Grammatical (Viewpoint) Aspect

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For a definition of the term grammatical aspect see Grammatical Aspect (definition); For a definition of the term aspect see Aspect (definition)

Scottish Gaelic makes several semantic distinctions of viewpoint aspect, including Perfective (Aorist), Imperfective, Habitual, Stative, Perfect, After-Perfect, Prospective, and Proximate Prospective. These semantic distinctions are variously instantiated in the morphosyntax. Specifically, all of the various aspects in SG are marked with particles expect for the perfective aspect.

Perfect air 'on' I have eaten
After-Perfect as deidh 'after' I have just eaten
Prospective a' dol do 'going to I am about to eat
Restricted Prospective gu 'to/until' I am about to eat
Imperfective a' 'at' I am eating
perfective [analytic form] I ate

Perfective (Aorist)

In SG, the analytic past can be said to convey perfective aspect. This same verb form may also encode the habitual.

Sgriobh mi na litrichean
write.past 1s the letters
'I wrote the letters'

Imperfective also known as the Progressive

With a full NP object:

  • Be + subject + ag + VN +object (if definite, then genitive)
  • Tha mi ag deànamh an obair

Bha/tha/bithidh mi a' sgriobhadh na litrichean
be.past/be.pres/be.fut 1s A' the letters
'I was/am/will be writing the letters.'

with a pronominal object

  • Be + subject +gam/gad/ga/etc. + vn
  • tha e 'gam choinneachadh
  • He's meeting me.


(1) The habitual aspect in SG may use the second indefinite form of the verb. However, this form can be ambiguous between a habitual past reading and a conditional future reading.

bhiodh e ann an-comhnaidh
be.indef2 he in it always
'He would always be there.'

(2) Also, the analytic future form of the verb may give a habitual reading.

(3) The past (as in English) can have a habitual reading as well. 'I wrote letters.'

(4) The present habitual can be marked with a'.


The verb tha is used as a copula to express stative relationships:

Tha an car mor
be the car big
'The var is big'

Typically non-stative verbs may be combined with tha to create stative aspect.

Tha Iain a' falbh
be John at
'John is leaving'


There are two distinct perfect aspects in SG, (1) unrestricted perfect and (2) restricted perfect. In the former, the particle air is placed after the subject, whereas in the latter case the complex particle as deidh occupies the position. The unrestricted perfect merely indicates that the event has taken place prior to the reference, but the restricted version adds another stipulation on the relationship between event and reference: the event must precede the reference by only a very short time. The rough translation for the restricted aspect into English yields 'I had just/recently gone to the store'.

Be + subject + air + (object) + (prt) + verbal noun

  • Bha mi air an obair a dheànamh

With an object pronoun: Be + subject + air +possessive pronoun + verbal noun

  • Bha mi air a dheanamh "I had done it"

Unrestricted Perfect

takes Inverted Nominal

Bha/tha/bithidh mi air litir a sgriobhadh
be.past/be.pres/be.fut 1sg AIR letter Agreement
'I had/have/will have written a letter.'

Restricted Perfect (After Perfect)

takes Inverted Nominal

Bha/tha/bithidh mi as deidh litir a sgriobhadh
be.past/be.pres/be.fut 1sg AS DEIDH letter Agreement
'I had/have/will have (just/recently) written a letter.'


uses a' dol a + infinitive

  • Bha/tha/bithidh Calum a’ dol a phòsadh
  • Màiri. be.PAST/be.PRES/be.FUT Calum PROG go.VN PRT marry.VN Màiri
  • ‘Calum was/is/will be going to marry Màiri.’

Proximate perspective

takes Inverted Nominal

  • Tha mi gu litir a sgrìobhadh.
  • Is 1S GU letter TRAN write.VN
  • ‘I am about to write a letter.’

See Also

External Links


  • MacDonald, J.A. (1976) Gàidhlig Bheo, vol 3 National Extension College