Football grammar

Via Jack Hamilton, this Spanish cartoon on soccer and inflectional categories:


Conjugation of the auxiliary verb “to have” in the preterit imperfect (but very imperfect) of the subjunctive.

Casillas: “In the final we also would have won against United.”

Conjugation of the auxiliary verb “to have” in the present perfect (I say VERY perfect) of the indicative.

Puyol: “Dreaming is nice, but we are the ones who have won against United.”

(Note from Hamilton: “[Iker] Casillas is the [goal]keeper of the Real Madrid football team and the Spanish 2010 World Cup team.  Carlos Puyol is the captain of FC Barcelona.”)

A play on the grammatical terms imperfect and perfect.

But the cartoon is somewhat confused terminologically, first in its reference to the pretérito imperfecto, since in Spanish the pretérito and the imperfecto are two past tenses, differing formally and semantically. In fact, hubiéramos is an imperfect subjunctive form of haber. Meanwhile, hemos is a present indicative form of haber; the perfect comes into it because haber is the auxiliary verb used, in combination with the participle (ganado for ganar ‘to win’), in perfect forms, so that hemos ganado is a present perfect indicative.

Some details from Wikipedia pages. First for the perfect:

In linguistics, the perfect (abbreviated PERF or PRF), occasionally called the retrospective (RET) to avoid confusion with the perfective aspect, is a combination of aspect and tense that calls a listener’s attention to the consequences, at some time of perspective, generated by a prior situation, rather than just to the situation itself. The time of perspective itself is given by the tense of the helping verb, and usually the tense and the aspect are combined into a single tense-aspect form: the present perfect, the past perfect (also known as the pluperfect), or the future perfect.

Then for the imperfect:

The imperfect, often inaccurately called the imperfect tense in the classical grammars of several Indo-European languages, denotes a grammatical combination of past tense and imperfective aspect, and so may be more precisely called past imperfective.

And then, with some details about Spanish, for the preterite:

The preterite (abbreviated PRET or PRT, in American English also preterit; aorist, simple past, past indicative, or past historic) is the grammatical tense expressing actions that took place or were completed in the past. It is generally the perfective aspect of the past tense (not to be confused with the similarly named perfect aspect) and may thus be more precisely called the perfective past

… In Spanish, the preterite (pretérito) is a verb tense that indicates that an action taken once in the past was completed at a specific point in time in the past. Usually, a definite start time or end time for the action is stated. This is opposed to the imperfect, which refers to any repeated, continuous, or habitual past action. Thus, “I ran five miles yesterday” would use the first-person preterite form of ran, corrí, whereas “I ran five miles every morning” would use the first-person imperfect form, corría. This distinction is actually one of perfective vs. imperfective aspect.

… In most Spanish Mainland Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Mexican Spanish, there is still a strong distinction between the preterite and the present perfect. As the preterite denotes an action that began and ended in the past, while the present perfect denotes an action that began in the past and is still going on

There are problems with this material, problems that aren’t Wikipedia’s fault. The same terminology is used — customarily in linguistics — to refer to semantic properties and to inflectional categories (properties of verb forms) in particular languages. The inflectional categories are associated, to a greater or lesser extent, with the semantic properties.

Important point here: the category labels are just that — labels — and can drift far from the semantic properties that motivated them historically, so the two need to be distinguished terminologically. In fact, the inflectional categories labeled Perfect and Imperfect might as well be given arbitrary labels like VCat63 and VCat64; their connection to the semantic properties is through the way these VCats are used in syntactic constructions.

And of course all of this has nothing to do with the perfection, beauty, or effectiveness of the forms in the Perfect category (or the imperfection, clunkiness, or inexactness of the forms in the Imperfect category). The etymology of the linguistic term perfect has to do with the ‘completed, finished’ sense of the Latin participle perfectus ‘accomplished, performed, completed’; English perfect in its non-technical senses goes back to the 14th century, while the grammatical sense arose about two hundred years later.

[This has nothing to do with the linguistic points, but “genius goalkeeper” Iker Casillas is seriously cute. Here he is in action and in repose:

There are tons of photos of him on the net; he has lots of fans, and not just because of his soccer abilities.]

2 Responses to “Football grammar”

  1. F. Escobar Says:

    To be fair to the folks behind the cartoon, the Royal Academia itself (as you know, the single most authoritative source in all matters linguistic in Spanish) uses the terms “Pretérito perfecto” and “Pretérito imperfecto.” You can see both terms on this Royal Academy webpage that conjugates the verb haber:

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