Imperfect tense and dreams

Could you give an example?
This sounds interesting but I am not quite sure what you mean.


Auditor et Discipulus
Yes, that's what I meant more or less. Probably didn't use the right words.
Although, the action in the dreams, when I'm reporting it, is "perfecta", it isn't "infecta", isn't it? That's what triggered my question. Maybe I'm overthinking it.

An example:

Continuo ipsa nocte ostensum est mihi hoc in oromate: video Dinocratem exeuntem de loco tenebroso, ubi et complures erant, aestuantem et sitientem valde, sordido vultu et colore pallido, et vulnus in facie ejus quod cum moreretur habuit. Hic Dinocrates fuerat frater meus carnalis, annorum septem, qui per infirmitatem, facie cancerata , male obiit, ita ut mors ejus odio fuerit omnibus hominibus. Pro hoc ego orationem feceram: et inter me et illum grande erat diadema , ita ut uterque ad invicem accedere non possemus. Erat deinde in ipso loco ubi Dinocrates erat, piscina plena aqua, altiorem marginem habens quam erat statura pueri, et extendebat se Dinocrates quasi bibiturus. Ego dolebam quod et piscina illa aquam habebat, et tamen propter altitudinem marginis bibiturus non esset. Et experrecta sum, et cognovi fratrem meum laborare. Sed confidebam profuturam orationem meam labori ejus, et orabam pro eo omnibus diebus quousque transivimus in carcerem castrensem; munere enim castrensi eramus pugnaturi. Natale tunc Getae Caesaris: et feci pro illo orationem die et nocte gemens et lacrymans ut mihi donaretur.

I know erant/erat sound just right, but wouldn't fuere/fuit fit better, since my grammar has in "narrations" we use the "historical perfect", perfect indicative?


New Member
I don't know if there is a definitive answer. It just seems more on the mark to the writer, maybe. But it looks like a pattern to you, you say?


Auditor et Discipulus
Well, I'm no authority on this matter. This is an example I have in mind but I've seen also other cases. It isn't a Classical author so... I don't know.
Here is my very individual opinion on this.
The imperfect tense captures an ongoing action – it places you right in the midst of the action.
In contrast, the perfect tense* allows you to look back on the action as a whole; that is, as one complete "block".

Maybe the writers use the imperfect to capture that "hazy" element of dreams – because it's sometimes hard to say when one action begins in a dream and when another ends, since everything just blends together.
The perfect tense, by nature, is a lot more clear-cut, and unless a dream is especially vivid, you are probably not going to describe it as "clear-cut".

*@Pacifica explained this years ago in her exhaustive thread on imperfect vs. perfect.
in "narrations" we use the "historical perfect", perfect indicative?
Perhaps another explanation is that dreams cannot really be considered "historical" since they are just psychological simulations.
So perhaps writers, recognizing this fact, chose to use the imperfect instead.
@DucuntFata I have to comment on your surreal profile picture – I sense a strong Dalí influence in the painting.
Since we are on the topic, it is very dream-like – by any chance do you know who made it?
EstQuodFulminelungo dixit:
An example:
I find it a little curious that you highlighted (or rather bolded) the copula only (while also admitting that it feels just right), which to me makes more sense than some of the other imperfects there.

'being' is not so simple a thing as, say, 'dying'. A thing continues to 'be' independently of our acknowledging what happened to it only one time or two times. If I say, "There was a book on the table (in my dream).", it doesn't imply that the book was there and then suddenly vanished (although I guess it might have). On the other hand, the brother in your text only obiit the one time and, well, ceased to 'be', and the finiteness or 'perfectivity' of his being is reinforced in the following clause by fuerit. That is, even though the odium very probably continued to be felt, it was nevertheless the result of a death which happened but once.

The fact is, a story (or dream) and everything inside of it is more or less timeless, so that attempting to assign to it or its parts 'perfectivity' is either senseless or just indicative of the logical problems inherent in using identical/unmarked verb-forms to express things †that are quite different. In other words, the book that was on the table in your dream continues to exist even now in the same sense that it can be said ever to have "existed", only now it is upon recollection.

A probably not-so-interesting, but somewhat relevant note is that the imperfect (indicative) in Vedic, whose ambiguities can be hugely problematic, has left linguists calling it 'timeless' because it seems to be capable of both past (imperfective) meaning and present (perfective) meaning. But it is more simply the tense 'proper to the narrative past', to paraphrase Macdonell. I don't find it impossible that this state of affairs is 'remembered' in Latin as a default. Just as in English we often default to a simple past whereas we might as well use the 'imperfect', e.g.:

I saw this guy at the concert, and he danced (I could just as well have said 'was dancing', but I didn't bother distinguishing because I know that my listener will not be confused) like a madman.

†I think Lithuanian has unique forms to deal with this, and Japanese, and possibly Georgian (about which I know virtually nothing), to name a few.


New Member
... or just indicative of the logical problems inherent in using identical/unmarked verb-forms to express things †that are quite different.

†I think Lithuanian has unique forms to deal with this, and Japanese, and possibly Georgian (about which I know virtually nothing), to name a few.
That sounds interesting. Could you elaborate on that?
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That sounds interesting. Could you elaborate on that?
Why, certainly, mon ami.

Lithuanian has a set of verbs (which historically are participles, very close in form and function to the Greek masc. aorist participle in -αντο-, and fem. perf. part. in -υια < *-usja) sometimes called the indirect mood, which essentially mean '[It seemed] that I did thus.' These may be used, if I recall correctly, to relate a dream or (attempting) to give factual information regarding something you're unsure of. I would check my grammar to be sure, only I'm in the process of moving so it's now in a box miles away from me. :bawling:

As far as Japanese goes, I was thinking about the 'focus particle', ha は (pronounced [ɰᵝa̠]), as in:
kyō wa ame desu ne.
[concerning wa today kyō rain ame is [polite] desu hm? ne] 'Seems like it's raining today.'

As opposed to ga が, which puts semantic 'focus' on a specific lexical item.
'A/the cat [which is right here: that we're both looking at/know about] eats the fish.'

Georgian was just a hunch. Maybe the Imp can tell you I'm wrong if he stops by sometime.