14 Pages

From Past Imperfects to Future Perfects

WithGary J. Brown

I’ve chosen as the title for our wrap-up “From past imperfects to future perfects,” a paradigm in the most literal and original of senses-verb conjugations; and two of them that, as a budding student of language, always gave me trouble-the past imperfect and the future perfect. My simple mind could not fathom why the past, much less the present, and even the future, by golly, had to be divided into imperfect and perfect aspects. (After all, isn’t the present world we live in imperfect enough, without having to deal with the past as an imperfect world as well! And why do we need to project a future perfect? Everyone knows the future isn’t even here yet. And what makes us think, really, that it’s going to be any more perfect than the present!) It finally sank in, however, and realized that there was sense to those verb paradigms-and even more than that, there was complexity and nuance. As speakers, thinkers, writers, planners-we can position ourselves toward the past and the future in different ways. Flexibly filled with nuance and different meaning, and relying upon the past while standing in the present, we could project out into the future-something that not only will be, but from our vantage point of knowledge, something that will have been intimated in our models of the future. Ah the beauty of that paradigm-the future perfect! But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves here. One step at a time and without confusion, please.