Now that you understand imperfect and perfect, I’m ready to talk about progressive aspect.
You are used to thinking of the progressive aspect as present tense. But here’s a past usage which illustrates that it means an action in progress, Genesis 1:2.
וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
This means that the action was repeated continuously within the narrative. After the narrative ends, we no longer worry about it. Could still be happening!
Progressive aspect also has a descriptive flavor, which you saw in Genesis 2:10.
וְנָהָר יֹצֵא מֵעֵדֶן לְהַשְׁקוֹת אֶת־הַגָּן וּמִשָּׁם יִפָּרֵד וְהָיָה לְאַרְבָּעָה רָאשִׁים:
Progressive aspect verbs often show up with expressions of location, as with tachat ha-ets in Genesis 18:8.
וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב וּבֶן־הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּתֵּן לִפְנֵיהֶם וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ וַיֹּאכֵלוּ:
Progessive aspect commonly goes with form of od, “still,” as in Genesis 29:9.
עוֹדֶנּוּ מְדַבֵּר עִמָּם וְרָחֵל בָּאָה עִם־הַצֹּאן אֲשֶׁר לְאָבִיהָ כִּי רֹעָה הִוא:
Progressive can have an immediately future meaning, as in Genesis 41:9.
וַיְדַבֵּר שַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים אֶת־פַּרְעֹה לֵאמֹר אֶת־חֲטָאַי אֲנִי מַזְכִּיר הַיּוֹם:
You should probably translate the butler’s statement as “I am about to recall…” You could also, given the context, translate it as “I have just now recalled…” which is another flavor of the progressive.
A better example of the immediate past is probably Numbers 14:3:
וְלָמָה יְהֹוָה מֵבִיא אֹתָנוּ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת לִנְפֹּל בַּחֶרֶב נָשֵׁינוּ וְטַפֵּנוּ יִהְיוּ לָבַז הֲלוֹא טוֹב לָנוּ שׁוּב מִצְרָיְמָה:
“Why has **** brought…”
Progressive has a habitual sense. This goes with the yotse of the river above and also with Exodus 7:15.
לֵךְ אֶל־פַּרְעֹה בַּבֹּקֶר הִנֵּה יֹצֵא הַמַּיְמָה וְנִצַּבְתָּ לִקְרָאתוֹ עַל־שְׂפַת הַיְאֹר וְהַמַּטֶּה אֲשֶׁר־נֶהְפַּךְ לְנָחָשׁ תִּקַּח בְּיָדֶךָ:
Midrash Rabbah Shemot 9:8 suggests that Pharaoh’s going out to the Nile was a habit; he pretended that he was a god and didn’t have normal human functions, so he went out to the river to hide the call of nature from his servants.
וַיְהִי כִּי־הִקְשָׁה פַרְעֹה לְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ וַיַּהֲרֹג יְהוָֹה כָּל־בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבְּכֹר אָדָם וְעַד־בְּכוֹר בְּהֵמָה עַל־כֵּן אֲנִי זֹבֵחַ לַיהֹוָה כָּל־פֶּטֶר רֶחֶם הַזְּכָרִים וְכָל־בְּכוֹר בָּנַי אֶפְדֶּה:
The habit is zoveach, “I [habitually] sacrifice…”
Finally, progressive aspect is sometimes used the way tense-verb systems use an imperfect tense. One example is Exodus 2:11.
וַיְהִי בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וַיִּגְדַּל מֹשֶׁה וַיֵּצֵא אֶל־אֶחָיו וַיַּרְא בְּסִבְלֹתָם וַיַּרְא אִישׁ מִצְרִי מַכֶּה אִישׁ־עִבְרִי מֵאֶחָיו:
Moshe’s seeing the Egyptian is the action that interrupts the Egyptian’s beating that he was giving the Hebrew.
Now. There’s a syntax issue you have to understand. The normal syntax for perfect and progressive aspects is SVO. The masculine singular of the progressive can look just like the masculine 3rd singular of the perfect aspect. How do you know which one you have, if you don’t have vowels to guide you?
This isn’t just an idle question. There are people, some of them scholars with good reputations, who think that the Torah without vowels, as it appears in the Torah scroll for reading in synagogue, is a free-association test. From the above, you can see this isn’t true. If it looks like a perfect aspect verb, but it appears in one of the situations above, look again. It might be progressive aspect.
This is another example of how nothing means anything without context.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved