In linguistics, one of the main inflectional categories that can be applied to a verb. (The others being tense and mood.)

Aspect refers to the degree to which the action of the verb is complete. There is a general continuum of available aspects, with descriptions and examples given below:

pluperfect - this is an aspect in conjunction with a past tense, and describes a case where the action of the verb was already completed or finished before some other action. Example, "John had already left the house when Mary called."
perfect - describes a case where the action of the verb is completed or finished. Example, "Mary baked a cake."
imperfect - describes a case where the action of the verb is (or was) taking place, but is not yet finished or completed. Examples; "Mary is writing a letter"; "John was cleaning the room."
continuative - describes an action that is performed routinely, frequently, or often. Example, "John runs 5 miles every day."

In English, at least, aspect is fairly simply indicated. (For example, an imperfect aspect almost always involves some form of the verb "to be" followed by the gerund form of the verb... "is running", "was walking", "will be writing", etc.) Also, English grammar tends to make assumptions or have a "default" aspect based on the tense... past tense, with no explicit markers, usually indicates a perfect aspect {"John cleaned"), while present tense with no explicit markers usually indicated a continuative aspect ("Mary writes"). It is important to note, though, that in other languages, different assumptions about aspect may be made, and aspect itself may be marked or indicated in different ways.

In geography, "aspect" refers basically to the direction that a slope is facing. For example, the southern side of a mountain would have a southerly aspect, while the southern side of a gorge running east-to-west would have a northerly aspect; that is, the slope would face north. Aspect is important for a number of reasons: it can determine weather and climate for a given location. South-facing slopes are likely to be warmer than north-facing slopes; west-facing slopes (in the temperate zone) will be wetter than east-facing slopes; winds will hit different slopes differently; &c.

Aspect can usually be one of 9 categories: the four cardinal directions, the four in-between (southeast and the like), and flat.

GIS software will calculate aspect from a Digital Elevation Model file using a matrix of five points. For example, given these different sets of raster cells:

 ___________________    ___________________    ___________________
 |     |     |     |    |     |     |     |    |     |     |     |
 |     | 500 |     |    |     | 500 |     |    |     | 500 |     |
 |_____|_____|_____|    |_____|_____|_____|    |_____|_____|_____|
 |     |     |     |    |     |     |     |    |     |     |     |
 | 500 | 700 | 900 |    | 500 | 700 | 500 |    | 500 | 900 | 500 |
 |_____|_____|_____|    |_____|_____|_____|    |_____|_____|_____|
 |     |     |     |    |     |     |     |    |     |     |     |
 |     | 900 |     |    |     | 900 |     |    |     | 500 |     |
 |_____|_____|_____|    |_____|_____|_____|    |_____|_____|_____|

one would see that in the first set, the center point (which aspect is being calculated for) is facing north-west. To go through the calculation, we see that the western point is 200 feet lower than the center point, which is 200 feet lower than the eastern point. Thus, the center point "faces" west. We also see that the northern point is lower than the center point, which is lower than the southern point; thus, the center point also faces north. Together, it faces to the northwest.

For the second set of points, the northern point is lower than the center point, and the center point is lower than the southern point. Thus, the center point faces north. But both the eastern and western points are lower than the center point, and both by the same amount. While the center point is certainly not flat in the east-west axis, nay, it is a peak in that axis, it is deemed "flat" for purposes of aspect; that is, it faces neither east nor west. Thus, the aspect for the second center point is northerly.

For the third set of points, we see that the difference between the center point and all those surrounding it is the same. Again, while it is not exactly "flat" but a peak, the third point faces not north, east, south, or west, but straight up. Thus, the center point of the third matrix is deemed to have a "flat" aspect.

cf. slope

To add to the discussion above of aspect in linguistics: both the analysis and the terminology are endlessly debatable. Aspect can be a catch-all category for anything about a verb that defies neater analysis.

Some terms are highly overloaded: perfect and imperfect are the worst; these may be traditionally used in descriptions of Latin, Greek, English, French, German, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian, but meaning slightly different things in each case. The terms perfective and imperfective are often used to try to get away from the traditional associations, but the improvement is limited.

Here are some aspectual variations that can occur in a language. Each language will be able to mark several of these distinctly, and the others will just come out by context. And don't hold me to any of these precisely.

And I could probably come up with more. The awkwardness in trying to make the difference clear in English reflects the fact that they overlap. But if necessary a distinction can be made, e.g.

"I rang my mother on Tuesday": semelfactive
"I rang my mother every Tuesday": habitual
"I kept on ringing my mother": frequentative
"I started reading Candide": inceptive
"I opened Candide": punctual
"I was reading Candide yesterday": continuous
"I read Candide last month": perfective

Examples could be multiplied indefinitely, with much disagreement.

Aspect is closely linked with Aktionsart (German for "kind of action"), which is the inherent aspectual property of a verb. "Know" is stative: it indicates a state; "receive", "suffer", "fall" are passive; "work", "walk" are active; and things like "sleep" and "grow" are fairly static actions, whose classification would depend on the language.

In languages like Russian and Polish, semelfactive and frequentative have different verbs (typically one is a modification of the other). This is pervasive in the Slavonic languages. But we can see how Aktionsart and aspect interact in English. You would think "see" is fairly straightforward in meaning: "Mary saw the pelican" is clear, isn't it?

Mary saw the pelican for six months but they eventually broke up and she now lives with a toucan. (durative)
Mary saw the pelican until it dwindled to a speck over the horizon. (continuous)
Mary saw the pelican when it emerged from the undergrowth. (punctual)
Mary saw the pelican when she forgot to take her medicine. (either punctual or aorist; if you change "when" to "whenever" or "if" it's definitely aorist)

Now go through them seeing if you can change "saw" to "was seeing", "could see", "used to see", "kept seeing", "has seen", "had seen", or "had been seeing" in each of those, and what difference if any it makes to the sense, and you'll see the range of aspect that can be expressed even in one language. (And note that they're all past tense.)

Then consider "look". Semantically it's virtually the same as "see", but its Aktionsart is quite different. "Mary looked at the pelican for ten minutes" is active on her part, "Mary saw the pelican for ten minutes" is stative or passive. And when it emerges from the bushes and Mary saw it, that's a single punctual act; whereas if she looked at it when it emerged, that's an inception of a continuous act.

In astrological terms, an aspect is when planets are placed a specific number of degrees away from each other. There are five major aspects: conjunction, trine, square, opposition and the quincunx.

As"pect (&?;), n. [L. aspectus, fr. aspicere, aspectum, to look at; ad + spicere, specere, to look, akin to E. spy.]


The act of looking; vision; gaze; glance. [R.] "The basilisk killeth by aspect." Bacon.

His aspect was bent on the ground.
Sir W. Scott.


Look, or particular appearance of the face; countenance; mien; air. "Serious in aspect." Dryden.

[Craggs] with aspect open shall erect his head.


Appearance to the eye or the mind; look; view. "The aspect of affairs." Macaulay.

The true aspect of a world lying in its rubbish.
T. Burnet.


Position or situation with regard to seeing; that position which enables one to look in a particular direction; position in relation to the points of the compass; as, a house has a southern aspect, that is, a position which faces the south.


Prospect; outlook. [Obs.]

This town affords a good aspect toward the hill from whence we descended.

6. (Astrol.)

The situation of planets or stars with respect to one another, or the angle formed by the rays of light proceeding from them and meeting at the eye; the joint look of planets or stars upon each other or upon the earth. Milton.

⇒ The aspects which two planets can assume are five; sextile, &?;, when the planets are 60° apart; quartile, or quadrate, &?;, when their distance is 90° or the quarter of a circle; trine, &?;, when the distance is 120°; opposition, &?;, when the distance is 180°, or half a circle; and conjunction, &?;, when they are in the same degree. Astrology taught that the aspects of the planets exerted an influence on human affairs, in some situations for good and in others for evil.

7. (Astrol.)

The influence of the stars for good or evil; as, an ill aspect. Shak.

The astrologers call the evil influences of the stars evil aspects.

Aspect of a plane (Geom.), the direction of the plane.


© Webster 1913

As*pect" (&?;), v. t. [L. aspectare, v. intens. of aspicere. See Aspect, n.]

To behold; to look at. [Obs.]


© Webster 1913

As"pect, n. (Aëronautics)

A view of a plane from a given direction, usually from above; more exactly, the manner of presentation of a plane to a fluid through which it is moving or to a current. If an immersed plane meets a current of fluid long side foremost, or in broadside aspect, it sustains more pressure than when placed short side foremost. Hence, long narrow wings are more effective than short broad ones of the same area.


© Webster 1913

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