The Basics of Verbal Aspect – A Review Part II

I must first extent my thanks to Jesse Hillman of Zondervan, who went beyond the call of duty and gracefully sent me a review copy in spite of the fact that I’m in Canada.

Basicas of Verbal Aspect

The Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek
By Constantine Campbell

Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (November 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 031029083X
ISBN-13: 978-0310290834
Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
Amazon: Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek

For the technical first part of the review, see HERE

The Practical Side

The two biggest practical strengths of the book are the exercises and the quite clarifying discussion of remoteness. Both of these are things that have been needed for some time.

The Exercises

Campbell’s book on aspect excells as a practical introduction to verbal aspect. The method in his exercises for recognizing verb usage in relation to aspect and aktionsart, semantics and pragmatics should go a long way in clarifying the differences between them while providing students with a model for understanding verbs and how Koine authors used them.

The method itself involves determining the aspect of the verb form, determining the lexical aktionsart of the verb (Campbell’s discussion of how to do this is also very helpful), and  then examining what contextual factors add to the pragmatic meaning of the action, event, or process. The result is the pragmatic or situational aktionsart of the given clause.

The emphasis on the difference between semantic meaning and pragmatic meaning in terms of aspect and aktionsart will hopefully prevent us from having a repeat in the future of assuming that the aorist is always punctilliar or that it represents “once and for all” action.

Time and Space: Tense or Proximity?

Probably the biggest debate since Porter and Fanning published their dissertations in 1989 and 1990 is the question of whether the Greek verb actually has “Tense.” Campbell’s discussion of this issue in a postscript at the end of his book will hopefully help reconcile the divide in scholarship over the issue.The debate itself has more to do with how a person defines “Tense.” Those who reject the word tend to have a narrower definition of the term, while those who accept it tend to have a looser definition of tense that allows for exceptions.

I think that Campbell does well to go beyond the initial question of “Does Greek have tense?” to discuss exactly how we express temporal meaning in language generally. Whether the debate will be ended by his postscript remains to be seen, but I do hope that it will.


Constantine Campbell’s book will be quite beneficial for the beginning Greek classes for introducing a topic that most introductory grammars avoid. Teachers themselves will have to decide how they will present the more debated points such as the meaning of the perfect and future. It might go a long way in that regard to use Dr. Decker’s pdf for revising Mounce’s chapter on the Verb, since Decker represents a view closer to that of Porter on both the Future and the Perfect.

For students, probably the biggest lack in the book is a “Suggested Reading” section for each chapter or a bibliography. Neither of which is present. The former would go a long way in such an introductory level book since it would be organized by topic. Perhaps a second edition will have something like that.