The Functional categories of the Verb- Spring Term 2011- Ileana Baciu
The Category of Aspect
1. Introduction
0.0 Freed (1976) defined ‘Aspect’ as ‘a notion of Time, distinct from Tense, that refers to the
internal temporal structure of events and activities named by various linguistic forms [….] in
terms of such things as inception, duration, completion..’
The definition suggests that Tense and Aspect, as functional categories that delimit the
lexical category Verb, ‘merge/interconnect’ in more ways than one.
The two categories are not only related morpho-syntactically (Aspect like Tense is
realized by verb inflections and auxiliaries) but also ‘semantically’. The definition says that both
Aspect and Tense partake of the notion ‘Time’ but in distinct ways. The verbal category of
Aspect and the verbal category of Tense are tightly related as they both pertain to the domain of
Let us consider the following pair of sentences:
(1) a) John read a book.
b) John was reading a book (when the phone rang / at 3 o’clock).
Both sentences describe the situation: ‘John read a book’. The difference between the
sentences in (1) is not in terms of Tense (both are in the past tense) but in terms of Aspect.
The sentence in (1a) presents the situation as a whole, as completed, as closed, while the
sentence in (1b) presents only some internal phases/stages in the development of the situation;
we do not know when John began reading the book or whether he finished reading it – we only
know that his reading was unfolding in Time when the phone rang/at 3 o’clock.
Intuitively, Aspect predicates about the size of a situation (the whole of it or only parts of
it) while the contribution of Tense is to locate that situation in time. Both Tense and Aspect
pertain to the domain of Time as situations, irrespective of their size, occur in time.
The generally accepted definition of the category of Tense is that Tense represents “the
chronological order of events in time as perceived by the speaker at the moment of speaking’.
The important characteristic of Tense (viewed as the grammaticized form of Time,
roughly the present tense, the past tense and the future tense, is that it locates the time of the
situation described in the sentence relative to the moment of speaking1.
This means that we
cannot conceive of a past or future event unless we have a present moment of time in mind (e.g.,
Marianne arrived last night cannot be interpreted unless the hearer has a ‘today, a present
moment of time’ in mind with respect to which Marianne’s arrival can be located).
This is why Tense is characterized as being a deictic category (oriented towards the time
of the speaking ego): it relates different kinds of situations to the Speech Time and structures
them by the relations of simultaneity and sequence (see the Category of Tense).
Aspect, on the other hand, is not a deictic category, but rather informs us about the
contour or quality of the event/state as viewed by the speaker at a given moment in time (i.e
reference point).
The category of ‘Tense’ depends on egocentric orientation, hence it has been described as a ‘deictic’ (i.e. pointing)
1.0. Following Comrie (1976), we could state the difference between Tense and Aspect as one
between situation-internal time (Aspect) and situation-external time (Tense).
The term ‘aspect ’ was imported into the Western grammatical tradition from the study of
Slavic grammar in the early nineteenth century, it being a loan translation from the Slavic term
‘vid ’ which is etymologically cognate with the words ‘view ’and ‘vision ’, hence the term
viewpoint aspect has been widely adopted in current literature. (Smith 1991).
In traditional grammars, the notion ‘Aspect’ is restricted mostly to the perfective imperfective distinction expressed by inflectional morphemes on the verb or by special function
morphemes within a verbal complex. From this perspective, the most widely accepted definition
is Comrie’s (1976: 3-4) who, quoting Holt, (1943) defines “aspects” as " different ways of
viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation….2”.
The perfective provides a holistic, summarizing or unifying view upon the situation
described in the sentence, while the imperfective is concerned with the temporal constituency of
a situation which is presented as divided up into internal phases, there being no concern for the
whole situation.
In Comrie’s own words “ another way of explaining the difference between perfective
and imperfective meaning is to say that the perfective looks at the situation from outside, without
necessarily distinguishing any of the internal structure of the situation, whereas the imperfective
looks at the situation from inside, and as such is crucially concerned with the internal structure of
the situation, since it can look backwards toward the start of the situation and look forwards to
the end of the situation, and indeed is equally appropriate if the situation is one that lasts through
all time, without any beginning and without any end” (Comrie, 1976:4). In present day linguistics
this is known as ‘viewpoint aspect’ (Smith 1991) or grammatical aspect (de Swart,1998).
The viewpoints are similar across languages but not identical. That is why knowing a
language includes knowing the semantic value of the viewpoints and their distribution.
There are various ways in which languages grammaticize the perfective – imperfective
aspectual opposition.
For instance, Russian and Chinese use different affixes to distinguish between the two
English and Dutch avail themselves of syntactic means to signal the opposition: for
instance, the contemporary English form ‘He is working’ (be + V-ing) developed historically
from ‘He is on/at working’ (in time, the prepositions, reduced to a or o, disappeared).
Languages like Romanian, French or Old Greek make use of syncretic means to signal
the opposition (i.e., the grammatical markers of Aspect have fused with those of Tense). For
instance, the Romanian prezent and imperfect signal imperfective aspect while tenses such as the
perfect compus, the perfect simplu, the mai mult ca perfect signal perfective aspect.
In English, the opposition perfective–imperfective has not been fully grammaticized but
the opposition non-progressive – progressive is compatible with it.
Progressive aspect is
signalled by distinct morphological marking: be – ing (e.g., He is/was running). Perfective aspect
(also called “simple / indefinite aspect”) is rendered by the simple temporal form of the verb with
no distinct morphological marking (e.g., He ran).
1.1. In current literature, the “modern” concept of “Aspect” reflects a “double life”. It is still used
to refer to the presentation of events through grammaticized viewpoints such as the perfective and
imperfective, (‘viewpoint/grammatical’ aspect), but lately, the use of the term has broadened to
include the inherent temporal structuring of the situations themselves, the internal event
In the original text ‘les manieres diverses de concevoir l’ecoulement du proces meme’. A literal translation would
be ‘different ways of conceiving the flow of the process itself (see also Stefanescu , 1988:320)
structure or Aktionsart; this is known in current literature as ‘situation/eventuality-type aspect’ or
‘lexical aspect’
The term ‘situation-type aspect’3 (Smith, 1991) will be employed to refer to the
classification of verbal expressions into states, activities, accomplishments, achievements
(introduced by Vendler, 1957/1967) and semelfactives (introduced by Smith 1991)
The latter view of Aspect originated in the classification of verb meanings in the
philosophy of action (cf. Ryle,1949; Kenny,1963,Vendler,1957/1967).
The entities that verbal expressions categorize as states, activities, events (i.e.
accomplishments and achievements) are situations or states of affairs .
These idealized situation types represent the temporal classifications of actual
situations/states of affair that people make on conceptual and cognitive grounds. (Smith 1991).
The situation types differ in the temporal properties of dynamism, durativity and telicity4
(boundedness). The classification is discussed in detail in the following subchapter.
The examples below illustrate the situation types mentioned above as well as their
temporal properties (Smith 1991:6):
States are static, durative: love Susan, know the answer, live in London,
be widespread, enjoy life;
Activities are dynamic, durative, atelic: laugh, stroll/walk in the park, push
a cart, drink beer, swim, run;
Accomplishments are dynamic, durative and telic: build a house, walk to
school, learn French, drink a bottle of beer, smoke a cigarette;
Achievements are dynamic, telic, instantaneous: win the race, reach the top,
find a watch, recognize a friend, discover a treasure, arrive, leave;
Semelfactives are dynamic, atelic, instantaneous: tap, cough, knock, hit,
flap a wing, hiccup, slam/bang the door, kick the ball.
From this perspective, Smith(1991)defines ‘Aspect’ as ’ the semantic domain of temporal
structures of situations :‘
Both viewpoint (or grammatical) aspect and situation type aspect convey information
about temporal factors such as beginning, end and duration, hence they interact in language.’
The aspectual meaning of a sentence is a composite of the information from both
1.2. The ‘grammatical/viewpoint aspect’, perfective and imperfective, is often not clearly
distinguished from the ‘(inherent) lexical aspect/situation-type aspect’ since both components
convey information about temporal factors of a situation such as beginning, end and duration.
Although these two domains are related, it has been also argued that we need to draw a clear line
between them.
Distinguishing between the semantic contribution of aspectual operators (such as for
instance the ‘progressive’ in English) and the (lexical) semantic properties of verbal predicates to
which aspectual operators are applied is necessary in order to account in an adequate way for
their systematic interactions, as they are manifested in what is known as the ‘imperfective
paradox’ (Dowty, 1977, 1979) or ‘partitive puzzle’ (Bach, 1986), for instance.
Other terms used to refer to the situation types are eventuality type, inherent lexical aspect or Aktionsart
The term is Greek in origin: something that has telos is limited or bounded. Telic events have a natural endpoint,
whereas atelic events do not.
1.2.1 First and foremost, ‘situation-type aspect` on the one hand, and ‘viewpoint aspect’ or
`grammatical aspect,` on the other hand are realized differently in the grammar of a language,
i.e. they differ in their linguistic expression (Smithn1991):
a) viewpoint/grammatical aspect is signalled by a grammatical morpheme; it is therefore
distinguished as an overt category (i.e. it exemplifies the notion of an overt category)
b) situation-type aspect (eventuality type) is signalled by a constellation of lexical
morphemes. Situation/eventuality types are distinguished at the level of the verb
constellation (i.e. the verb and its arguments (subject and objects)) and the sentence. The
situation types play a role in the grammar of a language, although they lack explicit
morphological markers (Smith, 1991). Since situation types are not `grammaticized` by
contrasting morphemes (i.e. have no single grammatical marker), situation type aspect
could be taken to exemplify the notion of a covert category. Situation types play a role in
the grammar of a language, although they lack explicit morphological markers. (Smith,
The two components of the aspectual system of a language interact with each other in all
languages, although across languages, aspectual systems vary considerably, especially the
‘grammatical/viewpoint’ subsystem. Situation types can be distinguished as covert categories in
all languages (Smith, 1991).
1.2.2 Since ‘Aspect’ has been assumed to be defined as the interaction of the lexical meaning of
the verb, the nature of its arguments (subject and objects) and grammatical inflection, aspectual
meaning holds for sentences rather than for individual verbs or verb phrases. (Verkuyl 1972,
Dowty 1979, Smith 1991, etc).
Sentences present aspectual information about situation/eventuality type and viewpoint.
Although they co-occur, the two types of information, as already mentioned, are independent, the
receiver of the message being aware of how much of the situation is presented and to what
situation type it belongs. Consider the aspectual information conveyed to a receiver of the
examples in (2) below (Smith 1991:5):
Mary walked to school.
Mary was walking to school.
Mary walked in the park.
Example (2a) presents a situation that is characterized as telic : it has a goal/outcome, a
‘natural endpoint’ (signalled by the expression `to school`).
This information is given by the non-finite component of the sentence, namely [Mary
walk to school] which includes the verb and the participants/the arguments [Mary] and [to
The situation is described as ‘closed’, ‘complete’ (perfective viewpoint), i.e. as having
occurred at a time previous to ‘now’. This information is given by the finite part of the sentence,
in this particular case the ‘past tense morpheme’ on the verb.
Example (2b) presents part of the same situation but does not convey whether the goal
was reached. The receiver gets only a partial view of the situation (imperfective viewpoint). This
is signalled by the `progressive` form of the verb.
Example (2c) presents a complete/closed situation ( perfective viewpoint) that does not
involve the reaching of a goal; the event was simply terminated.
As can be seen, aspectual information is given by the linguistic forms of the sentences:
situation type is signalled by the verb and its arguments (the non-finite part of the
sentence), while
viewpoint is signalled by a grammatical morpheme, usually part of the verb or
verb phrase. (Smith 1991).
The perfective viewpoint gives information about endpoints (a full view of the situation as
in (2a,c)), while the imperfective gives information about internal or other stages or phases (a
partial view of the situation as in (2b) )
.An important point made by Smith (1991) is that the domain of Aspect offers choices
within a closed system to the speakers of a language. There is a small, fixed set of viewpoints and
situation/eventuality types; one of each must be chosen whenever a sentence is framed.. What is
meant by this is that speakers` choices in presenting actual situations are limited by conventional
categorization, conventions of use and the constraints of truth.
Before we embark upon discussing the interaction between the two components of the
aspectual system we consider it necessary to dwell on the characterization of the two components
separately, in turn.
2.0 Eventuality/Situation Type Categories
2.1 The identification of eventuality/situation types has been extremely important for the analysis
of a number of linguistic phenomena. (Filip, 1999:16)
a) First, they are indispensable for the description of grammatical/viewpoint aspect and the
distribution of adverbials in natural languages. Instrumental and adverbial adjuncts in
sentences are in fact modifiers of the situation as such (expressed by the verb and its
arguments) and not of the verb alone.
b) Second the fine-grained semantic distinctions that underlie the classes play an important
role in the syntax-semantics interface in the domain of argument structure i.e. participant
structure. Predicates differ in the number of arguments (participants) they take and in the
interpretation assigned to the arguments. The number of arguments and their
interpretation is due to the event(uality) structure of the respective predicate.
c) Third, eventuality/situation types play a role in the understanding of such grammatical
phenomena as the choice of auxiliary in Italian, German, Dutch and French (Zaenen,
Given the important role played by verbs in the grammar of natural languages the assumption
is that verbs as lexical items contain in the lexical entry besides categorial and phonological
information, semantic information which is expressed by its ‘event(uality) structure’.
The assumption (Davidson 1966) is that each and every verb has an ‘event variable’ (=e) as
part of its semantic structure. The letter ‘e’ is an abbreviation for the fact that the verb may be
used as a predicate to denote an eventuality/situation that is characterized as ‘dynamic’ and hence
can be located in place and time. The presence of the event variable ‘e’ accounts for the semantic
interpretation of adverbials and other modifiers. Adverbials, progressive form, instrumentals, etc
are modifications of event(ualities) not of verbs per se. Let’s consider the following example
borrowed from Davidson (apud Cornilescu 1995:206):
Jones buttered the toast in his bedroom with a knife at midnight
The sentence describes an event(uality) (=e) namely that of ‘toast-buttering by Jones’. This
sentence consists of the predicate ‘butter’ which expresses a certain relation with two nominal
phrases, in this particular case, “Jones” and “the toast”. The presence of the two nominal phrases
(NPs) are essential for the semantic (and syntactic) well-formedness of the sentence.
Our knowledge of the meaning of the verb butter includes knowledge of the verb’s participant
/ argument structure), i.e. knowledge of the number of participants/arguments involved in the
situation described by the predicate.
Syntactically, the two NPs function as the ‘subject’ and the ‘direct object’; from a semantic
point of view, each nominal phrase is associated with a semantic /participant role: Jones is
understood as Agent or Doer and the toast as the Patient or Undergoer. These two NPs are the
arguments of the verb.
The prepositional phrases (PPs) are not related to the verb ’butter’ at all, i.e. they are not
part of the participant structure (meaning) of the verb. Their role is to make precise the location
in time and space of the situation described by the predicate.
Knowledge of the verb’s participant structure is made possible by the ‘event(uality)
structure’ ( the ‘eventuality/situation types that the respective verb instantiates) i.e. the meaning
of the respective verb.
In current linguistic theory the ‘meaning’ of verbs is represented by certain conceptual
configurations , labeled as lexical conceptual structure (=LCS) which ultimately represent the
decomposition of the verbs ‘meaning’ into more elementary predicates such as DO, CAUSE,
BECOME. The meaning of the verb ‘butter’ can be represented as follows:
butter: [x DO] CAUSE [y COME BE with butter}
The letters ‘x, y’ are called ‘variables’ and, within the sentence in (3) above, they are
Jones (for x) and the toast (for y).5
On the other hand, the three prepositional phrases ( =PPs) ‘in the bedroom/with a knife/at
midnight ‘ are sentence constituents that are not obligatorily required, but are not excluded by the
verb ‘butter’.
These constituents are called ‘adjuncts’ or ‘modifiers’. These constituents characterize the
entire event(uality) (i.e. the verb and its arguments) offering supplementary information
concerning the location in place and time, of the eventuality of ‘toast-buttering by John’.
The role of the event variable (‘e’) in the lexical entry of the verb ‘butter’ is therefore to
account for the semantic contribution of modifying adverbials (i.e. adjuncts).
2.1.1 An important point that we would like to insist upon is the type of entities that the
classification into situation/eventuality types concerns, since there is a common confusion as to
whether it concerns particular/actual situations (i.e. actual occurrences of eventualities) or their
linguistic representations. The answer to this problem is given in the following quotation from
Filip, H. (1999):
“The assumption that eventuality (i.e. situation) types have to do with our common sense beliefs,
rather than with linguistic categories, might lead us to proposing that what we classify into
eventuality types are particular eventuality occurrences in the world. However, such a proposal
The above LCS characterizes the semantic/event structure of the situation/eventuality type called ‘accomplishment’
(Dowty, 1979)
is problematic in many respects and must be rejected. For example, it allows for the
misconception that there is a certain unique way in which the world is structured which our
language categories conveniently pick out. On this view, the world has exactly the structural
properties that we attribute to it when we use our linguistic representations.
However, this cannot be the case, because there is more than one way the world is ,
independently of our linguistic (or any other) representations of it. The world has all the
structure that we attribute to it when we use our particular conceptual scheme (e.g. natural
language, for example) and it has more structure than we are able to pick out with our linguistic
categories. This structure exists quite independently of the fact whether we attribute certain
structural properties to the world. There may be other conceptual schemes, apart from natural
language, we could use that would allow us to pick out a different sort of structure in the world.
Natural languages provide us with a wealth of categories, or particular shared
“knowledge structures”, which enable us to convey information about the world. For example,
we may point to a piece of gold and felicitously assert (76a) using a mass noun phrase or (76b)
with a count noun phrase (see Dahl,1981:83).
(76) a. This is gold.
b. This is a nugget.
Similarly, seeing John drinking coffee from a cup, we can represent what we see either
by means of an atelic eventuality description (a process) or a telic one (event):
a. John drank coffee. atelic, (activity)
b. John drank a cup of coffee. telic, (event)
The relevant distinctions, count vs.mass and telic vs.atelic, should be viewed as
distinctions between predicates, nominal and verbal, respectively. Verbal and nominal predicates
provide us with certain choices in the description of aspects of reality. The relevant classificatory
criteria that underlie these distinctions are not inherent in the domain of individuals and
eventualities but in nominal and verbal predicates. The fact that we distinguish between different
kinds of eventualities is an artifact of our linguistic categories.
In short, eventuality descriptions, denoted by verbal predicates and sentences,
represent certain conventional ways in which languages tend to lexicalize the structure of various
states of affairs in the real world.” (Filip, H. (1999:70)
The same point is also made by Galton (1984:25) who states that the distinction between
aspectual classes is not ‘a distinction inherent in what goes on, but rather a distinction between
the different ways we have of describing it’.
Smith (1991: 12) makes the same statement when she discusses the aspectual choices that
a speaker may have. The speaker, when talking about actual situations call on ‘idealizations of
situations’ […….] ‘Idealized situation types are classifications that people make on perceptual
and cognitive grounds. Like other cognitive categories they are organized on the prototype model
with a cluster of defining properties. One and the same situation (a ship moving) may be
rendered/talked about by means of two situation types. Consider the example below (Smith,
1991: 12):
a) The ship moved
b) The ship was in motion
The first sentence presents an Activity, a dynamic situation type, while the second presents a
State. The sentences contrast with each other in the key properties they ascribe to the situation.
2.2. In the literature on Aspect, Aristotle is acknowledged as the first who noticed that the
meaning of some verbs in natural languages necessarily involve an `end` or `result` in a way that
other verbs do not.
Aristotle, in the Metaphyisics , distinguished between kineseis (translated
‘movements/performance) and energiai (actualities), a distinction which roughly corresponds to
the distinction between ‘events’ (+telic) e.g. lose weight, build a house, etc. and activities/states
(atelic) e.g. live, think, see, swim, walk etc.
Aristotle is therefore the first to notice that the meaning of a verb is expressible as a set of
components, a set of entailments that follow from the use of the verb as a predicate, i.e. the
meaning of certain verbs involves ‘movement, motion, change’ whereas others involve ‘action,
Aristotle’s distinctions were taken over by several Oxford philosophers such as Gilbert
Ryle (1949), Anthony Kenny (1963) and Zeno Vendler (1957,1967) who improved upon
Aristotle’s classes by taking into consideration more grammatical and logical criteria that proved
extremely relevant for linguistic methodology.(Dowty, 1979:53)
2.3. Zeno Vendler (1967) was the first to identify four distinct categories of verbs by their
restrictions on time adverbials, tense (the ‘progressive’ in particular), and logical entailments, i.e
he was the first to offer linguistic criteria to distinguish the categories from one another.
The four categories identified by Vendler are states, activities, accomplishments and
achievements. More specifically Vendler’s proposal seemed to incorporate the claim that the
category of verbs of any particular language can be split up into these four categories (Verkuyl:
1989:39). Examples illustrating Vendler’s categories are given below:
States: believe, desire, have, own, resemble, love
Activities: swim, walk, push a cart, breathe
Accomplishments: draw a circle, make a chair, deliver a sermon, recover from illness
Achievements: realize, recognize, spot, lose, find, reach,
Vendler ’s classification, kept at the lexical level, i.e. at the verbal level, is based on the
following criteria: duration over time, change, set terminal point (i.e. telicity) and homogeneity.
The verb-classes identified by Vendler are characterized by the following time-schemata
(Verkuyl, 1989:43):
STATE: A loved somebody from t1 to t2 means that any instant between t1 and
t2 A loved that person.
ACTIVITY: A was running at time t means that time instant t is on a time
stretch throughout which A was running.
ACCOMPLISHMENT: A was drawing a circle at t means that t is on the time
stretch in which A drew that circle.
ACHIEVEMENT: A won a race between t1 and t2 means that the instant at
which A won the race is between t1 and t2.
According to Verkuyl (1989: 43) the two crucial parameters involved are: a) the temporal
units involved i.e. instant and stretch; and b) the (in)definiteness of the temporal unit involved,
expressed as any, a and the (italicized by Vendler himself) and the division should be analysed
as a partition in which the four classes are intended to be on equal footing.
The matrix induced by (4) is the following:
 States and Activities share the property of pertaining to non-unique, indefinite
temporal entities (expressed as a, any) .
 Achievements and Accomplishments involve unique, definite temporal units
(expressed as the)
 States and Achievements pertain to instants, so they cannot be viewed as processes
going on in time.
 Activities and Accomplishments are conceived of as processes going on at time
stretches, ( Verkuyl, 1998:44).
One of the things Vendler pursued was the way in which the 4 categories are to be
grouped together.
He argued that States and Achievements should be set apart from Activities and
Accomplishments on account of the fact that the first two categories lack the progressive form
(his ‘continuous tense’):
John is swimming
John is building a house (accomplishment)
*John is knowing the answer (state)
*John is recognizing his long lost sister (achievement)
States lack the progressive because, although they last “for a period of time ”, they do not
denote a process over time, they “cannot be qualified as actions at all ” (Vendler, 1967:106).
For instance, if ‘John is tall ‘ he is tall over his adult lifetime and irrespective of whether
he stands up or sits down.
If we were to restate this in different terms we would say (following Taylor and Dowty)
that to determine the truth value of a state predication one does not need to consider more than a
moment of time..
Achievements, on the other hand, encode the inception or termination of an act and “occur
at a single moment ” (Vendler,1967:103). In Dowty’s terms they are ‘becomings or changes of
state’ and are conceptualized as instantaneous/punctual.
For example, a sentence such as John found a penny in the street, is interpreted
aspectually as ‘ John has the penny in his pocket the instant he finds it but not before’. Such an
instantaneous event is a change of state, as John did not have the respective coin before he found
it but he had it after he found it.
Activities and accomplishments differ from States and Achievements in so far as they “are
processes going on in time, that is, roughly, they consist of successive phases following one
another in time ” (Vendler,1967:99).
So the ‘continuous form’ criterion seems to be based on the opposition [±Process) as well
as on some ‘unclear notion of agentivity’ (Verkuyl 1989:49)
Unlike Activities, though, Accomplishments have an essential feature, namely they
“proceed toward a terminus (i.e. a set terminal point) which is logically necessary to their being
what they are” (Vendler,1967:101). “ While ‘running’ or ‘pushing a cart ‘ has no set terminal
point,’ running a mile’ and ‘drawing a circle ‘ do have a ‘climax ’,which has to be reached if the
action is to be what it is claimed to be ” (Vendler,1967:100).
This has the following
consequence: Activities are homogeneous, while Accomplishments are non-homogeneous.
Nevertheless, further studies have shown that the progressive does not provide a suitable
criterion for considering States and Achievements as belonging to one ‘genus’.
Dowty (1979), Bach (1981), among others, observe that many stative predicates can be
used, with special interpretations, in the progressive. (e.g. The river is smelling particularly bad
these days;I am hating morphology classes, George is being obnoxious).
Dowty(1977,1979), Mourelatos (1978/1981) and Vlach (1981), among others, point out
that many achievement verbs in Vendler’s list can appear in the progressive: He is winning the
race/ is dying/ is reaching the top/is falling asleep/is leaving, for example.
The decisive semantic property that is shared by Achievement and Accomplishment
predicates has to do with the fact that they “involve a product, upshot, or outcome ” i.e. they are
[+telic]. This sets them clearly apart from State and Activity predicates who are characterized as
atelic (i.e. –telic)
Apart from Vendler, other philosophers and linguists have tried to make precise the
intuitions that underlie the classification of verbal predicates.
Recent approaches favor the tripartite distinction into States, Processes and Events, which
is ontologically wider, because it is not restricted to verbs that denote actions instigated by
human agents (see Mourelatos, 1978/1981; Carlson,1981; Bach,1981,1986; Parsons,1990). The
category ‘event’ subsumes Vendler ’s Accomplishments and Achievements. 6
The three main classes of verbal predicates and sentences distinguished, i.e. events
(including. accomplishments and achievements), states and processes, are characterized by de
Swart (1998) as in the chart below:
2.4 Syntactic and semantic criteria for eventuality/situation type identification.
In what follows we shall offer a presentation of tests suggested by linguists and
philosophers in their pursuit to make precise the intuitions that underlie the classification of
verbal predicates into classes.
The most complete list of tests can be found in Dowty (1979: chapter 2) who gives the
syntactic and semantic criteria based on Ryle (1949), Kenny (1963), Vendler (1957/1967), Lakoff
(1965), Ross (1972). The summary of tests we have adopted heavily draws on Dowty (1979)
and Filip (1999: 19 and foll.).
According to Filip (1999) many language phenomena clearly indicate that not only Accomplishments and
Achievements form a natural class (events), but also States and Processes, in some respects at least, exhibit
significant semantic and syntactic similarities in their behavior. Therefore, on the most general level of classification,
two main classes of verbal predicates and sentences are distinguished: Events (i.e. accomplishment and
achievements), which are telic (i.e. presuppose an endpoint, an outcome, a result, a goal) and quantized (nonhomogeneous) and States and Processes, which are atelic and cumulative. (homogeneous)
I Non-stative tests
The distinction between stative and non-stative goes back to Lakoff (1965).
The non-statives include Activities and Accomplishments.
Achievement predicates are like Statives according to some of the statitivity tests and
non-stative in other cases, such as the habitual interpretation in the simple present, as remarked
by Dowty (1979:60; Smith , 1991).
The usual tests are as follows: (swim is an activity, build a kite is an accomplishment,
know/be sick is a state, recognize is achievement):
a) Only non-statives occur in the progressive:
John is swimming
John is building a kite
*John is knowing the answer
*Mary is recognizing her long lost mother
b) Only non-statives occur as complements of force and persuade
John forced/persuaded Mary to swim
John forced/persuaded Mary to build a kite
*John forced/persuaded Mary to know the answer
*John forced Mary to recognize her mother
c) Only non-statives can occur as imperatives:
Build a kite!
*Know the answer!
*Recognize your mother!
d) Only non-statives co-occur with the adverbs deliberately, carefully:
John swam carefully
John deliberately built a kite
*John deliberately knew the answer
*Mary deliberately recognized her mother
e)Only non-statives appear in pseudo-cleft constructions with the auxiliary do:
What John did was swim
What the rock did was roll down the path
What John did was build a kite
*What John did was know the answer
f) Only non-statives have a habitual (frequentative) interpretation in the simple present (in
unmarked (normal) contexts (Kenny 1963):
John swims in the ocean
John builds a kite
*John knows the answer
*John recognizes his long lost brother
The examples in (12iii,iv) do not involve more than one occasion of knowing the
answer/recognizing. The other two predicates, if they are used in normal non-specialized
contexts, are understood to involve more than one event of swimming or building a kite,
II “-for an hour, spend an hour -ing
This criterion distinguishes Achievements and Accomplishments from Activities and States. Only
Activities and States can occur with durative temporal for-phrases and as complements of spend
-amount of time:
John swam in the ocean for an hour
Max was ill for 10 days
?John built the kite for an hour
*John recognized his long lost brother for an hour
III “-in an hour, take an hour to-”
This criterion is meant to distinguish Activities and States from Achievements and
Accomplishments. Only Accomplishments and Achievements can occur with time span in-phrases
and as complements of take -amount of time to-:
(*)John swam in an hour.
(*)Max was sick in two years
John built the kite in an hour
John recognized his long lost brother in a few minutes
(*)It took John an hour to swim in the ocean
(*)It took Max a year to be ill
It took John an hour to build the kite
It took John a few minutes to recognize his brother
Nevertheless, the entailments of Achievements differ from those of Accomplishments. If
John built a kite in an hour is true, then it is true that John was building the kite during that hour.
But from the truth of the example in (13iv) and (14iv) it does not follow that John was
recognizing his brother throughout the period of a few minutes.
Actually, the meaning of the time-span expression with Achievements is ‘after a few
minutes’ .7
Schematically this difference in entailments can be rendered as follows (Dowty, 1979:59):
The same interpretation holds for Activities. The time-span expression in the sentences in (13i, 14i) is understood as ‘after an
hour’. In short, with Achievements and Activities the time indicated by the time-span adverbial is calculated from a contextually given
reference point, while with Accomplishments it is calculated from the beginning of the eventuality itself.
If  is an accomplishment verb, then x ed in y time entails that x was ing during y time;
If  is an achievement verb, then ed in y time does not entail x was ing during y time.
IV ‘-for an hour’ entails ‘ at all times in the hour’
Just like the previous two criteria, this criterion is also mainly intended to set States and
Activities apart from Accomplishments (see Dowty,1979:57).This test is related to Vendler ’s
homogeneity property: If John swam for an hour, then at any time during that hour it was true
that John swam. If John built a kite for an hour, then it is not the case that he built a kite at any
time during that hour. The difference in entailment might be represented as in (16) below
(Dowty, 1979:57):
If  is an activity verb, then x -ed for y time entails that at any time during y, x-ed was
If  is an accomplishment verb, then -ed for y time does not entail that x-ed was true
during any time within y at all.
V ‘x is -ing’ entails ‘x has -ed’
This test goes back to Kenny (1963),who introduced it to differentiate Activity verbs from
Accomplishment/Achievement verbs (his‘performances’). For activity verbs, the entailment from
the progressive form “x is  -ing ” to the simple form “x has -ed ” is valid, while for
accomplishment/achievement verbs it is not.(17i) is said to entail (17ii). On the other hand,
sentences in (18i) do not entail those in (18ii):
John is swimming
John has swum
John is building a kite/John is winning the race.
does not entail
John has built a kite/John has won the race
This difference in entailment can be represented as in (19) below (Dowty 1979:57):
If  is an activity verb, then x is (now) -ing entails that x has -ed.
If  is an accomplishment verb, then x is (now) -ing entails that x has not (yet) -ed.
The problems related to the treatment of sentences like ‘John is building a kite’ which are
often summed up under Dowty ’s (1972,1977,1979) label ‘imperfective paradox ’, will be
discussed in the chapter dedicated to ‘Viewpoint/Grammatical Aspect’.
VI Complement of stop
Achievements cannot occur as complements of ‘stop’ but Accomplishments, Activities and States
John stopped swimming
John stopped building a kite
(?) John stopped being sick after he took the medication
*John stopped recognizing his long-lost brother
Nevertheless we have different entailments for activity and accomplishment predicates. The
activity predicate in (20i) entails that ‘John swam’ whereas from (20ii) we are not entitled to
conclude that ‘John did build a kite’, but only that he ‘was building’ a kite, which he may or may
not have finished.
VII Complement of finish
It is a distinguishing characteristic of Accomplishments that they can normally occur as
complements of ‘finish’:
John finished building the kite
*John finished recognizing his long-lost brother
*John finished being sick when he took the medication
*John finished swimming
VIII Ambiguity with ‘almost’
The adverb almost has different effects with Activities and Accomplishments (Morgan, 1969).
Consider the examples below:
John almost swam
John almost built a kite
The example in (22i), an Activity predicate,entails that John did not, in fact, swim. The example
in (22ii), an Accomplishment, has two interpretations (i.e. readings): a) John had the intention of
building a kite but changed his mind and did nothing at all; b) John did begin work on the kite
and he almost but not quite finished it.
IX ‘ed in an hour’ entails ‘ was ing during that hour’
This criterion has already been discussed being related to the third test. This entailment sets apart
Achievements from Accomplishments. For many achievement expressions the time-span
adverbial such as ‘in an hour’ is understood as ‘after -amount of time’. This is not true of
accomplishments. If ‘John built a kite in an hour’ is true, then it is true that he ‘was building the
kite during that hour’ . With achievements, therefore, the time indicated by the time-span
adverbial is calculated from a contextually given reference point,while with accomplishments it is
calculated from the beginning of the eventuality itself.
X Co-occurrence with attentively, carefully
Ryle (1949:150) observed that adverbs like studiously, attentively, carefully, obediently,
vigilantly, etc are semantically anomalous with ‘purely lucky achievement’ verbs such as: find a
penny, realize the truth, discover, spot, notice, etc. These adverbs (as a subset of the ones under
the stativity tests in (I) presuppose a volitional goal-oriented activity. Important in the previous
syntagm is the word ‘activity’. As far as ‘lucky achievements’ are concerned they are not
prefaced by any ‘activity’ (or intentional subservient activity) and hence clash with such adverbs
as given above.
*Max attentively discovered the solution
found a unicorn
Remarks on Situation Types Categories
As can be noticed from the above, these criteria mostly distinguish subsets of the four
categories set up by Vendler (1957.1967) rather than determining a single category.
appropriately mentioned, the syntactic tests given for distinguishing the four categories do not
give consistent results for the full range of verb(phrases). According to Dowty (1979:65) ‘the
defect of previous studies of the Aristotelian verb classification has been that only a few
examples from each category are discussed’.
Moreover, there is agreement among linguists and philosophers of language that the
grammatical/syntactic tests distinguishing the situation types are directly based on their
Another important point is that the classification into categories is not and cannot be
limited to the lexical level i.e. the verb, but, rather, higher syntactic units are to be taken into
consideration when identifying a situation type. This idea is supported by the lexical ambiguities
that may occur at the sentence level.
There are cases when one and the same verb, depending on the context, can be read as an
Activity or Accomplishment verb, State or Achievement verb etc.
We illustrate the contribution of arguments and adjuncts to the aspectual recategorization
of a situation with several examples borrowed from Dowty (1979), Filip (1999) and Rothstein
(2004). We provide several examples below:
a) first and foremost, while describing the criteria distinguishing among the different categories
we noticed that some of the examples were equally felicitous with in and for adverbials
(Fillmore’s (1971, apud Dowty, 1979:61) . The examples below are cases where verb phrases can
be read either as an activity or as an accomplishment.
He read a book in/for an hour
She combed her hair for/in five minutesJohn built a kite for/in an hour
The examples below illustrate an activity verb of motion behaving like an
accomplishment predication if it occurs with either a locative of destination (i.e. goal) or with an
adverb of extent, as in (26i) below:
John ran a mile
John ran to the park
The examples in (26) meet all the requirements for an accomplishment reading, the
entailments included.
This phenomenon is not restricted to verbs of motion, as Dowty remarks (1979:61): ‘Look
at, for example is normally an activity, but it has a familiar ‘special sense’ in which it is an
I haven’t finished looking at your term paper yet, but I’ll try to finish it tonight so
we can discuss it tomorrow.
According to the tests above, only accomplishments may occur as complements of
Consider also the examples below where the contribution of an adverbial (Mourelatos,
1978) accounts for the aspectual recategorization of a state into an event:
(28) a). John hates liars
b). John has hated liars three times in his life (three occasions of hating = event pred.)
b) accomplishment verbs and achievement verbs behave like activities if an indefinite plural
direct object or a mass noun direct object is substituted for the (in)definite singular one (Dowty
John ate a bag of popcorn in an hour
John ate popcorn (*in) for an hour
John built that kite in an hour
John built kites (*in) for an hour
John discovered the buried treasure in his yard in (*for) two days
John discovered fleas on his dog (*in) for 2 days
Moreover, if an indefinite plural occurs as subject of an achievement, the sentence is
acceptable with durative adverbials (i.e. it has the properties of a sentence with an activity
*John discovered that quaint little village for years
Tourists discovered that quaint little village for years
c) Intransitive activity verbs can occur in transitive resultative constructions, which are
aspectually derived accomplishments (Rothstein, 2004):
(i) At the opening of the new parliament building, the crowd cheered the huge
gates open
(ii) Mary drank John under the table / sick / dizzy
It is equally true that we come across examples where these category ‘shifts’ are not
available. A nice example is the one suggested by Filip (1999). In the examples below, both verbs
(wheeze and croak) are characterized as ‘sound emission verbs’ and process-denoting (Levin
&Rappaport-Hovav, 1995). Nevertheless, it is only one of them that can be ’fitted’ into the
direction-motion construction, qualifying as accomplishment:
(i) The elevator wheezed to the seventh floor.
(ii)*The frogs croaked to the pond.
The examples above suggest that the classes pertain to syntactic units and not lexical
Verkuyl (1972, 1989:40 among others) remarks: ‘… aspect is not a matter settled at the
verbal level. I propose that aspect be “taken away” from the verb and be assigned to higher levels
of sentential structure: first of all, to the VP because this node dominates the verb and the object,
and subsequently to the S(entence) because the nature of the subject appears to be a determinant
of aspect as well. So the basic idea is that the verb needs to be specified as to its having a specific
meaning element engaged in the composition of aspect, but this feature cannot be identified with
aspect itself, because aspect is to be considered a complex sentential property.` (Verkuyl, 1972)
This remark runs along the remark made by Smith (1991:20) that ’….situation types are
realized by constellations of lexical morphemes consisting of the verb and its arguments,
including its subject. The verb is central to the situation type, but it is not the only factor of
importance. The value of a constellation depends on the presence of complements, directional
and other types, and on the nominals that appear…’ (Smith (1991)).
What all these statements amount to, actually, is that the evaluation of a situation type is
valid at the level of the sentence, since the nature of NPs in subject and object position, as well as
other contextual elements, influence aspectual interpretation .
On the other hand, examples like (29) above also suggest that shifts in eventuality type
are to a large extent systematic and predictable on the basis of the inherent lexical meaning of
The assumption that the inherent lexical semantic properties (=LCS) of individual verbs
lie at the basis of such shifts is supported by the observation that in many cases the expected shift
does not occur, and the combination of a verb with a certain eventuality type shifter results in
ungrammaticality or anomaly.
Certain verbal predicates are always associated with a given eventuality type and cannot
be integrated into the meaning of a construction that requires a verbal predicate of a different
eventuality type.
All these facts led linguists to look into the ‘internal’ causes that could accurately account
for these ‘meanings’ as well as for the aspectual properties of the various kinds of verbs.
Approaches to the semantics of eventuality types
The Vendlerian classification was further developed within tense logic, event semantics,
and lexical decomposition (informally illustrated when we introduced the non-stativity tests).
These approaches assume that eventuality types are distinguished from one another by
certain basic semantic concepts from which languages draw in constructing lexical meanings.
The three main directions pursued will be :
(a) the temporal structure of eventuality types which accounts for the particular
entailments and for the distribution of aspectual markers and temporal adverbials.
b) characterization of eventuality types in the logic of part-whole relations, i.e. the ways
in which an eventuality as a whole stands in relation to its parts
c) the lexical decomposition of predicates.
A. The approaches that base the classification primarily on temporal criteria, on abstract
properties of time points and intervals are known as the tense logic approaches to the category
of aspect (Bennett and Partee, 1972/1978; Dowty, 1972,1977,1979; Bennett, 1977, 1981; Taylor,
1977; and others).
By making use of time points and intervals, linguists devised a very important temporal
property of eventualities: the [± subinterval property].
Activity verbs for instance, such as run in the park, laugh, sleep, push a cart evince the
subinterval property.
Informally, if an activity is true at an interval of time, then it is true at every subinterval of
that interval
“Subinterval verb phrases have the property that if they are the main verb phrase of a sentence
which is true at some interval of time I, then the sentence is true at every subinterval of I
including every moment of time in I. Examples of subinterval verb phrases are: walk, breathe,
walk in the park, push a cart ” ((Bennett and Partee,1972:17).
Vendler ’s homogeneity property closely corresponds to the subinterval property:
The subinterval property is intended to distinguish states and activities (which evince the
subinterval property) from accomplishments and achievements. (which do not evince it).
B. Characterization of eventuality types in the logic of part-whole relations, i.e. the ways
in which an eventuality as a whole stands in relation to its parts. .
The logic of part-whole relation is used in event semantics approaches to the theory of
aspect. Approaches within event semantics take events or eventualities as basic entities in the
domain of discourse, along with individuals and times (Mourelatos, 1978, 1981, Bach,
1981,1986a,1986b; Parsons,1985, 1990; Hinrichs,1985; Krifka,1986,1989,1992; Pustejovsky,
1988a, 1988b, Zucchi, 1993,and others).
Bach (1981), following Mourelatos (1978) proposes that at least some of the properties of
eventuality types can be understood in terms of parallels between verbal and nominal expressions
that pertain to their ‘part ’ structure, that is, to the ways in which an entity as a whole stands in
relation to its parts.
This approach to the classification of nominal/verbal predicates is inspired by the theories
of mereology, or the logic of part- whole relations, and has gained a lot of prominence within
event semantics.
The relation between a whole and its parts is defined by two properties:
subdivisibility (homogeneity) versus anti-subdivisibility and
additivity (or cumulativity) versus anti-additivity.
States and activities/processes pattern together in having homogeneous, non-quantized
reference, just like mass nouns and bare plurals.
They have divisive reference (e.g. just like any part of gold is gold, so parts of being sick
qualify as being sick and parts of walking are walking) and cumulative reference (parts of gold
added to parts of gold amount to a larger quantity of gold; parts of walking/being sick added to
parts of walking/being sick add up to being larger intervals of walking and being sick).
Events (i.e. accomplishments and achievements) have non-homogeneous, quantized
reference, just like countable nouns. They are anti-subdivisible ( smaller parts of a table - its
legs, top, etc – are not the table; similarly, no proper subpart of the event of building a cabin can
be an event of the same kind) and anti-additive (several tables, if added, do not form one and the
same larger table; similarly, two events of building each a cabin do not make a larger event of
building a cabin)
C.The lexical decomposition of predicates.
The assumption behind predicate decomposition is that at some level of representation the
meaning of verbs has internal structure.
Dowty (1972/1979) puts forth the hypothesis that verb types differ in their conceptual
complexity, which is describable in terms of semantic components such as DO, BECOME
Other linguists followed suit, such as Rappaport and Levin, (1988) ,Parsons (1990),
Pustejovschi (1991), Hale and Keyser (1993), Ramchand (2002) to mention a few.
In order to make explicit the aspects of meaning relevant to predicate decomposition,
Rappaport and Levin (1988) employ the notion of lexical conceptual structures (LCSs).
As already mentioned, these structures provide specifications of the verb's meaning and
the arguments of the verb are indicated in the representations as variables . LCSs should be
viewed as the lexical part of the verb's meaning. Any changes in argument structure of a verb will
engender semantic changes at the level of LCS.
The verb itself decomposes into more elementary predicates linked by various relations.
These elementary predicates, such as BECOME, CAUSE, DO, BE, may occur over a large
number of verbs that are semantically related.
The argument places (i.e. the participants in the event) of these predicative constituents
are held by variables (i.e. letters like x, y, z which stand for the syntactic NPs). The arguments
are thus variables occurring in substructures of LCSs. Here are a few examples:
a. PUT:
[x Does smth] Cause [y Come to Be at z]]]
(x does something which causes y to come to be at location z)
b. KILL: [x Does smth] Cause [y Become not alive]]]
(x does something which causes y to become dead)
3.0 The Ontology of situations
In this subchapter we shall try to offer a comprehensive syntactic and semantic
characterization of basic-situation types, the central stereotypes for each of the identified
subtypes, taking into consideration the insights of the three influential approaches mentioned in
the previous subchapter as well as the two component theory of aspect developed by Smith
In the two component theory the composite nature of aspectual meaning is essential, since
aspectual meaning/interpretation pertains to the sentence that presents information about situation
type (lexical information) and viewpoint (grammatical information)
To the above mentioned situation types we also introduce a fifth situation type identified
by linguists, namely semelfactives. Semelfactives are represented by expressions like: knock, hit,
kick, cough, etc. and in Smith’s view (1991) they are considered as a subtype of Activities.
Sometimes they are treated as a special subclass of Achievements, that is, instantaneous events
that are not telic.
3.1 Conceptual features of the situation types
The following semantic features are assumed to distinguish between the situation types,
these features functioning as shorthand for the cluster of properties that distinguishes them.
The first feature that is fundamentul in the characterization of situation types is the feature
[ stative]. Cognitively this distinction between ‘stasis’ and ‘motion’ (change) is fundamental.
The feature of stativity bifurcates situation types into the classes of states and non-states
(activities and events).
States are the simplest of the situation types. From a temporal point of view, they consist
only of undifferentiated moments, without endpoints.
The distinction between states and non-states (activities and events) is reflected in
language: in English a non-stative situation occurs, happens, takes place (i.e. culminates, in
Parsons’ terms) while a state holds.
The pro-verb do generally associates with non-states rather than states. Linguists make
this distinction at the level of the lexical entry of the verb by assuming that only non-stative
predicates have an ‘event’ variable in their lexical entry.
Non-stative situations form the natural class of ‘events’ (activities and events proper). As
shown by Ross (1972) non-statives are ‘doings’; they are dynamic, involving causation (which
includes both agentive and non-agentive subjects), activity and change. They consist of
stages/phases rather than undifferentiated moments.
The successive changes of Activities and Accomplishments over time reflect dynamism,
as do the single stages of Achievements and Semelfactives. Accordingly, since stages characterize
events, the property [+stage] corresponds to the feature [+dynamic, i.e. –stative].
The feature [telic] goes as far back as Aristotle’s notions of kinesis (performance) and
energia. Situation types are characterized as telic or atelic.
Telic eventualities are directed towards a goal/outcome, i.e. they have an inherent
culmination point. When the goal is reached , a definite change of state occurs and the event is
complete i.e. it attains a final/resultant state.
The goal may be intrinsic to the event, in this case constituting its natural endpoint. A
good example is the verb ‘break’ which is an inherently telic verb (John broke the stick in a
second) (Ramchand, 1999:4). There are also cases when the endpoint is syntactically induced.
(run a mile/to the station ). It follows that telic events are finite/bounded, i.e. the final point must
be specific. The characterization given above can be nicely represented as the following
temporal schemas (Smith, 1991):
States :
(I)__________ (F)
Accomplishments: I…………….FNat <R>
Semelfactives: I
It is important to mention here that the existence of telicity does not necessarily imply the
presence of an internal argument (a syntactic object) and conversely the existence of an internal
argument does not imply telicity:
John stood up in a second
John pushed the cart for hours
In the first example telicity is rendered by means of the particle ‘up’, the verb itself being
an intransitive/atelic verb. In the second example, the entire sentence qualifies aspectually as an
activity although the verb requires a direct object (an internal argument).
Another important point is that the category of telic events is not limited to events that are
under the control of an agent. For instance, the event of ‘a rock falling to the ground’ is telic: the
goal is reached when the rock is on the ground (Smith, 1991:29), i.e. the rock has reached a final
state; the final point is made specific by the presence of the expression ‘to the ground’.
The examples above suggest that telicity may be triggered by the presence of different
syntactic expressions. Of the four Vendlerian classes, Accomplishments and Achievements are
characterized as telic.
Atelic eventualities are simply processes, which are realized as soon as they begin. Atelic
eventualities have no (inherent) endpoint, but rather an arbitrary final point: they can stop or be
terminated at any time: for example if one doesn’t continue running, one automatically ceases
running. Activities (i.e. processes) and semelfactives are atelic.
The feature [durative] also categorizes idealized situations: some take time (i.e. activities
, accomplishments are durative), other are instantaneous (i.e. Achievements and Semelfactives).
This feature has sometimes been ignored by some scholars, being considered as an inessential
feature of eventualities (e.g. Mourelatos 1978, Dowty, 1986).
According to Smith (1991) the feature of ‘duration’ is relevant in the description of
situation types since in many languages it is grammaticized overtly or covertly. Mittwoch (1979)
presents strong evidence for a durative feature in the grammar of English. The property of
duration is explicitly indicated by adverbials (for pharses) and main verbs (continue/keep). The
imperfective viewpoint is also a linguistic correlate of duration, since imperfective focusses on
the internal stages of durative situations. With instantaneous situations, those that lack an
interval, the imperfective may focus on preliminary or resultative stages.
The examples in (24-29) above point out to the fact (cf. Smith 1997) that the aspectual
interpretation of a sentence is compositional. This suggests, as already hinted at, that the
aspectual center of a sentence is the verb but it is not the only factor of importance, since
idealized situation types are associated with verb constellations.
The suggestion put forth by Smith (and other linguists as we have seen) is that the
features discussed are actually intrinsic to the verbs themselves and these basic features may be
overridden in combination with other forms. We present below examples (borrowed from Smith
1991:73) of the inherent aspectual value of a few verbs with the examples of the sentences in
which they occur:
Mary walked
walk the dog: v[-telic] + N[count]= VP[-telic]
walk to the park: v[-telic] +PP[directional] = VP[+telic]
build (+telic]
John built a house
build the house: V[+telic] + N[count] = VP [+telic]
build houses: V[+telic] + N[mass] = VP [-telic]
In what follows we shall attempt to offer a comprehensive description of eventuality types
taking into account their semantic and syntactic properties as highlighted by the different theories
and scholars previously introduced.
3.2.Semantic and syntactic properties of situation types:
3.2.1 The stative situation type
3.2.1. States are stable situations. Typical, basic level states are [know the answer], [be tall],
[desire] [be available], etc. States are characterized by the features [+stative] [+durative]. The
feature [telic] is not relevant for states since they have been characterized by scholars as being
unbounded and having an abstract atemporal quality (Bach 1981). Because of the latter
properties states are hard to individuate; they are uncountable. States are verbs which do not
denote a change or an event with internal structure.
Intuitively, stative predicates predicate a quality or property of an individual. They can be
considered as properties or relations disguised as verbs (Guenthner, Hoepelman and Rohrer,
1978); they include concrete and abstract properties of all kinds: possession, location, belief and
other mental states, dispositions, etc.
Stative predicates are also characterized as being qualitatively homogeneous, i.e.
subdivisible and additive, that is to say that stative predications have the subinterval property.
The general temporal schema for states consists of an undifferentiated period as in (37) below:
The line represents the interval (period) during which a state holds; it is not divided into
stages. The lack of stages can be reinterpreted by characterizing states as lacking a processual
part ( Galton 1984, Hoeksema 1984, Giorgi and Pianesi, 1998)). The presence or absence of a
processual part in the actional properties of predicates is detected by the continuous tense
criterion used by Vendler in his classification.
The initial (I) and final (F) points are within parentheses, to indicate that they are not part
of the state itself. This can be rephrased by adopting the feature [-definite], used by Galton 1984,
Hoeksema 1984, to characterize this property of states.
The schema also reflects that the state holds consistently during the entire interval, since
states may be judged as true at any moment of time within that interval. This property can be
stated as follows (Taylor, 1977):
If  is a state, then (x) is true at an interval I just in case
(x) is true at all moments within I
To exemplify, if John owns a dog for a week there is no moment throughout this interval
during which he did not own that dog. States may be judged as true at any moment in time
because they are not dependent on time (i.e. they are atemporal).
As states do not involve change, they appear to be ‘simpler’ in terms of their
temporal constituency than activities or events which need at least two moments of time for their
If we were to decompose the meaning of a state predicate like ‘own’ in ‘John owns the
house’ (Dowty, 1979) we would have the following representation:
John owns the house
own(j, h)
Some scholars (e.g. Dowty, 1979) assume that states (as an eventuality type) enter into the
conceptual structure of the other aspectual classes (activities, accomplishments and
Given the temporal properties of states, sentences with stative predicates display all the
syntactic non-stative tests. They do not appear in constructions that directly assume agency and
(i) states are odd in imperatives, (*Know Greek!)
(ii) states do not accept agent-oriented adverbs like willingly, deliberately, since their subjects
cannot be interpreted as agents (*He knew Greek deliberately),
(iii) states cannot be embedded under ‘force’ and ‘persuade (*I forced her to know Greek),
(iv) states do not neutrally allow the ‘do’ test (*What she did was know Greek) or the
(v) states do not naturally presuppose temporal and spatial coordinates (*When and where does
he know Greek ?).
Given their abstract quality, they are uncountable. This is why cardinal numerals do not
occur in contexts of state predications (*He knew Greek three times). Further evidence for the
‘mass’ properties of state predicates is provided by nominalizations of state predicates (hatred,
love, knowledge, etc) which are uncountable and do not allow the indefinite article or cardinal
numerals. These nominalizations will perfectly collocate with mass quantifiers like much/little
(There was little love lost among themselves).
3.2.2. Scholars have acknowledged that we can distinguish between different types of states;
some of these types are basic-level states and there are also two derived stative predicates
The important difference among basic stative predicates (e.g. Carlson, 1977, Dowty,
1979, Smith, 1991, etc) is brought about by the types of referents to which they apply.
Predicates may apply to individuals (kinds of objects or objects) or to stages of
individuals.8 English distinguishes syntactically between permanent, non-temporary states
(know, desire, be tall, be widespread) and temporary states (be available, be in the garden).
Carlson argues that the class of predicates that denote relatively stable, non-transitory
inherent properties apply to individuals (objects or kinds): [be altruistic] [be a teacher], [be
intelligent] [be widespread], while stative predicates that denote transitory properties apply to
stages of individuals [be available] [be in the garden now] [be drunk]. The predicates assert a
quality or property of an individual as a spatio-temporal whole, or of an individual’s limited
spatio-temporal properties. Dynamic predicates (i.e activities, accomplishments, achievements,
semelfactives) are characteruzed as being stage-level predicates inherently.
Below is a list of examples of some predicates that apply to stages and some that apply
to objects/kinds; as the examples show, most nominal predicates apply to objects /kinds, while
the majority of prepositional phrases (PPs) in predicate position apply to stages (especially the
locatives). Adjectives appear to constitute a mixed group, with the majority applying to objects:
Individuals (Objects/Kinds)
run into the room
find a book
(be) in the next room
(be) present/available
(be) on top of the house
(be) drunk
(be) running about
be on top of the house
know how to dance
have ears
(be) a turtle/an orphan
(be) intelligent/tall
weigh 250 kg
know French
be sick (mentally)
be widespread
8 Stages of individuals are thought of as ‘temporal slices/manifestations” of individuals, their actual/concrete manifestation in space
and at particular times. Stages could be viewed as (temporally/spatially bound) parts of objects/kinds in an underlying mereological logic. In
general, verbs that may take the progressive form refer to stages, while prototypical state verbs may predicate of objects and kinds but not stages.
Classical stative predicates [know], [desire] [believe], [like], [be altruistic] [own] turn out
to be predicates over individuals not predicates over stages of individuals i.e. they are basic
individual level predicates.
What enables one to assert a stative predication is our ‘total experience’ with previous
stages of an individual.
In Dowty’s (1979:179) own words’ ‘John knows French’ is made true not by John doing
something at that moment, but by past (presumably future) occasions of John-stages having
stage-properties of speaking French.’ To quote Dowty (1979) again ‘The usefulness of such
predicates as know, like, believe, intelligent, soluble, fragile (…..) in language is that they
indicate a potential for having ‘stage’ properties of a certain kind at some future or hypothetical
time. And this potential exists at any one moment during the whole interval of their truth as much
as at any other moment’. Dowty (1979:179)
Given that the means for expressing the individual-level generalized predication as well
as the stage-level predication exists in the language, and given that the individual level statement
in effect pragmatically entails that the stage-level statement is true, most predicates in the
language (with a few exceptions) can be used with both types of referents.
This is true of generic predications (Tigers eat meat/Tigers are striped) and habitual
predications (Franny, my cat, eats carrots/ He writes novels) which are semantically stative
precisely because they denote properties that hold of individuals or patterns /generalizations
over events rather than specific situations.
As Dowty (1979) observes: ‘ Even when we predicate them of an individual at a
particular time, it is really not a property that individual’s current stage has at that moment that
makes them true, but our ‘total experience’ with previous stages of that individual. We can
truthfully assert that John is in the habit of smoking if we have identified a “suitable number” of
past occasions on which John’s-stage-smoking was true. Such a broad and pragmatically vague
interval presumably also includes a number of future instances of John’s stage property of
smoking”. Dowty (1979:179)
As we have seen, stereotypic states like the ones mentioned above are like this as well.
Therefore, what enables one to assert the existence of a property that characterizes an individual
is one’s total experience of the individual rather than the individual’s behaviour at one particular
time. Just like basic (individual) level state predicates, habituals/generics express dispositions,
indicating a potential for having stage properties. Given that generic and habitual sentences may
be formed of verb constellations that apply to stages of individuals, i.e. are non-stative (stagelevel) at the basic level of classification, such sentences will be considered as derived statives
(Smith 1991:40)
So far we have identified two subtypes of basic stative predicates:
(a) individual level state predicates that denote permanent, non-transitory properties of
individuals, that is entities in their total spatio-temporal manifestations, represented in English by
(i) of possession or other property denoting (own, have, possess, belong, cost, weigh,
(ii) verbs denoting abstract and concrete properties (be altruistic, be tall, be intelligent, be
widespread, be extinct),
(iii) belief and other mental states (believe, know, think (give opinion), hope, fear), (iv)
verbs of physical perception (see, hear, taste, feel, etc),
(v) emotive predicates (love, hate, like, dislike, rejoice, despise, want, desire, etc)
To this basic subtype of states we add two types of derived statives, namely generics and
habituals that predicate over individuals (kinds of objects and objects, ) and hence, are also
thought of in terms of individual level predicates.
(b) stage level state predicates (be angry, be available, be in Chicago, etc) which denote
temporary states (momentary stage-predicates in Dowty’s terms) and apply to a temporal and
spatial ‘stage’ (manifestation) of an individual. The intervals at which ‘stage’ predicates are true
are shorter, have distinct boundaries and may have truth conditions that differentiate among parts
of the interval. This type of statives is compatible with expressions of simple duration and
punctuality: He was angry for an instant, She was hungry at noon.
According to Dowty (1979:180) these two classes ‘can be true at moments and are true at
an interval if and only if they are true at all moments within that interval’. In other words, they
obey Taylor’s postulate stated in (33) above.
(c) a third subtype of statives is identified by Dowty (1979:178) as ‘interval statives’,
since their truth condition requires an interval larger than a moment. This subtype of statives
includes verb constellations of position and location (with verbs like sit, be, crouch, lie, perch,
sprawl, stand) which have properties that distinguishes them from the other predicates expressing
temporary states. In English these verbs are unique among stative verbs in allowing the
progressive although, just like bona fide states, they involve no agency (they may occur with
inanimate subjects) or change. The examples below are borrowed from Dowty (1979:173):
a) The socks lie/are lying under the bed
b) New Orleans lies /??is lying at the mouth of the Mississippi River
c) One corner of the piano rests/is resting on the bottom step
d) That argument rests/?? is resting on an invalid assumption
The progressive in these sentences has a stative interpretation (actually they denote a
temporary state), whereas usually the progressive is associated with an active interpretation.
When these verbs occur with human subject nominal phrases their use in the progressive can be
explained in terms of ‘intentionality or ‘volitional control (e.g. She’s resting on the sofa) (Dowty
The progressive with the sentences in (35) above appears to be subject to certain semantic
restrictions, as can be seen by comparing the progressive examples above. The conclusion is that
the progressive is acceptable with these verbs just to the degree that the subject denotes a
moveable object, or to be more exact, an object that has recently moved in a slightly different
situation. Given this restriction, the acceptability of the progressive can also depend on the
context as well as the subject and verb:
a) ??Two trees were standing in the field (strange in isolation)
b) After the forest fire, only two trees were still standing
Remark: (i) Perception verbs (see,), verbs of feeling (like, love) and some verbs of mental states
(know, understand) that are stative at the basic level of classification, may also have an
achievement interpretation in the context of adverbs like ‘ suddenly’, or completive adverbials.
I saw the cityhall from my window
Suddenly, I saw a star.
I like music.
I liked him in a second.
(ii) Perception verbs like smell/taste/feel have the same form but distinct syntactic behaviour
when they refer to a state or an activity: intransitive when qualifying as state, transitive when
denoting activity. The verbs see and hear, on the other hand, appear in pairs of stative and active
perception verbs: see:look at/watch; hear:listen to.
I can taste salt in my porridge
I am tasting the soup to see if it needs any salt
3.2.2 The process situation type
3.2.2.The term ‘process’ has been chosen to refer both to activities associated with human
subjects ( external causation) (he swam/ran/slept/strolled in the park, she ate for an hour) and
activities which are not cases of human agency ( the ball rolled/moved, it rained for hours the
jewels glittered).
Processes are atelic, durative, dynamic events. The process situation type has no goal, no
culminatiom or natural final point: their termination is merely cessation of activity, i.e. they have
an arbitrary final point. Hence, Processes ‘stop’ or ‘terminate’ but they never ‘finish’. Processes
have dynamic, successive, homogeneous stages and take time, that is, the stereotypic Process
occurs over an interval longer than a moment. The abstract temporal schema for processes is
given below. In the abstract temporal schema ‘I ‘stands for the initial point, Farb stands for the
arbitrary endpoint, while the dots represent the successive stages (indefinite changes):
Temporal schema for Processes
Since processes are characterized as being homogeneous there is no difference in kind
between a proper part and the entire situation. (i.e. processes are subdivisible and additive).
For instance, if ‘John walked in the park’ for an interval, his walking during several
minutes of the interval also counts as walking. Vendler characterizes this property of processes as
follows: ‘Activities go on in time in a homogeneous way; any part of the process is of the same
nature as the whole’ (1967:133).
The remarks above actually show that just like states, processes are subinterval verb
phrases obeying the postulate below (Taylor (1977)):
If  is a process, then if (x) is true at I, then (x) is true at all subintervals of I
which are larger than a moment
As in the case of states, processes behave like uncountable nouns. They cannot be
counted, being cumulative/additive and subdivisible. Process nominalizations have mass noun
properties co-occurring with indefinite mass quantifiers such as: much, little, enough, no:
For hours there was little/no/much running/playing in the park
The most general activity verb seems to be DO; processes are doings, so DO might be
viewed as a common component in the lexical conceptual structure (=LCS) of process predicates.
(Dowty, 1979). The semantic/conceptual represention of a process sentence is as in (42) below
John walked
DO (walk) (j)
Given their semantic/conceptual and temporal properties, process predicates pass all the
non-stativity tests mentioned in the previous subchapters, such as:
compatibility with the progressive
appear in pseudo-cleft constructions with the auxiliary do
(iii) as complements of ‘stop’
they naturally co-occur with period adverbials: for x- time, all
summer/morning/day, and as complements of spend -amount of time:
the entailment from the progressive form “x is  -ing ” to the simple form “x has
-ed ” is valid; i.e. the imperfective process sentence entails the perfective sentence:
The dog was chasing a car
The dog chased a car
Agentive process verb phrases (with animate, agentive subjects) occur as :
complements of force/persuade,
with agent oriented adverbs: deliberately, willingly, carefully
Non-agentive processes do not occur with agent –oriented adverbs or as complements of
(i)*John persuaded/forced the refrigerator to run
(ii) *The refrigerator deliberately ran
(iii) The refrigerator is running
When we discussed state predications we argued that predicates may assert a quality or
property of an individual as a spatio-temporal whole, or it may assert an individual’s limited
spatio-temporal properties. Since processes, as we have seen, may take temporal and spatial
arguments to their main verb they fall into the class of stage-level predications.
Process sentences consist of verb constellations presenting a process situation. The verb
constellation may consist of:
(a) an atelic verb and compatible complements (if any), (e.g. push a cart ,play chess/the piano,
laugh, sleep, smile, think about, dream, walk in the park, run along the beach, enjoy, etc.),
b) atelic durative verb with a complement that is cumulative or uncountable. These qualify as
multiple-event processes. Examples would be: eat cherries, write letters, drink wine, etc.
Multiple event processes may also consist of iterations, repetitions of instantaneous events, such
as achievements and semelfactives: cough for five minutes, revolve, find crabgrass in the garden
all summer, etc.
In English we also have other means to change the telicity of a constellation; one
particular possibility is the type of preposition employed: e.g. read the book vs read at the book;
paint the fence vs paint away at the fence. The telicity tests will show that the first member of the
pair qualifies as telic (i.e. accomplishment) while the second member qualifies as atelic (process).
The possibility of such events make the Process the most varied of situation types.
3.2.3. The event situation types (accomplishment and achievement)
3.2.3. The term ‘event’ denotes those situation types that involve a product, upshot or outcome
i.e. they involve a definite change of state. They are characterized by the feature [+telic].
According to Von Wright (1963:28): ‘The event itself is the change or transition from the
state of affairs which obtains on the earlier occasion to the state which obtains on the later
occasion. The event of ‘opening the window’, for instance, consists of a change from a state
when the window is closed to a state when the window is open. Any event can be defined as a
change of state, where the two states are of a particular form – one state is the negation of the
other. An event is therefore a change from a state p to a state q, where p is non-q.’
As can be noticed, events, like processes, require at least two moments of time, i.e. an
interval, to be evaluated; that is to say events, whether instantaneous or durative, take (some
definite) time to be realized. Events are not ‘literally true or false for a period of time or even at a
point in time’ but rather’ events take place in [a definite] period of time’ (Dowty, 1979 :74).
Events are temporally complex; they do not have the subinterval property (i.e. they are not subdivisible and additive) . Events (accomplishments and achievements alike) obey the following
postulate (Taylor 1977):
If  is an event, then if (x) is true at I, then (x) is false at all subintervals
of I
The property stated above says that an event must be evaluated for its truth-value over a
single, particular interval but it cannot be true of any subinterval that make up the interval.
Events are compatible with adverbials of completion, i.e. ‘in-x time phrases ‘, and they
freely and naturally take the ‘take x-time’ test.
Since they are true of particular (bounded) time intervals, events may have definite time
and space coordinates identified by place and time adverbials, which show that events take place
within time periods.
Given the temporal property stated above, events are heterogeneous or quantized (i.e.
non-homogeneous) qualitatively and since they have boundaries (involve an outcome, product)
they can be individuated, i.e. counted, co-occurring with cardinals, or frequency adverbs.
Nominalizations of event predicates qualify as countable nouns. (e.g. The Vesuvius erupted
once/three times last year/ There was an eruption of the Vesuvius last year.).
Since events temporally segment our experience in a definite way, they are undoubtedly
stage-level predications, predicating about ‘temporal and spatial ‘stages/slices’ of individuals.
Events are divided up into accomplishments and achievements. With accomplishments
the change of state is prepared (brought about, caused) by some activity/process, the change
being the completion of the process: e.g. build a bridge, walk to school, repair a car, drink a
glass of wine. Accomplishments are conceptualized as ‘durative’ events. The interval considered
includes the process and the change of state it brings about. Therefore accomplishments are
complex events, i.e they have other event types as their components. An accomplishment is a
causal structure of type [e1 causes e2) where e1 is the (causing) activity/process while e2 is the
resulting (change of) state.
Achievements, on the other hand, focus on the change of state, backgrounding or simply
leaving out the causing activity/process and the causing factor.: e.g. My father died. My father
died (from his wounds) (in the end). Achievements are truly changes of state, they are
‘becomings’, they are all ‘culmination’ and are conceptualized as ‘instantaneous’. Accomplishments
As already mentioned accomplishments consist of a process and an outcome, a change of state,
having successive stages in which the process advances to its conclusion. The successive stages
of accomplishments are characterized by Dowty (1979) as ‘definite changes of state’ which
account for the lack of the subinterval property with these situation types, i.e. they are antisubdivisible (no proper part of an event is of the same kind as the event).
Dowty (1979) dubbed accomplishments as ‘complex changes of state’. Accomplishments
result in a new state. For instance, [build a house] includes the various stages of house building as
well as its completion. The relation between the process and the outcome of an Accomplishment
is non-detachable. If the outcome of an Accomplishment is reached , it follows that the process
occurred, i.e. if [John build a house] occurs at an interval, then it is true that during that interval
[John was building the house]. This entailment is stated informally in (52) below (Smith (1997):
If event A occurs at interval A, then the process associated with A occurs during the
internal stages of that interval.
This entailment can be stated with truth conditions for related perfective and imperfective
accomplishment predications:
If  is an accomplishment verb then x -ed in y time entails x was -ing during that time
What the above statement asserts is that if ‘John wrote a report in an hour’ is true, then it
is also true that ‘John was writing the report during that hour’. However, the opposite is not true:
if a process occurs one cannot infer its outcome, i.e. ‘John is writing an essay’ does not entail ‘
John wrote an essay’.
The temporal schema of an Accomplishment is given in (54) below.( Smith 1991:49). The
dots represent the successive internal stages. Fnat represents the natural final point, or completion,
which represents the defining property of telic situation types. R represents the result state that
obtains after the completion of the process:
I…………….FNat <R>
Since Accomplishments conceptualize not only the change but also the process (i.e.
causing factor) that brings about (causes) the resultant state, it has been assumed that
semantically, accomplishments can be interpreted as including 3 abstract predicates, namely DO,
CAUSE and BECOME. CAUSE is viewed as bisentential (i.e. logically connecting two sentences
(propositions). Its subject clause expresses the process (the ‘DOING’) that leads to the change of
state, while the object clause expresses the resultant state.
John drew the circle
DO(j ) CAUSE [BECOME (exist (c))]
There are good reasons (morphological, semantic and syntactic) to assume that DO,
CAUSE and BECOME should be considered significant conceptual components of
accomplishment situations.
(a) First of all in English there are a large number of causative/inchoative affixes such as
#ize, #ify , #en, be#, en# that form [+Telic] verbs from adjectives or nouns (e.g.
fertilefertilize; solidsolidify, height→ heighten, broad→broaden, slave→enslave, etc), as
well as the existence of conversion phenomena (bottle to bottle (the wine); saddleto saddle
(the horse); cool →to cool, where DO, CAUSE, BECOME are lexically incorporated. Many
cases may be categorized as either accomplishments or achievements, depending on whether the
process is seen as intrinsically related to the outcome. The verbal prefixes re# (to do over again)
or pre# are also telic, requiring situation types with natural endpoints.: reopen, reevaluate, etc.;
State, Activity and Semelfactive verbs do not take this prefix: *resneeze, *rebelieve, *relaugh,
*reknock, etc, nor do verbs with re- appear in atelic constellations:
John rethought the problem vs *John rethought that 2+2 = 5 (Smith 1991:234)
b) Secondly, Ryle (1949:151) observed that durative events are caracterized semantically
as being ‘bipartite’ in a way that Activities and Achievements are not. In using an
Accomplishment predicate ‘We are asserting that some state of affair obtains over and above that
which consists in the performance, if any, of the subservient task activity. ……..for a doctor to
effect a cure, his patient must both be treated (task activy) and be well again (result state)’ ( Ryle
c)Thirdly, English has constructions which lexicalize both the causing activity and the
resultant state. These constructions are result constructions exemplified in (49) (borrowed from
Smith 1991, Cornilescu 1986) and verb plus particle constructions exemplified in (50):
The sheriff shot the man dead
The wind shaped the hills into cones
The maid swept the floor clean
(Her sweeping the floor caused the floor to become clean)
throw something away/down/aside/up/in
put/send/throw/drive/call away
We may also come across monomorphemic accomplishments that specify the associated
activity that brings about the change (drown, electrocute, strangle, hang, poison (‘use poison to
cause someone to become dead).
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, Accomplishments are ambiguous with the adverb
‘almost’. The ambiguity only occurs with accomplishment situations and thus confirms the
‘bipartite ‘ structure of Accomplishments situations.
John almost opened the door
Almost [John open the door]
Become (the door is almost open)
On one reading the subject John had the intention of opening the door but did not
perform the activity, on the second reading John began to open the door and he almost but not
quite finished opening it, i.e.the door wasn’t quite open.
Another proof for the bipartite nature of Accomplishments is the ability of
accomplishment predicates to occur with for-phrases, and the expression spend x time, however
marginally. This can be accounted for only by acknowledging the presence of a process phase in
their temporal make-up. Actually, the entire sentence qualifies as a derived process predicate.
Achievement predicates are excluded in these contexts:
(?)John built a kite for two hours
John did two hours of kite-building
(?)Mary played a sonata for an hour
Mary did two hours of sonata-playing
John spent an hour building a kite
Mary spent an hour playing a sonata
Actually, in English, for-phrases, may create ambiguity with some Accomplishment predicates.
(Binnick 1986 apud Crainiceanu 1997)):
The sheriff of Nottingham jailed Robin Hood for four years
On one reading, the act of jailing Robin Hood lasted for four years, while on the second reading
Robin Hood was sentenced to four years in prison. In the first interpretation the adverbial refers
to the process part while in the second to the result state.
The bipartite structure of Accomplishment situations also accounts for the fact that
accomplishments may naturally co-occur with both ‘stop’ and ‘finish’. Given the heterogeneous
structure of accomplishments it is but natural that the entailments differ:
John finished building the house
John stopped building the house
In (i) the entailment is that the activity reached its completion and the resultant state is the
existence of the house. In (ii) the entailment is that we are not entitled to conclude that ‘John did
build the house’, but only that he ‘was building’ a house, which he may or may not have finished.
Achievement predicates are excluded from these contexts.
Given their temporal structure, Accomplishments, as observed by Dowty ‘do not take
place (actually are not ’true’ or ‘false’) at a time’. Nevertheless, we may come across sentences
where there is a verb constellation typical of a durative Accomplishment in the company of a
momentary adverbial like at noon. According to Smith (1991:55) such sentences focus the
beginning of the event: it is an inceptive presentation of an accomplishment. Such interpretations
are also made possible with ‘super-lexical’ verbs such as [begin] [start].
They walked to school at noon
Like processes, accomplishments are [+dynamic] and may be controllable (i.e. may have
agentive subjects), hence they pass all the tests for non-stativity:
a) occur in imperatives
b) occur as complements of force/persuade
c) co-occur with agent-oriented adverbs deliberately, carefully
d) appear in pseudo-cleft constructions with the auxiliary do
Accomplishment sentences consist of constellations that have: (a) telic, durative verbs and
countable (quantized) arguments (see example 63 (i)); (b) atelic, durative verbs and directional
complements, or with certain prepositions (see 63 (ii) and (iii); (c) atelic verb and resultative
construction (see examples in 63(iv):
They drank a glass of beer and left
The children walked to school
The boy ran out
She laughed herself silly/ The alarm clock ticked the baby awake
To conclude, the essential characteristics of Accomplishments are dynamism, duration,
completion and non-detachability (i.e. the entailment relation between process and
oucome/resultant state :e=e1  e2). Achievements
Achievements are instantaneous, single-stage events that result in a change of state.
Achievements focus mainly on the change of state, simply leaving out or backgrounding the
causing activity and causing factor. Examples of stereotypic achievements are : die, reach the
top, win the race, arrive, leave, recognize, notice, find a penny, miss the target, lose the watch,
remember, etc.
Even if some achievements may be preceded by some preparatory activity (e.g. land, die,
reach the top, win the race, etc) this instantaneous event type does not conceptualize it. As Smith
(1991:58) remarks: ‘The preliminary stages which may be associated with the change of state are
conceptually detached from the event as such’.
The temporal schema (Smith 1991) of an achievement presents an event as consisting of a
single stage, which constitutes the change of state as such. The initial and final points are
represented as simultaneous:
In the temporal schema diagram above R stands for the result of the change of state, while
the dots represent preliminary and resultant stages. The existence of such preliminary stages
accounts for the ability of some achievement predicates to occur in the progressive (e.g. He is
dying. The plane was landing when the storm started.) Not all achievement predicates presuppose
or imply preliminary stages (or a preparatory, ‘prelude’ process as Kearns (1991) puts it ).
The predicates that do no presuppose a preparatory process are known as ‘lucky
achievements’ (find, recognize, discover, notice, lose, remember, etc) and they resist use in the
It is interesting to mention here a group of verbs (known as degree or scalar predicates,
Dowty 1979, Ramchand 2001) that do not inherently imply telicity, i.e. they describe a change of
state/location as far as their argument is concerned but they need not entail the attainment of a
final state. (e.g widen, harden, rise, fall, descend, roll, dry, cool, melt, etc). A gap can widen for
hours but then it may close again; a balloon can rise without hitting the top of the sky. Such
predicates are on the borderline between achievements and accomplishments. They may have an
achievement interpretation or an accomplishment interpretation. These verbs will all occur in
resultative constructions or in the context of prepositional phrases that would actually specify the
final state.
The baloon rose to the ceiling
The book fell down
Mary dried the cocoa beans dry
We have already mentioned that achievements are ‘becomings’ or simply changes of
states, so the assumption is that their semantic/conceptual structure consists of the abstract
predicate ‘BECOME” (become, come to be) (Dowty 1979) and the resultant state:
The soup cooled BECOME (cool (s))
lose somethingCOME not to know the location of
arrive at/reach’COME to be at a place
This analysis proves that achievements are more complex than states, incorporating them.
The truth conditions for achievements make explicit the passage from the negation of the
resultant state to its truth:
BECOME (p) is true at t, if p is true at ti and false at ti-1
Morpho-syntactic evidence for the semantic/conceptual structure hypothesized above
comes from the existence of regular word formation processes which derive achievements from
adjectives. BECOME may be realized as a (possibly null) verbal affix: hardEN (BECOME
(hard)), cool (BECOME (cool)).
The syntactic properties and the characteristic entailments of achievements follow from
the fact that they do not conceptualize the causing factor simply involving a ‘single change of
state’ (Dowty 1979).
As already mentioned, the entailments of Achievements differ from those of
Accomplishments. If John built a kite in an hour is true, then it is true that John was building the
kite during that hour. But from the truth of ‘John recognized his brother in a few minutes’ it does
not follow that John was recognizing his brother throughout the period of a few minutes.
Actually, the meaning of the time-span expression with achievements is ‘after a few minutes’. As
we have seen, the same interpretation holds for activities. In short, with achievements and
activities the time indicated by the time-span adverbial is calculated from a contextually given
reference point, while with accomplishments it is calculated from the beginning of the eventuality
Schematically this difference in entailments can be rendered as follows (Dowty, 1979:59):
If  is an accomplishment verb, then x ed in y time entails that x was ing during y time;
If  is an achievement verb, then ed in y time does not entail x was ing during y time.
The pattern of compatibility with expressions of completion and duration distinguishes
achievements from the other situation types. As we have seen completive adverbials (i.e. in Xtime) allow an ingressive interpretation: the event occurs at the end of the interval. The
imperfective viewpoint has the same effect, as do duration adverbials like slowly, quickly.
They reached the top in an hour
They slowly reached the top
We were reaching the top when the rain started
Perioad adverbials like ‘for x time’are not compatible with achievement predicates as
such, if they do, we get a derived activity reading with what is known as ‘achievement in series’
(the subject/object NP plays an important role in the re-categorization, as the examples below
*They reached the top for five minutes
The firecracker exploded for five minutes
* The bomb exploded for five minutes
Achievements are also incompatible with verbs expressing completion .Verbs like
‘finish’ or ‘complete’ can only refer to predicates where the event is conceptualized as having an
undetachable process and an outcome:
*The bomb finished exploding
Achievement sentences may be expressed by the following verb constellation patterns: (i)basic
achievements are formed from verbs with the intrinsic features (Telic] [Instantaneous}; derived
inchoatives may have durative telic or atelic constellations (ii) achievement predicates have verbs
that are transitive or intransitive; perception verbs like see, hear, understand occur in
achievement constellations: I saw the star, And then, I understood
Semelfactives are atelic instantaneous eventualities. The term comes from the Latin ‘semel’
(once) used in Slavic linguistics to refer to a suffix which indicates a single event. (Smith
1991:55). Semelfactives are hard to distinguish from Achievements, since they are both singlestage eventualities. . They differ in the property [ telic].
Semelfactives are atelic, instantaneous processes. Prototypical examples are [cough],
[knock], [hit], [flap a wing], [hiccup] [slam/bang the door] [kick the ball].
Semelfactives do not have preliminary stages, nor resultant stages. They can be
considered as the simplest type of eventuality. The temporal schema of semelfactives is given
The single stage is represented in the schema with simultaneous initial and final
endpoints. Being single-stage eventualities, semelfactives, just like achievements, are not
compatible with period adverbials or the impefective viewpoint since both these expressions
presuppose an interval. Hence, when semelfactive predicates co-occur with period adverbials and
the progressive, they are interpreted as derived ‘durative’ processes/activities consisting of a
series of repetead, iterated semelfactive events; the incompatibility is thus resolved by
reinterpreting the predicate as a multiple-event activity.
John was kicking the ball when I saw him
John kicked the ball for 5 minutes
The sentences above can only be interpreted as denoting a series of kicks, an iterated (durative)
Activity/Process. This interpretation is pragmatically driven by the incompatibility of the
adverbial and the verb constellation.
Completive adverbials of the ‘in-X-time’ type only have a temporal location interpretation:
John kicked the ball in 5 minutes
He coughed in five minutes
The sentence above can be interpreted as : five minutes after something-or -other occurred, the
event [kick the ball] occurred. If we look carefully, this interpretation also characterizes durative
activities and achievements:
He walked in five minutes
The bomb exploded in five minutes
In all the sentences above the adverbials have an ingressive interpretation, that is they indicate an
interval at the end of which the event occurs.
Manner adverbial likes slowly, quickly in the context of semelfactives do not refer to the
progression of the semelfactive event as such but rather to the state preliminary to the event, as in
the examples below:
John slowly knocked on the door
John quickly coughed
The interpretation of these sentences is something like: John was slow to knock at the door and
John was quick to cough.
Since semelfactives are characterized by the feature [+dynamic] they may co-ccur with agentive
adverbials like deliberately, carefully, intentionally, imperatives and as complements to ‘stop’,
‘force’ and ‘persuade’.
4.0 Viewpoint/Grammatical Aspect
4.1.The temporal properties of situation types become semantically visible in sentences the
moment viewpoint aspect contributes information.
The aspectual viewpoint of a sentence functions as an independent lens on the situation
talked about. (Smith 1991:171). Viewpoint aspect makes visible all or part of a situation, without
obscuring the conceptual/semantic properties of the situation type.
In English, viewpoint is indicated by the presence or absence of grammatical markers.
The perfective viewpoint is phonetically zero, contrasting with the auxiliary + bound morpheme
expression ‘-ing’ (the present participle form of the main verb) which conveys, in English, the
progressive aspect. The progressive aspect in English corresponds to the imperfective viewpoint.
(i) Mary talked
(Perfective viewpoint)
(ii) Mary was talking (when I entered) (Imperfective viewpoint)
As already mentioned, syntactically, information about viewpoint and situation type coexist in
the sentence, since viewpoint aspect is conveyed by grammatical morphemes while situation type
by a constellation of lexical morphemes.
Viewpoint is coloured by situation type but does not obscure it, i.e. the situation type is
visible to the receiver irrespective of its viewpoint. Consider the examples below:
(i) Mary wrote the letter
(ii) Mary was writing the letter
The receiver of the sentence in (78i ) knows that the situation [Mary write the letter] is an
accomplishment telic predicate and consequently has a natural endpoint. The final and initial
points are visible with the perfective viewpoint.
The receiver of (78ii) also knows that the predicate qualifies as an accomplishment but he
also knows that the final point is not presented in the sentence, because of the information given
by the imperfective viewpoint. The imperfective makes visible only some internal stages of
Mary’s writing the letter (we do not know when Mary began writing the letter or whether she
finished writing it; what we know is that at least the moment I entered the room she was in the
process of writing the letter). The part focussed by a viewpoint is visible to semantic
interpretation and pragmatic interpretation.
4.2. The main semantic difference between aspectual viewpoints (perfective, imperfective.) is
how much of the situation they make visible: Perfective viewpoints include both endpoints of a
situation while the imperfective viewpoint focusses on stages that are neither initial or final,
excluding endpoints.
In the two-component theory put forth by Smith (1991) aspectual information is represented by a
composite of the situation type schema and the viewpoint temporal schema; the composite
schema for 70 (i, ii) above is given below:
The slashes indicate the part of the situation schema that is focused by the viewpoint. The
perfective includes endpoints, the imperfective excludes both. From the point of view of the
information structure of the sentence, perfective viewpoints are closed , while imperfectives are
open, i.e. imperfectives are open to additional information and inference while perfectives are
The perfective viewpoint presents in its entirety the temporal schema associated with
each situation type, that is to say the perfective viewpoint in English interacts with situation type
and its span depends on the endpoint properties of situation types. Compare:
(i) activity: Pluto chased a car (*and is still chasing it)
(ii) semelfactive: The young boy kicked the ball (*and is still kicking it)
(iii) accomplishment: Susan wrote the report (*and is still writing it)
(iv) achievement: The plane landed
(*and is still landing)
(v) state: Sam owned several apple orchards (and he still owns them)
Sam owned several apple orchards ( but he no longer owns them)
In the examples in (80i-iv) the situations are presented as closed. There are nevertheless
slight differences that distinguish among the endpoint properties .
The first two sentences (80i,ii) present terminated events, since the situations described
qualify as atelic, while the next two sentences (80iii,iv) present intrinsically completed situations
since the sentences describe telic situation types. The ‘stop’ and ‘finish’ tests distinguish between
the two types of endpoints as we have already seen. Atelic predicates felicitously occur with
‘stop’ (stop chasing the car; stop kicking the ball) while durative telic events felicitously occur
with ‘finish’ (finish writing the report).
In contrast, stative sentences (80 v) with a perfective viewpoint – the only viewpoint
neutrally available to such sentences- are flexible in interpretation. Since stative situation types do
not conceptualize endpoints in their temporal pattern, statives in English are compatible with both
a closed and an open interpretation, depending on context.
In the open reading the state continues into the present as such, sentences naturally
conjoin with present tense affirmative sentences as the example above indicates. Statives also
allow for a closed interpretation, i.e. the state has ended; this reading can be asserted by
conjoining stative sentences with negative present tense sentences.
With stative situation types the closed interpretation is not semantically required by the
perfective viewpoint and must be due to pragmatic context (i.e. inference). The information
conveyed by a state perfective is precisely that of the temporal schema for states. The schema
does not include endpoints, since endpoints involve change of state. States simply consist of an
undifferentiated period.
The closed interpretation of perfective non-stative predicates accounts for the
successive/sequential interpretation of events in the context of when-clauses:
John ran/went to bed/fell asleep when Mary got home
In sum, the perfective viewpoint with non-stative situation types focuses on the whole
situation9.and makes it visible for semantic interpretation
Imperfective viewpoint
As already mentioned the imperfective viewpoint makes visible only part of the situation, with no
information about its endpoints. Thus, it could be argued that informationally, sentences in the
imperfective form are open, i.e. imperfective viewpoints do not linguistically present closed
situations, although they allow inferences about beginnings and endings. The distinction is
brought about by linguistic context. We illustrate with examples borrowed from Smith
Since the ‘perfective’ is not grammatically marked, Giorgi and Pianesi (1997) argue that the notion ‘perfective’ should be viewed as
a lexical feature that characterizes bare non-stative verbs in English. The lexicon feature ‘perfective’ would, thus, account for the habitual/generic
reading of the simple present with such eventive predicates. Evidence for this assumption comes from the Acc+Inf and Acc+Participle
constructions in English. Compare the examples below:
(i) John saw Mary eat an apple
(ii) John saw Mary eating an apple.
In (i) above it must be the case that the apple is eventually eaten; i.e. the event is bounded, closed, which is the semantic content of
perfectivity. The participle embedded under the perceptual verb ‘see’ (in ii) is incompatible with the perfective (closed) reading; this suggests that
actually the progressive marker is the morpheme –ing. This conclusion is in line with Jespersen’s account of ‘the expanded tense’, namely that the
progressive in English actually derives from ”the phrase he was on hunting , which meant ‘he was in the course of hunting, engaged in hunting,
busy with hunting’; he was, as it were, in the middle of something, some protracted action, denoted by the substantive hunting. Here on became
phonetically a …. and a was eventually dropped….”
(i) John was singing when Mary knocked on the door
(ii)* Herbert was hiding the loot after the phone rang
In both sentences the main clauses are in the progressive. With the when-clause the open
reading is available. With the after-clause, which semantically requires a closed situation, the
sentence is ungrammatical.
In the unmarked case, the imperfective spans an interval that is internal to the situation.
It is reasonable to assume, hence, that the imperfective viewpoint will be felicitous with
situation types that are temporally characterized as having internal stages, namely Processes and
Accomplishments. Since Semelfactives and Achievements do not have internal stages (they are
instantaneous events) the prediction is that the imperfective viewpoint is not felicitous with these
situation types.
As already mentioned, some achievement predicates may occur in the progressive, in a
single event interpretation, but in that case the imperfective focuses on the preliminary stages of
the event. (The plane was landing when the storm started). Recall that the temporal schema for
the achievement situation type may include preliminary stages.
The imperfective viewpoint may also focus on the resultative stages of a situation. The
viewpoint focuses the interval that results after the change of state. (Your socks were lying under
the bed). Such sentences are stative syntactically and semantically, although they are
indistinguishable morphologically from the progressive (Smith 1971:115).
To summarize, the role of Viewpoint Aspect is to focus (pick out) an interval in the
temporal contour of the situation described by a sentence –i.e. a temporal perspective that
focuses all (perfective) or part of the situation (imperfective).
5.The Progressive Aspect in English
5.0 As could be inferred from the above mentioned, English has an obligatory choice of
viewpoints: the perfective and the imperfective. Choice between them is obligatory in all tenses.
The perfective viewpoint is the dominant viewpoint since it is available for the entire
range of situation types. According to the temporal properties associated with each situation type,
the aspectual value of the perfective in English varies with situation type, as we have already
seen: non-statives have a closed interpretation, while states may also have an open interpretation.
The progressive (BE+ Ving) is the main imperfective viewpoint. It is available neutrally
for non-stative situation types. In English, the progressive is also associated with a special
construction, the Futurate.
Basically, the progressive presents eventualities from an internal perspective, focusing
on the internal stages of durative, non-stative predications. Progressives are typically
‘durative’ (we will dwell on this property in due time) and have connotations of temporariness,
dynamism and volition (Comrie (1976), Dahl (1985), Smith (1991).
The progressive has a marked use with stative predications.
Mary was sleeping/running/walking (when I arrived)
Susan was writing a report/eating an apple/drawing a triangle (when I
*Susan was knowing the answer (when I arrived)
I am hating zoology class
English has been under study for a long time, and its viewpoint system has been under
scrutiny for decades: traditional grammarians such as Jespersen (1931), Kruisinga (1925),
Poutsma (1928), Curme (1935); structuralists like Joos (1964) or Twaddell (1965) have come up
with essential insights and useful comments.
Logicians and philosophers of language like Ryle (1947), Vendler (1967), Dowty (1977),
Vlach (1980), Bennet and Partee (1972/1978) Montague (1968) to mention just a few, focus on
the semantics of both situation aspect and viewpoint aspect.
The aim of the present subchapter is to focus on the semantic contribution of the
progressive, offering a theory able to capture the truth conditions of the Progressive. We will also
attempt to offer a formal syntactic account of the Progressive in English. The next step will be to
discuss the contribution of the progressive to the interpretation of the five identified situation
types, as well as the conventions of use.
5.1. In the literature on ‘Aspect’ there have been a wide range of theories striving to pinpoint the
core ‘meaning’ of the progressive in English in such a way as to be able to account for all the
‘shades’ of meaning highlighted by grammarians. Binnick (1991) offers a comprehensive
overview of the more or less traditional approaches to the basic meaning of the progressive in
Starting in the late ‘60’s there has been a number of studies on the semantics (i.e.
meaning) of the English progressive aspect that explicitly relate it to the classification of verbal
predicates and sentences into eventuality/situation types. These studies have contributed to our
understanding of the progressive aspect and its interaction with predicates of different situation
types. Actually, an adequate description of viewpoint/grammatical aspect must account for such
systematic interactions.
The main problem, addressed by all these approaches, refer to the way in which the
meaning of the progressive (viewed as a kind of logical operator) is related to the meaning of the
corresponding simple sentence. The matter is complicated by the fact that a progressive sentence
does not seem to have a uniform characterization, since its semantic properties vary according to
the eventuality/situation type of the simple sentence, as we have tried to suggest in the preceding
subchapters. As we have seen, a Process sentence in the progressive (84i) entails the situation
asserted by the corresponding simple sentence (84ii):
(i) Max is dancing/swimming/sleeping/playing the violin
(ii) Max danced/swum/played the violin.
By contrast this inference relation does not hold for progressive sentences based on
Accomplishment predicates and their non-progressive counterparts. We cannot infer (85ii) from
(85i) provided (85i) has a single interpretation (i.e. refers to one particular manifestation of the
situation denoted by the predicate):
(i) Susan is crossing the street/building a house/playing a Mozart sonata
does not entail
(ii) Susan crossed the street/built the house/played the Mozart sonata
The intuition behind (85i), as already mentioned, is that the process of crossing/
building/playing is under way, it is not over. The sentences in (85ii) can be felicitously uttered in
a situation in which Susan is sort of halfway across the street, halfway in building the house, etc.
The sentences, though, do not say whether she reaches the other way of the street, finishes the
house or the sonata or not. That is to say, the utterance of the sentence in (85i) does not commit
the speaker to any particular outcome; the actual reaching of the other side of the street is only a
possible outcome of the event denoted by (85i). The interpretation of accomplishments in the
progressive form is what Dowty (1979) labels the ‘imperfective paradox’ and Bach (1981) ‘the
partitive puzzle’
Dowty (1979) observes that a definition of the progressive should capture the intuition
behind the progressive aspect as a ‘time frame’, which intuition can be found in Jespersen
(1933:263): “the chief use of the expanded tenses [progressive aspect] is to serve as a frame
round something else, which may or may not be expressly indicated. This is easily understood if
we start from the old phrase he was on hunting , which meant ‘he was in the course of hunting,
engaged in hunting, busy with hunting’; he was, as it were, in the middle of something, some
protracted action, denoted by the substantive hunting. Here on became phonetically a …. and a
was eventually dropped, exactly as in other phrases: burst out on laughing, a-laughing, laughing/
fall on thinking, a-thinking, thinking; set the clock on going, a-going, going, etc. If we say he was
(on) hunting, we mean that the hunting (which may be completed now) had begun, but was not
completed at the time mentioned or implied in the sentence; this element of relative incompletion
is very important if we want to understand the expanded tenses, even if it is not equally manifest
in all cases. The action or state denoted by the expanded tense is thought of as a temporal frame
encompassing something else which as often as not is to be understood from the whole
Jespersen’s definition includes another important intuition, namely that the ‘protracted
action’ denoted by the progressive sentence had begun before the time stated or implied in the
sentence. This intuition has materialized in the definition first stated by Bennet &Partee
(1972/1978) according to which :
‘the progressive sentence is true at an interval I just in case there is an interval of time I’ that
properly includes I. ’.
The third element in Jespersen’s definition that has given linguists a hard time is the
‘element of relative incompletion.’ Partly, this is what Dowty (1979) labels the ‘imperfective
paradox’ and Bach (1981) ‘the partitive puzzle’
In order to account for the imperfective paradox that characterizes accomplishment
predicates in the progressive, as well as examples like the ones in (86) below, where we can not
assume that the situation denoted by the progressive extends beyond the time mentioned in the
sentence, Dowty (1972), in his approach to the semantics of the progressive aspect, adopts the
notion of ‘possible futures/course of events’ (Thomason (1970), Tedeschi (1981) which requires
that time be branching rather than linear, that is to say that at any given moment there is not one,
but an infinite number of ‘possible futures/outcomes’. The interpretation that a certain situation
goes beyond the time given in the sentence is pragmatic in nature having largely to do with our
general knowledge of the world associated with the inherent temporal properties of the
(i) John was watching TV when he fell asleep
(ii) John was watching TV when Mary entered the room
(iii) John was building a cabin when I first heard of him
The example in (86ii) allows the interpretation that John’s watching TV extended at least
a few moments beyond the time when Mary entered the room. On the other hand, John may just
as well have decided to stop watching TV when Mary entered. As for the example in (86i) there
is no possible interpretation according to which John ‘s watching TV extended beyond the time
of his falling asleep. In this case it is the temporal properties of [fall asleep] that restricts the
interval to that moment. As for the sentence in (86iii) the sentence invites an interpretation that a
possible outcome of John’s activity is the existence of the respective cabin, but other possible
outcomes are allowed by this sentence: he may have run out of wood, he may have stopped
halfway because of the rainy season etc. These possible outcomes are in no way related with the
meaning/sense of the progressive, but only with the encyclopedic knowledge of the world
associated with the conceptual properties of eventualities.
5.1.The meaning of the progressive aspect
5.1.1. As already mentioned the progressive presents the internal stages of a situation without
offering information about its endpoints. As Comrie observes the progressive makes ‘ explicit
reference to the internal temporal structure of a situation from within’. The temporal schema
proposed by Smith (1991) is in (82) below:
I …… //////////…… F
[+ stage]
The above given temporal schema of the progressive can be stated in the form of truth
conditions. Below is, in an informal way, Dowty ‘s (1979) definition of the progressive,
including accomplishment predicates, which runs as follows:
The PROG  is true at an interval I iff there is an interval I’ including I [and I is
not a final subinterval for I’ (i.e.extending into some ‘possible futures’ of I)] at
which  is true.
 stands for the simple non-progressive form of the sentence, while PROG is viewed as an
operator on the non-progressive sentence denoting a basic non-stative situation type. This
definition will properly account for the sentences in (85,86) above. The interval I stands for the
notion’ time frame’ introduced by Jespersen in his definition of the progressive.
Roughly, the first part of the above given definition states that at interval I (a bounded
interval) the progressive sentence is true on condition that the nonfinite component of the
sentence [John watch TV/ Ken build the house] is true at I’. This means that in order for a
situation to be unfolding at interval I the situation must have started before I (i.e. at I’).
The second part of the statement, within square brackets, roughly corresponds to
Jespersen’s notion of ‘relative incompletion’ and accounts for the inferences of accomplishment
predicates (mostly): i.e. the event denoted by the progressive may ‘culminate’ (one of the
‘possible futures’) or the events may ‘stop’. Nevertheless, as already mentioned this has nothing
to do with the meaning of the progressive, but only with our general knowledge of the world
associated with the eventuality type.
To better understand the meaning of the progressive we will also mention the definition
given by Parsons (1990) namely that a progressive sentence requires for its truth that the situation
‘hold’ for a time. According to Parsons the progressive only asserts about the existence of
incomplete events, and, hence, about the existence of incomplete objects (like cabins that are
partly built).
5.1.2. Another important property of the progressive (noted by Jespersen) is that the ‘action or
state’ denoted by the expanded tense (i.e. the progressive) is thought of as a temporal frame
encompassing something else which as often as not is to be understood from the whole situation’.
Jespersen’s ‘something else’ is usually signalled by other events or temporal adverbials:
Susan was making coffee [when John arrived home]
[at five o’clock]
It is an acknowledged fact that sentences in the progressive often seem informationally
incomplete in isolation, although they are not ungrammatical.
According to Smith (1991) the sense of incompleteness that arises with imperfectives is
due to the partial information that they give. In fact, native speakers sometimes reject them when
they are presented out of context.
The ‘something else’ mentioned by Jespersen in his definition of the progressive has the
function (together with the tense morpheme on the verb or auxiliary) to anchor the situation
described in the main clause, allowing the receiver a more complete temporal understanding. The
two expressions in square brackets in (89) serve as temporal anchors (anchoring events) for the
main clause predicate event and they are necessarily compatible with the tense form on the
Along the same lines, Binnick (1991: 287) argues that from a semantic point of view we
can also say that the adverbial phrase is the frame, as it establishes a framed time for the asserted
moment (i.e. interval) of Susan’s being engaged in making coffee.
Kearns (1991) differentiates between the time denoted by the adverbial, which she calls
‘framed time’, and the time of the main clause which is called the ‘framing interval’.
From a pragmatic point of view the main clause ‘Susan was making coffee’ establishes the
interval against which the event of ‘John arrive home’ is set. As such the main clause establishes
the background against which the foreground information is asserted.
5.2.Towards a formal account of progressive sentences
5.2.1 It has long been argued that ‘tense’ and ‘aspect’ are related both formally and notionally,
belonging to one and the same system; besides, the conceptual properties of a situation are
visible if the situation is placed/anchored in time. Moreover, tenses may have a specific
viewpoint value.
The general assumption is that ‘tense’ and ‘aspect’ cannot be treated separately because
they both deal with the temporal structure of situations, their functions being
Tense places the situation in Time relative to other events/times (i.e. it expresses order
relations) looking at the situation from the ‘outside’, while Aspect looks at the situation from the
‘inside’, presenting the internal structure of the situation. The three important notions here are:
Situation, Tense and Aspect.
The Situation is represented by a constellation of lexical morphemes, i.e. the VP, which
includes the verb and its arguments (subject and objects), while Tense and Aspect are represented
by grammatical morphemes, i.e. Tense is associated with the tense markers, and Aspect (in
English) with the progressive marker (be) -ing . The semantic interpretation of a sentence will
therefore require that we should take into account the information provided by the two
grammatical/functional categories Aspect and Tense.
5.2.2. Ever since Reichenbach’s Tense System Theory (1947), it has been assumed that the
temporal /aspectual interpretation of sentences can be properly accounted for by assuming three
entities as basic: Utterance Time, (or Speech Time=S), Assertion Time (or Reference Time=R)
and Situation Time (or Event Time=E)10.
In Reichenbach’s theory the temporal interpretation of the sentence was seen as an
ordering of S,R, and E, which are currently assumed to represent time intervals. The ordering
relations can be those of simultaneity (at relations) and sequence (after/before relations). 11 Later
approaches (Comrie, 1985, Horstein, 1990) claimed that there are actually two distinct relations:
Tense relates S and R and Aspect relates R and E.12
Adopting current approaches ((Zagona, 1990, Klein (1995), Stowell, 1996, Demirdache
and Uribe-Extebarria, 2000, 2002, 2004) we define Utterance Time (UT-T) as the time at which
the event of uttering the sentence takes place (i.e now).
It may function as an ‘anchoring’ event for another event or time interval defined , for the
time being, as Assertion Time (AS-T). The Assertion Time is explicitly given by the finite
component of an utterance, i.e. by the tense morpheme on the verb or auxiliary, and represents, in
its turn, the ‘anchoring’ time for the interval when the situation denoted by the predicate occurs.
(called Situation Time or Event Time). Locating adverbials like yesterday, on Sunday etc. may
also specify Assertion Time. The relations of simultaneity / sequence between Ut-T and As-T
instantiate the tense of the sentence (to be illustrated below).
The role of the functional category Aspect, is to spell out the relations of simultaneity or
sequence between AS-T and the other temporal entity present in a sentence: namely, Situation
Time (Sit-T) or Event Time (Ev-T). Situation Time (Sit-T) or Event Time (Ev-T) is the time
interval at which the situation ‘occurs’ or ‘holds’. It is related to whatever is expressed by the
nonfinite component of the utterance (the ‘lexical (semantic) content’ of the utterance).13
To conclude, Tense is defined as a relation between Ut-T and As-T, while Aspect relates
As-T to Ev-T. If Tense locates a situation in time, the role of grammatical Aspect is to focus an
interval in the temporal contour of the event. The time focused by Aspect is the As-T – that is,
“the time for which the speaker makes a statement”, an assertion (Klein, 1995). Only the time
interval focused by Aspect is visible to semantic interpretation
Since Tense and Aspect relate two times/time intervals, there is an obvious parallelism
between them. The semantic parallelism between Aspect (perfective, progressive perfect...) and
Tense (present, past, future ) is that both establish topological relations between two time
S,R,E are Reichenbach’s terms. The terms we adopt are Utterance Time (Ut-T), Assertion Time (=As-T) and Situation Time (=Sit-T)
Hornstein (1982) points out that intuitively S, R, E are time points (or intervals) on the time line, and the tenses are considered as ways of
temporally representing events vis-à-vis the moment of speech.
Zagona (1990) and Stowell(1993) propose to capture the idea that Tense relates two times syntactically by viewing Tense as a predicate that
establishes a temporal ordering relation between its two time-denoting arguments. In particular, Tense is viewed as a head projecting a maximal
projection TP that takes Ut-T and Sit-T as its external and internal arguments, respectively. The simplified phrase structure looks like:
Within a finite utterance the predicate is morphologically complex in the sense that it consists of a constellation of lexical morphemes (that is
assigned to a situation type) and which constitutes the non-finite component of the utterance and an inflectional/grammatical morpheme that
actually accounts for the finite nature of the entire predication and hence of the sentence. ‘Lexical contents’ do not occupy a place on the time
axis, but they can be linked to time (i.e. located in time) in a finite utterance by tense and aspect, which correspond to the finite part of the
intervals: relations of precedence (BEFORE) , subsequence (AFTER) and inclusion (WITHIN). It
is therefore mandatory that we treat Tense and Aspect together since all root clauses instantiate
both categories and one cannot function without the other.
The semantic parallel thus established between Tense and Aspect is captured
syntactically by proposing a uniform phrase structure for temporal relations
From a syntactic point of view, the breaking down of Tense into its semantic components
(Ut-T and As-T) captures the idea that Tense relates these two times. Tense is a head (T0) that
projects a maximal projection (TP) taking two time-denoting arguments: its external argument is
typically Ut-T while its internal argument is As-T. Tense orders these temporal arguments in
terms of central coincidence with the meaning of (WITH)IN (present tense), or in terms of noncentral coincidence with the meaning of AFTER (past tense) and BEFORE (future tense).
Likewise, Aspect is treated as a head (Asp0) that projects a maximal projection (AspP)
taking two time-denoting arguments: its external argument is the AS-T and its internal argument
is the time denoted by the VP (EV-T ). Aspect orders these temporal arguments in terms of
central coincidence with the meaning of (WITH)IN (progressive aspect) or in terms of noncentral coincidence with the meaning of AFTER (perfect aspect) and BEFORE (prospective
The phrase structure representation of the temporal and aspectual relations is illustrated
within/after/before As-T
within/after/before Ev-T
Let’s consider the following examples:
Sheila left town yesterday
Ut-T = now
As-T= past (explicitly given by the tense morpheme and the matching adverb)
Sit-T = viewed as occurring within the interval given by As-T
Temporal Interpretation: Ut-T after AsT (past)
Sit-T within As- T
The simple past tense sentrence in (91) above contains morphologically marked tense but
it does not contain morphologically marked aspect. To derive the grammar of temporal relations
in systems without morphological aspect, we hypothesize, following Demirdache and UribeExtebarria (2002, 2004), that the external temporal argument of Asp0, (As-T), coincides with its
internal argument (Ev-T) (technically, the external temporal argument (As-T) binds and is thus
co-indexed with its internal argument (Ev-T).
Sheila will leave town tomorrow
As-T=future (will + future time adverb)
Sit-T= viewed as occurring within the interval given by As-T
Ut-T before AsT
Sit-T = As-T
From an aspectual point of view, in both sentences, the situation is viewed as closed, as
completed , as including both its initial and final endpoints. Recall that this is the unmarked
viewpoint in English.
As we can notice, with simple tense forms in root clauses the Situation time is non-distinct
from the Assertion Time regarding their relative order to Utterance Time, in the sense that Sit-T
is included in As-T . One other way of putting it would be to say that in root clauses the value of
As-T is Ut-T . What this means is that we may take Ut-T to function as the temporal anchor for
Thus the standard assumption is that Past orders Sit-T BEFORE Ut-T, while the Future
orders the Sit-T AFTER Ut-T. Another possible solution is the one suggested by Demirdache &
Uribe-Etxebarria (2002), namely that As-T and Sit-T are coindexed. This coindexation can be
represented as Ass-T/Sit-T.
As far as the Present is concerned the assumption is that the Present orders the Ut-T
WITHIN the Sit-T. (or Ass-T/Sit-T) This is a natural assumption since in the unmarked case
non-stative sentences acquire a state interpretation (habitual/generic) while basic states are
conceptualized as boundless.
As far as the progressive form is concerned, we have argued that it encodes the
imperfective aspect. Following Smith (1991) we assume that only the time interval within the
time of the situation focused by Aspect is visible to semantic interpretation, i.e. only what is
visible is asserted. We have seen that ‘Aspect’ can be defined as the relation between Ass-T and
Sit-T , in particular, this relation can be one of ordering (e.g. As-T can be ordered AFTER or
BEFORE Sit-T) or inclusion (As-T is ordered WITHIN Sit-T).
Adopting current approaches (Klein, 1992, Demirdache& Uribe-Etxebarria (2000), we
shall assume that the time interval which, on a given occasion, the progressive aspect puts into
focus is Ass-T, which must be a subpart/ a subinterval of the Sit-T, i.e. must be properly
contained within the Sit-T.14 The way we interpret this suggestion, adopting current
approaches, (Smith, 1991, Klein (1995), Demirdache & Uribe-Etxebarria (2000), Julien, 2001) is
that Ass-T directs the focus toward the processual part of Sit-T. This focus is contrastive,
implying that there might be other times, preceding and/or following Ass-T, in which the
situation does not ‘hold’. Since the Ass-T does not include the endpoints of the situation, no
assertion is made about whether an eventuality culminated, giving the open interpretation at the
level of the information structure of the sentence. The semantic function of Ass-T is therefore to
set ‘boundaries’ within which the situation is made ‘visible’. Consider the following examples:
(i) Sheila is walking
(a) Ut-T within As-T (present)
With Klein, (1992) the finite component of a verb combines two components: the temporal component and a claim
(‘assertion’ in the analysis of Demirdache& Uribe-Etxebarria (2000). The function of the time component is to
constrain the claim (assertion) being made by some utterance to some time (As-T) that includes Ut-T, precedes Ut-T
or follows Ut-T .
(b) As-T within Sit-T
(ii) Sheila was building a house (when I met her)
(a) Ut-T after As-T
(b) As-T within Sit-T
In both sentences, the interval made visible for semantic interpretation is the time asserted i.e.
referred to by the Ass-T. The Ass-T refers to a subpart/subinterval of the Sit-T that does not
include the initial and final endpoints of the situation , hence no assertion is made whether the
situation of building the house culminated –even though the sentence is in the past. This formal
account nicely accomodates the meaning of the progressive as stated in the form of the temporal
schema (Smith 1991) and truth condition in (83) above. Moreover, it accounts for the intuition
noted by Jespersen that ‘the action or state denoted by the expanded tense is thought of as a
temporal frame encompassing something else’.
5.2.2. Recent approaches such as that of Giorgi and Pianesi (1997) suggest that the progressive –
ing is an operator which involves an ‘intensionally closed event’ where ‘closed event’ denotes a
process with its ‘boundaries’ and it is therefore that the progressive requires that the eventuality it
operates on have a processual part. (i.e. have stages/ internal parts). This treatment of the
progressive presupposes that the progressive must be incompatible with predicates that are not
processual (i.e. do not have internal stages/parts), that is with stative predicates and instantaneous
situation types Achievements and semelfactives). As we have seen, situations conceptualized as
stative are seen as devoid of dynamics, i.e. as not involving ‘change’ or ‘stages’, which means
that its boundaries are ‘ignored’, so that the situation is conceptualized as holding indefinitely.
However, the progressive morpheme –ing in itself is not incompatible with stative
predicates, as the example below indicates (example borrowed from Julien, 2001:145):
Knowing that she was on the right track, Sue crossed the narrow river.
Being more than 2 meters tall, John can easily touch the ceiling
*Sue was knowing that she was on the right track
According to Julien (2001), the ungrammaticality of the example in (94iii) above is
assumed to stem from the combination of the auxiliary ‘be’ with a state predicate in the
progressive, obtaining what Julien (2001) calls a ‘complex (tense) construction’.
It is also to be noted that the ‘intensional closure’ reading only appears in the ‘complex
(tense) construction’, hence, it must be a consequence of the progressive being combined with the
auxiliary. The tense marking on the auxiliary specifies the temporal relation between the time of
speech (=Ut.T), which is always ‘now’, and Assertion Time which in this case is ‘past’. In the
absolute clauses in (94i,ii) above, the individual level predicates retain their aspectual properties
(i.e. state). The entire expression though, does not involve Assertion Time which may give rise to
a bounded (limited) reading of the verb in the progressive.
Given the temporal structure of state predications, the use of the complex progressive
construction with a state predicate is not felicitous unless ‘boundaries ‘ can be ascribed to the
state predicate. This can be achieved either by construing the predicate as a stage-level property
(temporary/bounded/limited state) or by assigning internal dynamics:
John is being crazy
She is missing her boyfriend
I am really loving/liking this party
The manager is weighing more and more
In (95a) the interpretation is that John deliberately acts crazy, in other words the event must
presuppose a processual part. Parsons (1990) suggests that copular ‘be’ sentences in the
progressive actually mean that ‘be’ means ‘act’ so that the interpretation may be that of an
activity. The (b) sentence is interpreted as describing a temporary state. In the next sentence (95c)
the performance is assumed to be still ongoing, the limit being set by the expression ‘this party’
while in (95d) the state involves ‘change’ so that in its aspectual properties it is more like an
activity. What all these sentences have in common is the presence of Assertion Time (specified
on the auxiliary) which directs the focus on the processual part of the event, obtaining the
closure effect. The temporal-aspectual representation of the sentence in (95a) is as follows:
Ut-T within As-T (present)
As-T within Sit-T (imperfective)
Predicates denoting single stage situations/eventualities such as ‘lucky achievements’ and
‘semelfactives’ (e.g. recognize, find, forget, notice, blink, flash, nod, kick, hit, slam, knock, etc)
are not conceptualized as having internal processual parts (stages), being trivially indivisible
(with the exception of predicates that presuppose a ‘prelude’). Such predicates are odd in the
progressive in a single occurrence interpretation, unless we think of some unusual context such as
a slow motion picture in which the beginning and end do not fall into one single moment but are
separated by an interval of time. When these predicates occur in the progressive they generally
acquire a process interpretation of the multiple-event type. (ATENTIE: EXEMPLE).
(97) The child was jumping up and down when he entered the room/The light was
flashing/ John was blinking
5. Situation Types and the Progressive Aspect
5.1 As already mentioned, discussion of the Progressive Aspect in English is incomplete unless
we take into consideration the analysis of situation types, since viewpoint aspect and situation
aspect contribute to the aspectual interpretation of sentences. In what follows we shall give a
complete presentation of the effect that the progressive aspect has on the situation types.
A. Process Predications
Processes have been described as being made up internally of stages that are characterized as
indefinite changes, i.e. homogeneous, (they are characterized as being subdivisible and additive),
and having an arbitrary endpoint (i.e. they are atelic):
I ……………Farb
Process stages are homogeneous, i.e subdivisible, such that ‘any part of the process is of
the same nature/kind’. Moreover, process predications are non-stative, dynamic predications,
hence the progressive viewpoint, with processes, is chosen whenever one particulat instantiation
(occurrence/manifestation) of the eventuality is in progress at a given reference time.
Having defined the progressive as temporally framing another event (or time interval)
(i.e. Ass-T within Sit-T), we implicitly take the progressive as making reference to a specific
time. The internal time picked out by the progressive is always anchored contextually, i.e. the
time of the progressive is always definite (Kearns 1991:183).
Consider the following examples, where the As-T is underlined. In all the cases ‘Ass-T
within Sit-T’ and the time interval denoted by Ass-T matches the tense form on the auxiliary:
(the examples are borrowed from I. Stefanescu, 1988):
It was raining heavily when she arrived home/ She is looking at the sea now, don’t
disturb her./We are travelling now for amusement and instruction./Right now, our
children are skating at the edge of the wood/I looked at the nest I had been carrying./This
time last year I was traveling through Europe.
In all the examples above the process is in progress, the progressive referring to a
situation which functions as a ’frame’ (or background) for another situation or time interval, in
the sense that the progressive situation extends beyond the boundaries of the latter: i.e. ‘As-T
within Sit-T’
A word of caution is in order here: temporal clauses are useful because they present
situations in temporal relations to other situations, and such relations depend on whether the
situations are presented as open or closed. (Smith, 1991:102). When- clauses are flexible,
allowing several interpretations. When (unlike after-clauses) imposes no particular relation on
situations. It may occur with main clauses presenting both open and closed situations:
(100) (a) He was making some tea when they arrived
(b) He made some tea when they arrived
In (100a) the situation presented is viewed as overlapping . The only reading of (100a) is that ‘his
making tea’ was already in progress at the time of the event of their arriving, i.e. the ‘tea-making’
began before they arrived. In this example Ass-T is within Sit-T.
In (100b) the two situations are taken as successive, the event of the when- clause being
taken as preceding the event in the main clause, i.e. he began to make tea after they arrived. The
situation described in main clause is viewed as closed/perfective and is taken as an inceptive for
pragmatic reasons: making tea is a durative event that is likely to take much longer than the event
of arriving. The temporal-aspectual representation of the sentence in (100 a,b) are as follows:
(100’) (a) He was making some tea when they arrived
(b) Ut-T after As-T (past)
As-T within Sit-T (imperfective)
(c) He made some tea when they arrived
(d) Ut-T after Ass-T (past)
Ass-T before Sit-T
The sentence in (100’a) describes a process. The Progressive Aspect has the meaning ‘within’
and orders the Ass-T within Sit-T. It thus picks out a time contained ‘within’ the interval defined
by Sit-T.
The meaning of Past Tense (in conjunction with the adverbial phrase) is ‘after’, that is, it
orders the Ut-T after the Ass-T. Hence, (100’a) focuses a subinterval WITHIN the interval
defined by the event [make coffee]. This subinterval is itself located in the past since Ut-T is
ordered AFTER this subinterval i.e. Ut-T AFTER Ass-T.
Progressive sentences do not have the framing effect if the time interval denoted by the
durational adverbial is not felt to be shorter than the full progressive situation (Declerck). This is
the case in the following examples:
a)All through dinner they were talking of nothing else but the match Charleston
b) I was knitting for two hours this morning (Charleston 1955:275)
c) They were watching a football match on Saturday afternoon
d) The children were having their music lesson and the baby was crying next door
e)The band was playing, the flags were fluttering and the crowd was cheering as
the players ran onto the field.
f) Mary was sleeping when I was working (Declerck)
g)They were watching television while we were working
h)While the old lady was laughing heartily….Sarah was perturbedly picking up
the broken pieces of a tea cup.
The sentences above express no more than that the main clause in the progressive is simultaneous
with the event in the subordinate/coordinate clause (or with the time interval stated by the
durational adverb) at some time or another.
What all these sentences assert is that there was/is some time interval in the past/present during
which both situations were/are holding for a definite/limited time. As Leech (1971:18) puts it’
…we know nothing about the relation between their starting points or finishing points… (in such
sentences) a temporary occupation is related to a period’. Actually it is assumed that durational
adverbs bring in a notion of boundedness (De Swart (1998).
It should be noticed that the underlined expressions do not actually establish Assertion
Time. Assertion Time is normally recoverable from the linguistic or non- linguistic context
since the progressive necessarily implies the existence of a reference to a point in time In the
sentences above it is the tense form itself which gives us the minimal information that whatever
the time span occupied on the time line by the situation (Sit-T), it lies before the time of
utterance (Ut-T). In these cases therefore, Ass-T is given by the tense form on the auxiliary,
which is Past, and hence it is anterior to Ut-T.
As for the examples in (92 e-g), the conclusion we can draw is that whenever process
situations are viewed as unfolding simultaneously over a (limited) period of time the progressive
is used. The most widely used conjunctions are ’ while’,’ as’ and ‘and’.
It is interesting to mention here that durational adverbs like for x-time, all morning, etc.
are not very common with the past/present progressive, being a survival from an earlier stage of
the language. Nevertheless, as Mittwoch (1988) points out we can find the progressive with
vague or hyperbolic durationals as in (93)
You were talking on the phone for hours
They were working on that project for ages
Leech (1971) describes the examples in (93) as actually presenting a persistent activity,
there being an element of colloquial hyperbole or exaggeration, their tone being, more often than
not, one of amusement or irritation.(Quirk 1972).
The sentences above are similar to those in (94) below where the durative persistent
activity is underlined by adverbs like continually, constantly, forever, always. If these sentences
were to occur in the simple present tense form they would have a habitual interpretation and
qualify as state predications. (i.e.the sentences would ascribe a permanent property to an
individual level individual). The difference between these sentences and those in the simple
present tense form is accountable in pragmatic terms.
(103) My father was forever getting into trouble with the law
He is always complaining about money
She is always breaking things
My car is always breaking down
They are always inquiring for news
We argued in previous chapters that non-stative predicates (process predicates included)
in the simple present acquire a habitual interpretation, i.e. the sentences describe a characteristic
property of the individual denoted by the subject NP.. In such cases we say that the entire
predicate has acquired an individual level interpretation. If the progressive sentence describes one
single occurrence of a process predication we say that we ascribe a property that characterizes a
stage-level individual i.e. a temporary, temporally bound stage of an individual. Consider the
examples below
(104) He is a night watchman and sleeps mornings/ He is sleeping now
They always talk at meals/ They are talking pretty freely
The engine smokes/ The engine is smoking
Habitual statements actually express a generalization over a number of particular episodes
expressed by the progressive counterpart. As already mentioned they denote a disposition or
potential to manifest a certain behavior that counts as evidence for the generalizations they
express (Filip, 199:120)
If an interval adverbial (e.g. these days, this week) occurs with the simple present tense
the sentences are more appropriately interpreted with a futurate reading also conveying
the idea of ‘a planned’ action (they have a kind of ‘from now on’ reading) and they are not
interpreted as straightforward habituals (Kearns 1991):
(105) Mary works at Bellcore this week
An interesting problem we want to address at this point is the problem of the present progressive
habituals exemplified in (106) below (notice that non-durative dynamic predicates may occur in
the progressive form under this reading). They look similar to the examples in (103) above with
the exception of the presence of indefinite adverbs:
I am taking dancing lessons this winter
Mary is working at Bellcore this year
In those days we were getting up at 7 o’clock
The trains are arriving late practically every day/*sometimes this winter
All these cases have a stage level interpretation as they are true of spatio-temporally
bound stages of the individuals in subject position. As can be noticed from the examples above,
the time range of present progressive habituals is fixed by an interval adverbial. Leech (1971)
also mentions the fact that the iterative element of meaning may be made clear by a frequency
adverbial (but not by adverbs of indefinite frequency such as ‘sometimes, always’).
The sentences express limited duration and hence temporariness just like any progressive
sentence. Kearns (1991) suggests that the temporary duration of the present/past progressive
habituals arises by contrast with the simple present/past tense habituals, since they are used for
intervals which are briefer than and contained within the interval set by the simple present/past
Semelfactives have been defined as atelic and non-durative. This means they are single-stage
atelic eventualities. Because of their temporal characteristics semelfactives are incompatible
with the progressive viewpoint in the single instance interpretation of the respective
situation/eventuality. Sentences with a semelfactive verb constellation in the progressive are
always interpreted as multiple-event activities Activities of this type represent a derived situation
(107) Someone is knocking at the door/His teeth are chattering/On the boardwalk’s
flagpole the American flag is pulsing in an intermittent wind from the sea/I was
coughing all night long/ The child was jumping up and down when he entered the
room/The light was flashing/ John was blinking
In all the examples above the sense is that of an iterated, i.e. repeated process over the interval
interpretation attached to the progressive aspect, that is to say that iteratives refer ‘to a series of
individual situations of the same type repeated on a single time interval of the same occasion. In
the progressive aspect we have a process re-categorized as durative by iteration’.
If we compare the sentences in (98) to the ones in (97) above representing present
progressive habituals , we notice that in the latter case we also have a series of situations but
these occur on multiple occasions over an interval set by the temporal adverbial.
Event Predications
Event predications are characterized as telic eventualities; they involve a product, upshot or
outcome i.e. they involve a definite change of state . With Accomplishment predications the
change of state is prepared by some activity/process, the change being the completion of the
process: e.g. build a bridge, walk to school, repair a car, drink a glass of wine, Accomplishments
being conceptualized as ‘durative’ events. The interval considered includes the process and the
change of state it brings about. Therefore accomplishments are complex events i.e they have
other events as their components. An accomplishment is a causal structure of type [e1 causes e2)
where e1 is the causing activity while e2 is the resulting change of state.
Achievements, on the other hand, focus on the change of state, back-grounding or simply
leaving out the causing activity/process and the causing factor.: e.g. My father died. My father
died (from his wounds) (in the end). Achievements are truly changes of state, they are
‘becomings’, they are all ‘culmination’ and are conceptualized as ‘instantaneous’ events. These
two distinct types behave differently under the progressive aspect.
The ‘imperfective paradox’ characterizes all durative event predications, i.e. in the
progressive forms, accomplishments re-categorize as processes unfolding at a given reference
time, the reaching of the ‘goal being suspended’; whether the goal is reached at a time after the
Ass-T is only one of the ‘possible outcomes’.:
(108) (i) Lush spoke carelessly, but he was driving me into a corner
(ii) The river was cutting a new channel to the sea, but the men with the sandbags
stopped it from doing so.
(iii) Maybe, she is making a Spanish omlette.
(iv) They are still eating their dinner
(v) What are you doing? I’m writing a letter
(vi) Within a stone’s throw of my house they are building another house
All the sentences above contain accomplishment predications which undergo a change of
aspectual class due to the progressive aspect: they recategorize as process predications that are in
progress at a stated reference time, that is As-T within Sit-T.
Achievement predications, just like semelfactives, denote eventualities that take place at
single moments of time, they have no proper internal parts (phases), being trivially indivisible,
and hence the progressive cannot be applied to them. There are nevertheless predicates classified
as achievements that quite naturally occur in the progressive. We should distinguish here two
subtypes, exemplified below:
The plane was landing when the storm started
John was dying when the doctors operated on him and saved his life
Mary was winning the race when she stumbled and fell
‘Your victim is fainting’, said the chaplain sternly
He prepared himself to watch the play which was just commencing
He was falling asleep when he heard a noise in the garden
We are constantly receiving letters of appreciation
New guests were continually arriving/ *John is arriving
He’s been discovering fleas on his dog all morning/*John is discovering a
John is discovering all the clues.
The first set of examples (i.e. 109) describe one single/particular occurrence of the event
denoted by the predicate and the progressive focuses on the preliminary stages of the actual
change of state that characterizes achievement predicates, rather than on the internal stages. The
preliminary stages represent attempts, gradual preparations etc. (Kearns 1991). Moreover, this
process must be a kind of an immediate ‘prelude’ to a certain ‘outcome’. There is no suggestion
at all that the ‘achievement’ actually takes place. Freed (1979) and Kearns (1991) characterize
achievements in the progressive as ‘derived processes’.
Susan Rothstein (2004:543) suggests that achievements in the progressive make some
use of the accomplishment structure, displaying the ‘imperfective paradox’. This is visible in all
the examples in (109) above. All the examples induce the imperfective paradox. An interesting
example offered by Rothstein is with the verb ‘arrive’ which is widely assumed to be unable to
occur in the progressive in the single occurrence interpretation:
Mary was arriving at the station when she heard that there was some crisis
at the office so she turned round and went back to work. She never got to
the station.
However, as Rothstein herself argues (2004:543), progressive achievements are not
simply achievements extended into accomplishment readings. Achievement progressives behave
differently from the progressives of the lexical accomplishments. Here are some of her
(i) whenever progressive achievements have a futurate reading and an adverbial
expression like in x time modifies it, the adverbial gives information about when the telic point of
the completed action will occur, relative to the Assertion Time (see 103i);
(ii) when in x time modifies a futurate progressive accomplishment, it may be interpreted
as giving information about when the accomplishment itself will be going on (i.e. it has an
ingressive meaning) or how long the whole accomplishment will last, but not about when the
telic point of the accomplishment is located relative to the Assertion Time (see 112ii). This can
be seen in the examples below (Rothstein’s (4)):
(112) (i)
The train is arriving in Tel Aviv in three minutes
John is reaching the top the Eiffel Tower in ten minutes
We are eating dinner in half an hour
I am writing a book in six months.
The set of examples in (110) above exemplify the second subtype of achievement
predicates. All the predicates underlying these sentences are known as ‘lucky achievement’
predicates; they do not require any preparatory activity and always resist use in the progressive .
When such predicates occur in the progressive, the progressive in these sentences only
picks out a proper subset of a series of iterated events. Achievement verbs- in- series, as these
predicates are known, actually qualify as processes (of the multiple-event type) due to the
presence of cumulative subjects or objects; hence the progressive takes in its scope a process
predication rather than an achievement.
Worth mentioning here is the case of momentary predicates like forget, realize, discover
(Dowty 1979:180) with agentive animate subjects, which may occur in the progressive under the
right circumstances, as in the examples below, borrowed from Dowty (1979:180):
(113) (i)
John is forgetting everything he has learned
John is gradually realizing that you are right
The above predicates should be treated as individual level predicates, according to Dowty, .
According to Dowty (1979:180) we can assume that we have a coercion of a momentary
predicate into an interval predicate.
The last group of achievement predicates we would like to mention are the so called
‘degree-achievements’ (Dowty, 1979) represented by verbs like melt, widen, cool, age, sink, rise,
fall, etc. Semantically and syntactically these predicates express changes of state just like other
achievements (cool means ‘come to be cool’; sink means ‘come to be not afloat, etc) but they
also allow durational adverbs (Dowty 1979:88):
(114) The soup cooled for/in ten minutes
The ship sank for/in an hour (before going under completely)
John aged forty years during that experience
These sentences refer to situations of gradual change; they do not require that a particular
degree be reached. What this means is that these predicates do not conceptualise a final state. In a
way they are similar to consumption and creation predicates (eat, drink, build, etc). These
predicates usually take a resultative construction that would actually specify the final state.
These predicates belong to a larger group of degree words called ‘vague predicates’ by
philosophers of language. The group also includes adjectives (specifically those that form the
comparative). These predicates are characterized by the fact that they can only be defined in
relation to some agreed upon standard of comparison or some particular context of use. Degree
predicates can indicate a certain increase or decrease of a property.
Abusch (1987 apud Smith, 1991) presents a semantic analysis of ‘degree’ predicates in
which a change takes place at each stage, but there is no natural endpoint. Each stage is closer to
an absolute value (high or low) for the predicate. According to Smith (1991) such predicates
qualify as processes . We may just as well consider such predicates as accomplishments
assuming that the nominal phrase undergoes definite changes and the event is not strictly
homogeneous because the stages differ. Such predicates are highly compatible with the
progressive in which case they qualify as processes in progress at a given reference point.
They are widening the road
The tobacco leaves are drying in the sun
State predications
As mentioned several times so far, the progressive applies only to non-stative eventuality
types, so this means that stative predicates which are characterized as being [+state] are
incompatible with the progressive.
As we have seen states are described as having an abstract quality and a-temporal
interpretation. At the level of ontology the subject noun-phrases of state predicates are described
as individual-level (objects/kinds). A sentence like the one in (102) below describes a property of
John independent of whether at a given moment of time (and place) John does not prove to be
intelligent or kind:
John is intelligent/kind/a hero
It has been argued that state predications, in general, do not have the property of ‘agency’.
Of the three types of basic stative predications that we identified in (…) above, individual level
states are non-agentive: one doesn’t, under normal circumstances, choose to be tall, being tall is
not something one ‘does’ hence these predicates do not stand the non-stativity tests.
Stage level states and interval statives with [-animate] subjects do not pass the tests for
agentivity either: ‘do’ test, agent oriented adverbs, complements to persuade/stop, etc. There are
nevertheless some cases of stage-level states (denoting mostly temporary properties) that may
acquire a ‘volitional’ reading and interval states with human subjects are interpreted as agentive:
I persuaded Bill to be polite/ What Bill did was sit in the armchair. We can assume then that such
predicates will be compatible with the progressive. Filip calls this class of predicates ‘dynamic
There is nevertheless another side of the problem. There are cases of individual level
states that do occur in the progressive, (they are actually quite common in English) constituting
what Smith (1991) calls ‘a marked aspectual choice’, since they have a certain colour and
emphasis that conventional statives lack, as many scholars have noticed. Kruisinga (1911)
describes these progressive statives as ‘descriptive’, Poutsma characterizes them as ‘vivid’ while
Marchand (1955) mentions their ‘immediate quality’.
In what follows we shall discuss the type of re-categorization undergone by
different sub-classes of state predicates when they are used in the progressive aspectual form.
A. Stage-level states
(i). Personal Property-designating adjectives and nouns
As we have hinted at several times so far, a distinction should be made between inherent
properties and temporary properties. The inherent properties are always predicated of individual
level subjects (be tall, be intelligent, be blond, be erudite, be widespread, be green, etc). These
predicates are never compatible with the progressive. Kearns (1991) argues that ‘be’ is
characterized here as a ‘copula be’. ‘Copula be’ only occurs with individual level predicates.
Temporary states, or dynamic statives, as they have been called, are expressed by
predicate adjectives and nouns that may have a stative and an active reading and may apply to a
stage (concrete manifestation) of the individual denoted by the subject noun phrase. In the simple
tense form these predicates denote more or less characteristic properties predicated of an object
level individual (i.e. in a way, they re-categorize as object-level predicates).15, All the predicates
available for this must be under the control of an agent:
a) Thomas is a hero (characteristic property of individual Thomas)16
b) Thomas is being a hero (stage-level property, valid only over the
interval stated by the sentence)
a) Mary is a naughty child
b) Mary is being naughty
a )Harry is an awkward boy
b) Harry is being awkward
All the sentences in (a) describe a more or less permanent property ascribed to an individual, a
property that one believes an individual to have because of one’s total experience with the
It is to be stressed here that not all basically stage level predicates expressed by predicate adjectives allow the
progressive.: ‘be hungry/tired’ definitely attributes a temporary property to the noun phrase subject but are not
compatible with the progressive form. (Leech, 1971)
16Smith (1991:251) argues that sentences with these personal property predicates may be ambiguous in the
perfective viewpoint between an active and a stative reading. This is proof that we DO have to distinguish between
basic individual level predicates and basic stage level predicates. We examplify this statement by quoting the
examples given by Smith (1991:251). As can be easily noticed the example in (1a) might refer to heroic behavior
on his part (active reading) or to his character (stative reading). The adverbial in (1b) disambiguates between the two
(a)Bill was a hero
(b)Bill was a hero that day: he rescued a drowning child from the river
individual, even though the individual is not evidencing the property at the moment.
In all the (b) sentences the interpretation is that the subject deliberately/ intentionally(?)
acts in the way denoted by the predicate adjective or noun, in other words the event must be
viewed as containing some processual stage/phase. (Julien, 2002).
Parsons (1990) suggests that copular ‘be’ sentences in the progressive actually suggest
that ‘be’ means ‘act’ so that the interpretation may be that of an activity. ‘Activity’ in this sense
need not be taken literally: John’s being polite may consist in his sitting perfectly still. Kearns
(1991) also assumes that ‘be’ with basic stage level predicates is an agentive ‘be’ (see also Partee
1977 who defines ‘be as an ‘active be’), and it is this fact that allows the use of the progressive
with these predicates. Dowty17 (1979) assumes that what distinguishes sentences like the pairs
above is the presence of an abstract ‘do’; this verb which appears with all non-statives, accounts
for the agentive reading. Moreover, according to Smith (1991), these sentences also suggest that
the behaviour is temporary, a property that typically characterizes the progressive. Thus the
eventualities described can only endure as long as the subject is activily engaged in doing
whatever behaviour is involved. Following Smith (1991:251) we assume that the two different
constellations belong to two distinct situation types, i.e the progressive sentence denotes an
Below are some more examples of property-denoting predications in the progressive
borrowed from different sources (e.g. Stefanescu, 1988, Jespersen !969, Leech, 1971):
(118) -Somebody is being recklessly extravagant in the matter of advertisments
-He is being sorry/afraid/happy
-I don’t think she is being clever in accepting that proposal of his
-There was jolly nearly being a revolution afterwards
-You are not being fair to Mildred. That is why she is being so clumsy in her
manipulation of pins and things.
-John is being a hero in accepting that proposal
-My car is being difficult these days.
-You are being odd tonight.
-You fancy you are being clever.
(ii). Verb Constellations of Position an Location
Locative and Position verb phrases are a sub-class of state predications that have been
characterized as ‘interval statives’ since their truth condition requires an interval larger than a
moment. These predicates including head verbs like: lie, perch, rest, remain, stand, sit, rest,
sprawl, live etc. have been described as stage level predicates . They may occur with agentive and
non-agentive subjects, hence depending on the context they may occur in Activity,
Accomplishment/Achievement and Stative sentences, as the examples below show:
a) Mary sat down (suddenly) on the chair (Accomplishment/
a’ Mary was sitting down when I came in
b) We carefully hung the picture on the wall (Accomplishment)
b’ We were hanging the picture when the earthquake started
17 Dowty (1979:118) suggests that the progressive sentences entail that ‘some property under his (i.e. the subject’s)
control qualifies him (i.e. the subject) as …something or other that he could avoid doing as soon as he really chose
to. It is this which distinguishes these examples from ungrammatical cases like *John is being six feet tall and stative
sentences like John is a fool.
c) Mary stood in the doorway (Activity)
c’ Mary was standing in the doorway when the phone rang
d) The statue stood in the corner (State)
As accomplishments and activities/processes they focus on the position or location by an
agent, hence the maintaining of the position requires will or dynamism. Whenever these verb
constellations occur in the progressive they simply focus on a process in progress at a given
reference time.
The matter is more complicated in the case of non-agentive subjects. As already
mentioned these predicates may ocuur in progressive sentences under certain conditions, that is to
say these predicates just like personal property predicates may have a dynamic and a stative
reading being characterized by scholars as pertaining to the class of ‘dynamic’ statives18.
A word of caution is in order here: the term ‘agentive’ is a misnomer,as progressive
sentences with non-agentive subjects will never be characterized by dynamism or control, since
the simplest non-stative test (the ‘DO’ test ) fails with these sentences, nor do they show any
apparent movement or change of state (definite or indefinite) as the sentences below indicate
(examples borrowed from Smith, 1991, Dowty 1979):
(120) The magazine lies /is lying on the table (*and the pitcher does so/is doing so too)
The rug covers/is covering the floor
The socks lie/are lying under the bed
One corner of the piano rests/is resting on the bottom step
The sentences above should be compared to the ones in (121) below:
(121) New Orleans lies/*is lying at the mouth of the Mississippi River
That argument rests/*is resting on an invalid assumption
John’s house sits/*is sitting at the top of the hill
Dowty (1979: 175)) argues that the conclusion to be drawn from all these examples is that this
kind of progressive is subject to certain semantic restrictions, namely the progressive is
acceptable just to the degree that the non-animate subject denotes a moveable object, or to be
more specific, ‘an object that has recently moved, might be expected to move in the near future,
or might possibly have moved in a slightly different position’.
All these observations can be subsumed under the general conclusion that the progressive
of locative and position verb phrases describe a temporary state that would be ascribed to a stage
level- individual i.e. to a temporally and spatially bounded manifestation of an individual.
The perfective forms of these predicates with normally stationary objects like cities
represent a conversion of a stage level predicate ( which is found in John/the book is lying on the
couch) into an individual level predicate, describing permanent states (i.e. ascribing a permanent
property to an object level individual, as in the case of personal property predicates ( and
‘habituals ‘ in general), i.e. as a ‘generalization ‘ over a ‘suitable number’ of concrete
‘manifestations’ of the event denoted by the predicate. A ‘suitable number’ depends on
Actually it could be assumed (Dowty 1979:176) that the ‘primary’ use of these predicates is the one with animate
subjects since these verbs denote positions of the human (and animal) body, the progressive being triggered by
‘intentionality’. The use of these verbs with inanimate subjects is in some way a metaphorical derivative of its
primary use, the progressive being an ‘accidental’ carryover from the basic use. Actually what this means is that
basically these ‘interval statives’ are basic stage-level predicates.
pragmatic knowledge. This explanation would account for the use of the progressive in the
present tense (though not in the past or future) with these predicates when they describe a state of
the world at the current interval.
Dowty (1979:175) also mentions that the acceptability of the progressives of these
verbs may also depend on context. Compare :
(122) a)???Two trees were standing in the field
b) After the fire only two forests were still standing
In a narrative context, progressives of these verbs can also be employed to describe
stationary objects that momentarily come into the observer’s view. The assumption is that the
position of the moving observer is taking as a “fixed’ orientation point of the narrative, the
locations of the objects being ‘temporary’ in relation to the moving point of orientation (Dowty,
1979:175) .
(123) When you enter the gate to the park there will be a statue standing on your right,
and a small point will be lying directly in front of you.
Motion verbs like flow, run and enter can also be used as locatives (i.e. not entailing
literal motion) that would also be excluded from the use in the progressive when they describe a
relatively permanent state/property :
(124) a)The river flows through the center of the town (fact of geography)
b) (?) The river was flowing through the center of the village (a flood in progress)
Smith (1991:225) convincingly argues that the viewpoint of progressives with inanimate
subjects is imperfective resultative. In these sentences the viewpoint focuses an interval that
follows the change of state. Lexically the predicates denote the events which bring about the
resultant state. Sentences with this viewpoint are semantically stative. Given the possibility of an
internal or external focus in English, a sentence like ‘John was sitting in the chair’ (see also
example in (119 a’ above) is , according to Smith ambiguous between a dynamic or stative
reading: (i) it may describe Mary in the process of assuming a seated position, or (ii) she is
already seated.
B. Individual-level states19 are represented by predicates that are members of the
following subclasses:
- property designating: e,g, be tall, be widespread, be extinct, be green, be a mammal
- emotive predicates, e.g. like, love, hate, despise, loathe, desire, want, long, miss
-verbs of inert perception, e,g, see, feel, hear, smell, taste, sound, look, etc
-verbs of possession e.g. have, own, possess, belong to
-verbs of inert cognition, e.g. believe, hope, imagine, know, suppose, understand,trust etc
-other verbs:, cost, equal, weigh, contain, depend on, deserve, matter, resemble, include,
comprise, seem, appear, etc.
Jespersen called this subclass of state predicates ‘psychological states’
All the predicates above apply to object/kind level individuals. and the property described need
not manifest itself at the reference time of the sentence, as the sentences below indicate:
He is a head taller than me.
Irma is intelligent
I despise bad intentions
I can see the tiniest spots/The perfume smells sweet
The box contains books
I believe she is innocent
As already mentioned, it has long been acknowledged that sentences with stative
constellations of the individual-level type in the progressive aspect represent a marked aspectual
choice. The Progressive with such verb constellations have an emotional colour that is lacking in
neutral presentations of states (Smith, 1991), Leech, 1976, etc).
Given the temporal structure of state predications, the use of the complex progressive
construction with a state predicate is not felicitous unless ‘boundaries ‘ can be ascribed to the
state predicate. As we have seen above, this can be achieved in two ways: (i) by construing the
predicate as a stage-level property (temporary /bounded / limited state) or (ii) by assigning
internal dynamics.. Consider the examples below (Smith 1991:20; Leech 1976:24):
(126) (i)
The river is smelling particularly bad today
I’m liking this play a great deal
The cake has been looking done for the last five minutes
Peter is believing in ghosts these days
I’m supposing, for the purposes of this argument, that your intentions are
I am seeing things a bit more clearly now.
(vii) She was thinking that she wanted to go home.
(viii) Surely, you are imagining things.
The manager is weighing more and more.
He is resembling his father more and more as the years go by.
The income of one’s parents is mattering less in education these days
Good food is costing more since devaluation.
(xiii) These examples are gradually seeming less and less unacceptable to me.
In the examples in (126 i-vii) above the predicate describes processes predicated of a
temporally limited stage of an individual that are true at a given, temporally limited reference
interval. The intervals are, more often than not, explicitly stated (e.g. today, these days, this play,
As far as the examples in in (126 viii-xii) are concerned we think that they are instances
of situations that must be viewed as displaying some internal dynamics, i.e. (gradual) change
along a continuum (similar in a way to the degree predicates widen, cool, mentioned above). The
obligatory presence of adverbials like ‘more and more’, for example, support this assumption.
According to Smith (1990:84) shifts of this type refer to events, not states, the sentences being
elliptical for coming to resemble/weigh/cost/etc.
A few remarks are in order here. Some verbs of physical perception come in pairs. Feel,
taste, smell can be used to indicate ‘inert perception’, as well as ‘active perception’. In the second
case, they belong to the activity class and so may freely take the progressive (Leech 1976:23). It
is to be noticed that from a syntactic point of view, the predicates display distinct behaviour: in
the ‘inert perception’ reading they are syntactically intransitive, while in the ‘active perception’
reading they fall within the class of transitive verbs (Leech 1976:23):
I (can) smell the perfume
I smell/am smelling the perfume.
I (can) feel the ground
I feel/am feeling the ground with my foot.
I (can) taste salt in my porridge
I taste/am tasting the porridge to see if it
contains enough salt.
As far as the verbs see and hear are concerned, they have the separate verbs look at and
listen to that are available for the active reading. The progressive is possible especially when the
focus is on the quality of the sense organs or the channel ( She is not hearing very well these
days; I’m hearing you loud and clear) or when the sensation is understood to be hallucinatory (I
must be seeing things; She is hearing voices) (R. Huddleston & G. Pullum, 2002:170).
With state predicates like want, hope, wonder the progressive is felt as being a more
tentative and hence more polite way of expressing a mental attitude and is preferred in colloquial
speech. The notion of ‘possible incompleteness’ and ‘temporariness’ that may characterize
progressive sentences is extended in the context of sentences with these verbs to ‘lack of
commitment’ (Leech, 1976:24). Leech makes the following remarks on the examples in (128)
(128) (i)
I hope you’ll give us some advice vs. I’m hoping you’ll give us some advice.
What do you want vs. What are you wanting
We wonder if you have any suggestions vs. We’re wondering if you have any
The simple tense form leaves the addressee ‘little room for polite refusal; the progressive
form implies that the speaker has not finally committed himself: he is ready to change his mind
about his feelings should the listener’s reaction be discouraging’. (Leech 1976:24). 20 The
progressive fulfills in the examples above a similar function to that of the Past Tense, as in: I
wondered whether you could give me some advice or Did you want to see me now?. The two
forms can be combined in a Past Progressive construction with doubly self-deprecatory
connotations: I was hoping you’d look after the children for us/ I was wondering whether you’d
give us some advice.
We end this sub-chapter by quoting Leech (1976) again, ‘..unavoidably, there are some
exceptions to the rule which have not been dealt with here. Some instances that one may hear in
colloquial English today seem difficult to fit into any system of rules and classes. It is to be
accepted that this area of usage which is unstable at the present time, and is probably undergoing
continuing change.
The Perfect in English
The Simple Present Tense form (most direct) may be used politely only when the listener is invited to do
something which is to his own advantage: I hope you’ll come and have dinner with us when you’re in London next
(Leech 1976:25)
The aim of this subchapter is to introduce and discuss important matters concerning the
characteristics of perfect sentences in English. Perfect constructions have a characteristic set of
temporal location and aspectual values, and appear in many languages. Traditionally, the term
referred to a tense of ancient Greek21. Nowadays it is used for constructions that have a certain
temporal and aspectual meaning, whether or not they involve tense. (Smith 1991:146).
In English the perfect is signalled by the auxiliary have, which obligatorily selects the
past participle form of the main verb. Perfect sentences appear with Present, Past and Future
reference time and with both an indefinite and progressive viewpoints. One of the roles of have
is to carry the tense morpheme (present, past). The examples below illustrate Present, Past and
Future Perfects:
Now John has arrived
Last Saturday John had (already) arrived.
Next Saturday John will have already arrived.
Marian has/had been reading Knowledge of Language
In all these cases the adverbials in conjunction with the tense morphemes (Present, Past,
Future) specify AS-T , and the sentences describe a situation, namely [John arrive] as occurring
at a time (EV-T) that is different from the specified Reference time (i.e. AS-T).
So, one of the hallmarks of the Perfect is that it picks out a time (i.e. EV-T) different from
the interval defined by the AS-T. It is assumed that the perfect encodes the temporal relations
between AS-T and EV-T.
Since the perfect encodes the temporal relations between AS-T and EV-T placing the
former after the latter, we assume with Demirdache & Uribe-Etxebarria (2004) that the perfect
can be analyzed as a marker of aspect represented as the spatio-temporal predicate AFTER. The
aspectual meaning of the perfect is thus closely related to its temporal meaning. Under this
analysis the Perfect Aspect acts like a Past Tense: both past and perfect are spatiotemporal
predicates with the meaning of AFTER. The Phrase structure of the Perfect is given below
In point of terminology there is a clear difference between the ‘perfect’ and ‘perfective’. The former refers to a
construction with particular temporal and aspectual characteristics, while the latter refers to a closed grammatical
viewpoint. Both come from the Latin word ‘perfectus’ the past participle of ‘perficere’ (to carry, end, finish,
accomplish). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term ‘perfect’ was first applied to the Latin tense
which denoted a completed action or event viewed in relation to the present and then with qualifications to any tense
expressing completed action; the first such use cited in OED is 1530. (Smith 1991:164). In English the aspectual
relations identified as PERFECTIVE and PERFECT are encoded as follows: PERFECTIVE is encoded by the
simple form, while the perfect encodes the PERFECT.
This representation perfectly accomodates the presence of perfect constructions in contexts
where the inflectional past tense cannot occur:
(i) Sheila may have left last week
(ii) Susan’s having left early surprised everyone
Let’s analyse each of the sentences in (62) above. In (62i) the adverb in combination with
the present tense morpheme -s specify the AS-T : AS-T overlaps the time of utterance (i.e. UT-T
WITHIN AS-T ) and the event as such is located within the interval prior to AS-T (i.e AS-T
AFTER EV-T), hence the situation is viewed as completed and within an interval that extends
back from the moment of speech –the ‘extended now’ interval (McCoard 1984).
…[………]……[….. …]….>
The reference times of the next two examples (62ii, iii) are similarly extended in some
way to include the time of John’s arrival. Both sentences have unspecified Past and Future
reference times (i.e. UT-T precedes or follows AS-T); they also convey that the event precedes
the reference time ( i.e. AS-T AFTER EV-T ).
To conclude, the situation described in a perfect sentence is viewed as completed in relation to a
reference time ( our AS-T) which itself can be located in the present, past or future.
The example in (62iv) instantiates the perfect of the progressive. The phrase structure for
this sentence is given in (66) below
Asp0 2
Asp’1 (progressive)
The lowest head, Asp01 is the spatiotemporal predicate WITHIN; it orders the external
argument (AS-T1) within the EV-T, focusing thus a subinterval of the event denoted by the
predicate. Moving up the tree, the next head (Asp2) is a spatiotemporal predicate with the
meaning AFTER. It orders its external argument (AS-T2) AFTER its internal argument AS-T1 .
Thus Asp2 picks out a time interval AFTER the interval defined by AS-T1 i.e. AS-T2 denotes a
time interval AFTER a subinterval of the event time , that means after AS-T1. Hence AS-T2 can
denote a time that falls before its culmination (67a), after the culmination of the event (67b) or
contains its culmination.:
(134) a)
Once we add tense AS-T2 will itself get located with respect to utterance time Tense orders its
external argument UT-T AFTER or WITHIN its internal argument AS-T2. Note that UT-T is
ordered relative to AS-T but unordered relative to the final bound of the event, hence it can fall
either before the culmination of the event or after the culmination of the event. The fact that AST2 is unordered relative to the final bound of the event explains why no assertion is made in a
perfect progressive sentence about whether or not the event described culminated before UT-T.
In the present perfect progressive sentence, the schema in (67a) the event is not culminated at
UT-T i.e. she is still reading at UT-T. In schema (67b) Rosa finished her reading before UT-T
Hence : ‘Marian has been reading Knowledge of Language’ may be interpreted as :she is still
reading it/she only finished it a week ago,.
The contribution of the perfect to the meaning of the sentence is that it makes available an
AS-T distinct from the EV-T. The situation described by the VP occurs prior to AS-T (due to the
auxiliary have) while the tense morpheme , shows that AS-T is concomitant/before /after the
time of Utterance i.e.UT within/after/before AS-T , AS-T AFTER EV-T. In this case the time
sphere is present/past/future;in all the cases the claim is made about a time span that does
not include the event at stake i.e the aspect component says that AS-T is in the posttime of EVT (i.e. AS-T AFTER EV-T) .
Perfect sentences have a stative value They present a state of affairs (a situation) that
results from and is due to the prior situation, as illustrated by the present perfect examples below.
It is assumed (Giorgi &Pianesi 1998:97) that this is the contribution of the perfect morphology.
Anabelle has gone to Paris
They have built a cabin in the mountains
Helen has danced with Tom (twice)
The ball has rolled down the hill
Susan has been sick
In all these sentences the focus is on the (consequent ) state that obtains in the present, a state
which is due to the occurrence of the situation described by the VP.
Present Perfect sentences in English ascribe to their subjects a property that results from
their participation in the situation (Smith 1991:148). Let’s consider the examples in 64(i,iii)
above. The sentences assert that their subjects have participated in the events described. We
understand not only that an event of going to Paris has taken place or that an event of dancing has
occurred, the sentences attribute to their respective subjects the property (experience) of having
gone to London and the property (experience) of having danced, that is to say in order for the
subjects to receive the participant property , to experience the events described they must be
sentient beings (roughly, they must be alive at reference time). It is assumed that this pragmatic
felicity requirement on the use of the perfect accounts for the oddity of a sentence like the
Einstein has lived in Princeton
The sentence is grammatical but pragmatically infelicitous when uttered after the death of
Einstein (Jespersen 1931:60). This failure is accounted for in terms of the participant property.
The felicity requirement is that the person referred to by the subject NP must be able to bear the
property ascribed to them by a perfect sentence. The notion of Current Relevance is sometimes
invoked to explain the infelicity of such sentences (Jespersen 1931, McCoard 1978).
According to Giorgi and Pianesi (!998:95): ‘only perfect tenses, which separate the
reference time (i.e. AS-T) from the event time (i.e EV-T) permit assertions about the involvement
of the subject to be separated from those of the event itself….. With the simple tenses R (i.e. AST) coincides with (or contains ) the time of the event, so that the participation of the subject in
the event is viewed together with the event itself’.
To conclude this short introduction, we will assume with C. Smith (1991:146) that Perfect
constructions generally convey the following related meanings:
a) the situation described precedes Reference time (i.e. As-T after EV-T) (i.e. perfect
tenses make available a reference time distinct from the event time) ;
(b) the construction has a resultant stative value; in Giorgi and Pianesi’s (1998) terms,
‘the perfect tenses provide individual level predicates’.
(c) a special property is ascribed to the subject, which holds at a given reference time by
virtue of the participation in the situation.
There are some differences across languages (e.g. French, Romanian, German vs
English) but these are the primary identifying characteristics.
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