere.
  • Although dire and opporre may seem irregular, they are a part of a verb family that has stronger roots to Latin equivalents. Other verbs include fare, bere, and ridurre.
  • There is another imperfect tense in Italian formed by combining the imperfect of the verb stare (stavo, stavi, stava, stavamo, stavate, stavano) with the gerund. For example, "parlavo" could be said as "stavo parlando". The difference is similar to the difference between "I eat" and "I am eating" in English. However, English does not make this distinction in the imperfect tense.


It is sometimes called the copretérito. Conjugation of the imperfect indicative:
  • There are only three irregular verbs in the imperfect tense: ir, ser, and ver. Ir is irregular because it follows its own unique structure, leaving the normal conjugation pattern to become "iba." Ser is irregular because the "er" ending of the verb becomes the stem when it becomes "era." Ver, which becomes veía, is irregular because it keeps the "e" from the "er" ending of the infinitive that is usually cut off when the verb is conjugated. The "a" endings are a normal part of the imperfect tense even for "er" and "ir" verbs.
  • The yo and el/ella/usted forms are the same for verbs ending in ar, er, and ir; thus, in the cases of subjective ambiguity where context be insufficient, a pronoun or subjective noun is included for the sake of clarification.


Like all other past tenses, imperfect is conjugated regularly for all verbs. Formation: [preverb] + mi- + past stem + past ending
  • Persian has separate tenses for past continuous and imperfect.
  • In Persian the prefix mi gives imperfective aspect to the tense. For example, the mentioned imperfect tense has been built by prefixing mi to simple past. Therefore, it's possible to coin new imperfective tenses.

Imperfect in Afro-Asiatic languages


Biblical Hebrew had only two aspects (not tenses). The perfect aspect was used for completed actions, and generally implies past time. The imperfect aspect was used for uncompleted actions, and thus could imply present or future time. Modern Hebrew uses the participle for the present time and reserves the imperfect for future time. The Hebrew imperfect is noteworthy for having not only suffixes but also a syllable added at the beginning of the stem, and thus is often called the prefix conjugation.

Literary and Classical Arabic

Like Hebrew, Classical Arabic and thus Literary Arabic has two aspects, denoting completed and uncompleted actions respectively. The perfect is marked with a suffix conjugation, the imperfect with a prefix conjugation. In addition, a number of particles and auxiliary verbs help enrich the verb system. It could be said, however, that the Arabic verb system is less precise, or in any case less complex, than that of e.g. Indo-European languages.

Imperfect in Dravidian languages


In Malayalam (verbs are never conjugated for grammatical person, which is indicated by a pronoun), there are two indicative imperfect tenses, corresponding exactly with English:
1 -ഉകയായിരുന്നു (ukayāyirunnu) endings (... was...), for example:
ഓടുകയായിരുന്നു (ōṭukayāyirunnu) ... was running
2 -ഉമായിരുന്നു (umāyirunnu) endings (... used to ...), for example:
ഓടുമായിരുന്നു (ōṭumāyirunnu) ... used to run
  • To form the "was doing" imperfect tense, take the infinitive ending in ഉക (uka), for example ഓടുക (ōṭuka) - to run - and add the ending - യായിരുന്നു (yāyirunnu).
  • To form the "used to do" imperfect tense, take off the ക (ka) from the end of the "uka" form and add മായിരുന്നു (māyirunnu) in its stead.
To make a verb in the imperfect negative, add അല്ല് (all) after the ഉകയ (ukaya) part of the ending for the "was doing" imperfect tense. For example, ഓടുകയല്ലായിരുന്നു (ōṭukayallāyirunnu) (...was not running). To do the same for the "used to do" imperfect, take off the ഉമ (uma) from the ending and add അത്തില്ല (attilla) instead. For example, ഓടത്തില്ലായിരുന്നു (ōṭattillāyirunnu) (...didn't use to run)


imperfect in Czech: Imperfektum
imperfect in German: Imperfekt
imperfect in Spanish: Pretérito imperfecto
imperfect in Italian: Imperfetto indicativo
imperfect in Finnish: imperfekti
imperfect in Polish: Imperfekt
imperfect in Russian: Имперфект
imperfect in Swedish: Imperfekt
imperfect in Walloon: Durant Indicatif Erirece
imperfect in Latin: Imperfectum

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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