Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 2

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Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 2

Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 1

Having clarified the difference between habituality and iterativity, we may now turn to the definition of habituality itself. The feature that is com­mon to habituality is that its means describe a situation which is character­istic of an extended period of time, so extended that the situation referred to is viewed not as an incidental property of the moment but, precisely, as a characteristic feature of a whole period. If the individual situation is one that can be protracted indefinitely in time, then there is no need for iterativity to be involved (as in the temple of Aphrodite used to stand in Pathos), though equally it is not excluded (as in John used to read for two hours each day). If the situation is one that cannot be protracted, then the only reasonable interpretation will involve iterativity (as in Mary used to write emotional letters to her mother).

English has a separate Habitual Aspect form, though only in past tense, e.g. John used to work here; there is also a separate Progressive, e.g. John was working (when I entered); otherwise there is just the Simple form, with no further distinction of aspect. Indeed, given the optionality of the Habitual Aspect in English, a sentence like John worked here may have habitual meaning. While discussing the English Habitual Past (e.g. She used to go jogging), it should be noted that a further element of the meaning of the form is that the situation described no longer holds, i.e. that, in the example given, she no longer goes jogging.

Since any situation that can be protracted sufficiently in time, or that can be iterated a sufficient number of times over a long enough period – and this means, in effect, almost any situation – can be expressed as habitual, it follows that habituality is in principle combinable with various other se­mantic aspectual values, namely those appropriate to the kind of situation that is prolonged or iterated. Thus, it is possible to come across forms that give overt expression both to habituality and to some other aspectual value. For example, Habitual Aspect (expressed with the help of the used to-construction) can combine freely with Progressive Aspect, to give such forms as used to be playing. Since progressiveness has not yet been dealt with in detail we may restrict ourselves for the moment to the following type of contrast between Progressive and non-Progressive, taking initially sentenc­es in the future tense, where there is no special habitual form: (a) when I see Mary, she will talk about dieting; (b) when I see Mary, she will be talking about dieting. In the (a) sentence, with the non-Progressive verb form will talk in the main clause, the implication is that Mary’s talking will occur after my arrival, whereas in the (b) sentence the implication is that her talking will have started before my arrival, and will continue for at least part of the time that I am there. In this case, then, the Progressive indicates a situation (Mary’s talking about dieting) that frames another situation (my arrival), while the non-Progressive excludes this interpretation. If we now put these same sentences into Habitual Aspect, then precisely the same difference be­tween Progressive and non-Progressive remains: (a) when I saw Mary, she used to talk about dieting, indicating that on each occasion I went to Mary’s, and only then did the discussion about dieting started, versus (b) when I saw Mary, she used to be talking about dieting, which implies that on each occa­sion when I saw Mary, she was already engaged in talking about dieting.

The English Progressive has an unusually wide range. In general, the Progressive in English falls under the heading of the analytical form, as in I am writing, with the construction “copula verb + Present Participle”. In English, the distinction between progressive and nonprogressive meaning by means of progressive and nonprogressive forms is obligatory, so that Progressive and non-Progressive are not in general interchangeable, nor can any one of these in general be replaced by the other.

Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 3
Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 4