), also called neutral
, or universal aspect
, or tense
, is a grammatical feature (which may refer to aspect
, or tense
) that expresses general truths or aphorisms
Uses and occurrence
Used to describe an aspect, the gnomic is considered neutral by not limiting the flow of time to any particular conception (for example, the conceptions of time as continuous
, etc.). Used to describe a mood, the gnomic is considered neutral by not limiting the expression of words to the speaker's attitude toward them (e.g. as indicative, subjunctive, potential, etc.). Used to describe a tense, the gnomic is considered neutral by not limiting action, in particular, to the past, present, or future. Examples of the gnomic include such generic statements as: "birds fly"; "sugar is sweet"; and "a mother can always tell".[note 1]
If, as an aspect, it does take temporality into consideration, it may be called the empiric perfect aspect
. Generally, though, it is one example of imperfective aspect
, which does not view an event as a single entity viewed only as a whole, but instead specifies something about its internal temporal structure.
A grammatical gnomic aspect occurs in literary Swahili
, where the -a-
form of the verb is gnomic (sometimes called "indefinite tense") and the -na-
form of the verb is episodic (sometimes called 'definite tense' or just 'present').Spanish
do not have a gnomic inflection in their verbs like Swahili, but they do have lexical aspect
in their be verbs ser
(in Catalan, ser
) (gnomic) and estar
(episodic). For instance, estar enfermo
(Spanish) estar doente
(Portuguese) or estar malalt
(Catalan) means to be sick (episodic), whereas ser enfermo
(Spanish), ser doente
(Portuguese) or ésser malalt
(Catalan) means to be sickly (gnomic).
has no means of morphologically
distinguishing a gnomic aspect; however, a generic reference is generally understood to convey an equivalent meaning.
Use of the definite article
"the" or a demonstrative determiner
usually implies specific individuals, as in "the car he owns is fast", "the cars he owns are fast", or "those rabbits are fast", whereas omitting the definite article or other determiner in the plural creates a generic reference: "rabbits are fast" describes rabbits in general. However, the definite article may also be used in the singular for classes of nouns, as in "The giraffe is the tallest land mammal living today", which does not refer to any specific giraffe, but to giraffes in general.
English generally uses the simple present
tense as the equivalent of a gnomic aspect, as in "rabbits are fast" and "water boils at 212 °F". The simple present is used with specific references for the equivalent of a habitual aspect
, as in "I run every day"; likewise, the auxiliary "will" is used with specific references for the habitual aspect, as in "he will make that mistake all the time, won't he?". Thus, in English the gnomic aspect takes the same form as the habitual aspect.
The English "reportive present" tense as seen in newspaper headlines
like "Technical Innovations Increase Efficiency, Lower Costs" can be viewed as gnomic.
In Ancient Greek
, a general truth may be expressed in the present imperfective
, or aorist
, which are called in these cases the gnomic present
the gnomic future
and the gnomic aorist
There is also a gnomic perfect
These are not distinct tenses, but simply uses of the tense.
A gnomic future, the rarest of the three usages, similarly states that certain events often occur, and does not imply that an event is going to occur. A gnomic aorist (the most common of the three usages) likewise expresses the tendency for certain events to occur under given circumstances and is used to express general maxims
. The gnomic aorist is thought to derive (as the English example does) from the summation of a common story (such as the moral
of a fable
These three examples may all be said to be in the present tense
, but it is equally reasonable to consider that tense and temporality
are simply not relevant to the examples, as all three express generic truths that are not limited by a specific placement in time or construct regarding the flow of time.
- ^ Payne & Payne (2006), Exploring language structure
- ^ Trask (1993) A dictionary of grammatical terms in linguistics.
- ^ Nariyama, Shigeko (2003), Ellipsis and reference tracking in Japanese, pp 366–367
- ^ Petrov, Petre (2013). "THE SOVIET GNOMIC (ON THE PECULIARITIES OF GENERIC STATEMENTS IN STALINIST OFFICIALESE)". The Slavic and East European Journal. 57 (4): 581–604. JSTOR 24642486.
Smyth, Herbert Weir, Greek Grammar, paragraph 1877:
Present of General Truth. – The present is used to express an action that is true for all time: ἄγει δὲ πρὸς φῶς τὴν ἀλήθειαν χρόνος time brings the truth to light Men. Sent. 1.
a. The present is an absolute tense in such sentences. The future, aorist, and perfect may also express a general truth.
- ^ Smyth, paragraph 1914:
Gnomic Future. – The future may express a general truth: ἀνὴρ ἐπιεικὴς υἱὸν ἀπολέσᾱς ῥᾷστα οἴσει τῶν ἄλλων a reasonable man, if he loses a son, will (is expected to) bear it more easily than other men P. R. 603 e.
- ^ Smyth, paragraph 1931:
Gnomic Aorist (γνώμη maxim, proverb). – The aorist may express a general truth. The aorist simply states a past occurrence and leaves the reader to draw the inference from a concrete case that what has occurred once is typical of what often occurs: παθὼν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω a fool learns by experience Hesiod, Works and Days, 218, κάλλος μὲν γὰρ ἢ χρόνος ἀνήλωσεν ἢ νόσος ἐμάρᾱνε for beauty is either wasted by time or withered by disease I. 1. 6.
- ^ Smyth, paragraph 1948:
Empiric Perfect. – The perfect may set forth a general truth expressly based on a fact of experience: ἡ ἀταξίᾱ πολλοὺς ἤδη ἀπολώλεκεν lack of discipline ere now has been the ruin of many X. A. 3. 1. 38.
- Arnold, Bill T. and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 2003, p. 56.
- Carlson, Greg N. and Francis Jeffry Pelletier (1995). The generic book. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-09292-5
- Goodwin, William Watson, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, 1893, p. 53ff. Full text.
- Ultan, Russell, "The Nature of Future Tenses", in Joseph Greenberg et al., Universals of Human Language, 1978, p. 87. Full text.
Last edited on 24 February 2021, at 14:03
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0
unless otherwise noted.