The Surcomposé Past Tense

Louis de Saussure and Bertrand Sthioul

in The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195381979
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 The Surcomposé Past Tense

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  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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A number of languages offer a tense composed with a present auxiliary, a past participle auxiliary, and a past participle. French is known to offer such a double composed, or “surcomposé” past tense (SPT). This form bears morphological resemblances with the English (infrequent) SPT, or “double perfect,” and with SPTs in other Germanic and Romance languages. Whatever the morphological similarities, the semantics of double composed pasts varies very much across languages. Remote anteriority and exceptionality of the eventuality are occasional interpretive effects associated with SPTs. Usually, grammars mention three typical SPT structures: in a subordinate clause with a conjunction expressing forward temporal ordering or simultaneity; in independent clauses with an adverbial structure expressing duration; and in independent clauses without temporal complements.

Keywords: surcomposé past tense; present auxiliary; past participle auxiliary; past participle; semantics; subordinate clause; eventuality; duration; independent clauses

Article.  11566 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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