curs complet morfologie limba engleza

INTRODUCTION – INFLECTIONAL MORPHOLOGY The present course will deal with the traditional parts of speech, in particular with the grammatical categories/inflectional categories traditionally associated with the major parts of speech such as tense, aspect, mood, for the verb (number, gender, case, determination for nouns, pronouns etc, comparison for adjectives and adverbs). Language as an object of study has been approached from different perspectives: traditional (descriptive; meant to observe and enumerate aspects of language); structuralist (descriptive; an attempt to reflect the systematic character of language); generative (language is a body of rules by means of which all the sentences can be obtained). The structure of language can be analyzed in terms of levels of representation. For any utterance there are: - a phonological level – strings of phonemes - a morphological level – morphemes and words - a syntactic level – phrases and sentences - a semantic level – semantic concepts: events, objects, states, processes

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Curs de morfologie limba engleza anul I semestrul II




The present course will deal with the traditional parts of speech, in particular with the grammatical categories/inflectional categories traditionally associated with the major parts of speech such as tense, aspect, mood, for the verb (number, gender, case, determination for nouns, pronouns etc, comparison for adjectives and adverbs).

Language as an object of study has been approached from different perspectives: traditional (descriptive; meant to observe and enumerate aspects of language); structuralist (descriptive; an attempt to reflect the systematic character of language); generative (language is a body of rules by means of which all the sentences can be obtained).

The structure of language can be analyzed in terms of levels of representation. For any utterance there are:

a phonological level strings of phonemes

a morphological level morphemes and words

a syntactic level phrases and sentences

a semantic level semantic concepts: events, objects, states, processes

Morphology is a term based on the Greek words morphe (=form/structure) and logie (=account/study). In fact, the term can apply to any domain of human activity that studies the structure or form of something. In linguistics, morphology is the sub-discipline that accounts for the internal structure of words.

There are two types of complexity of word-structure: one is due to the presence of inflections and another due to the presences of derivational elements. Both operations add extra elements to what is known as the base.

Derivation refers to word formation processes such as affixation, compounding and conversion. Derivational processes typically induce a change in the lexical category of the item they operate on and even introduce new meanings (-er adds the meaning of agent/instrument).

Inflection encompasses the grammatical categories/markers for number, gender, case, person, tense, aspect, mood and comparison. It is defined as a change in the form of a word to express its relation to other words in the sentence. Inflectional operations do not change the category they operate on (goes or grammars are just variants of one and the same word go and grammar). Actually, they are formal markers that help us delimit the lexical category of a word, i.e. the parts of speech. In this respect, lexical items (words) that are distributionally similar (i.e. have the same distributional properties) form classes. (Traditionalists: parts of speech, structuralists: form/morpheme classes; generativists: lexical categories). All these terms are intended to designate elements from the same pool N, V, A, Adv, P etc. but the different terms are associated with the theoretical frames in which they were used and, hence, with methods of doing lg. research specific for that theoretical framework.

Inflectional affixes have the following characteristics:

They produce closure upon words (can no longer attach a derivational element to them)

Inflected forms are organized in paradigms, i.e. they are in complementary distribution; for instance, nouns occurs in pairs hat hats, book books.

The elements of a paradigm may evince the phenomenon of suppletion one of the forms is not phonologically related to the other: went for go, better for good.

A paradigm can be defective lacks a form: can - *cans, trousers - *trouser.

Inflections are formal markers (semantically they are empty, abstract); they help us delimit the lexical category of the word to which they attach. In other words, each lexical category (major part of speech) is characterized by specific inflectional markers. Case, number, gender, and determination characterize nouns. Tense, aspect, mood, number and person characterize verbs. Person, number and in some cases gender characterize pronouns. Adjectives and adverbs are characterized by comparison. Although all of them lack descriptive content, they pass on the descriptive content of the category they depend on.

Traditional approaches:

The basic unit of analysis was the word. Words operated as signs, i.e. as instruments for the description and understanding of reality. They were classified into parts of speech and set into paradigms of declension and conjugation.

Traditional theories described words in terms of the traditional list of Aristotelian categories. Aristotle assumed that the physical world consisted of things (substances), which had certain properties (called accidents). Transferred to morphology, the substance of a word (its meaning) had to be distinguished from its accidents, i.e. the different forms it assumed in linguistic context. Thus, certain accidental categories were considered to be typical for particular parts of speech: nouns (inflected for case, number, gender; verbs for tense, number, person, mood, aspect). Hence, what are traditionally referred to as grammatical categories correspond to the accidental categories, and this explains the older term accidence for what is also known as inflectional variation.

The Aristotelian opposition matter vs. form also helped grammarians distinguish between major and minor parts of speech. Only major parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs) were meaningful. The other parts of speech (conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, quantifiers, etc.) known as minor parts of speech did not signify anything of themselves but merely contributed to the total meaning of sentences by imposing upon them a certain form or organization.

Thus, in delimiting parts of speech, traditionalist grammars, called notional, employed three criteria: meaning, inflectional variation and syntactic function. Meaning was basic and it was correlated with the other two criteria. The last two criteria are based on formal properties, so they define parts of speech in terms of their distribution. Notional definitions were incorrect in that they were circular a term was explained by resorting to the same term. For instance, the noun was defined as the name of a living being or lifeless thing. But virtue is neither a lifeless being, nor a living being, the only reason for saying that virtue is a thing is that the word that refers to it is a noun.

Structuralist approaches:

It is a formal approach. Language was regarded as a system of relations, the elements of which had no validity independently of the relations of equivalence and contrast that held between them (syntagmatic and paradigmatic relations). It excluded meaning from its analysis and was based only on the distribution of the items analyzed. In structuralism, the lexical items (the traditional major parts of speech) and the grammatical items (typically the minor parts of speech and inflectional affixes) are distinguished in terms of paradigmatic oppositions and fall into two classes: open vs. closed classes of items.

Open classes (nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs) have large numbers of items and new members can be added by coining or borrowing.

Closed classes (conjunctions, prepositions, determiners, pronouns, etc. and inflectional affixes) include terms that have no descriptive content, having a fixed/limited number of items.

Generative approaches:

They are similar to the structuralists approaches in the sense that the lexical/grammatical categories can be defined only through their roles in the rules and principles of grammar.

NB grammatical categories in generative approaches no longer refer to inflectional markers, but to syntactic categories (sentence, noun phrase, verb phrase etc.). Generative grammars operate with two types of categories: lexical and grammatical/syntactic categories. Lexical categories (N, V, A) coincide with the traditional parts of speech and the structuralist open classes, and grammatical categories (NP, VP, AP) correspond to phrases or syntagms specific sequences of words.

Each lexical category has a corresponding syntactic phrase - N NP. In other words, syntactic phrases are projections of lexical categories. Then we translate the syntactic information in N NP into functional information (i.e. the subcategorisation frame [_ NP] which is characteristic of a transitive verb is converted into functional information by stating that direct objects are characteristic of transitive verbs).

According to this theoretical model, it is not lexical categories (N, V, A etc.) that correspond to semantic categories, but major syntactic categories (NP, VP, AP etc.) The syntactic categories are in a relation of correspondence with semantic categories such as events, processes, states, individual objects etc. We shall clarify this later on when we discuss number, aspect etc. As we shall see, events are represented by the syntactic category of verb phrase, e.g. read a novel, paint a picture. Objects will be represented by the syntactic category of noun phrases: the chair, a chair, my chair, this chair etc. In other words, the ontological (semantic) categories are represented by major syntactic phrases, not by lexical categories.

The lexical categories are defined in terms of features to be found in their lexical entries in the lexicon. These features include morpho-syntactic categories, i.e. inflections.

Various parts of speech display certain categorical similarities, which can be represented in terms of shared features.

The most important opposition for the parts of speech system is the opposition between verbal and nominal categories. Parts of speech are analyzed along the dimension [+/- V] or [+/- N]. The [+/- N] categories (A, N) are marked for gender, number and case, while the [+/- V] categories are not characterized by these features. Adjectives and adverbs share the inflectional/functional category of comparison.

Another important opposition is between lexical categories and functional categories. This opposition is in part the same as the structural distinction between open classes (N, V, A etc.) and closed classes (Determiner, Inflection, Complementizer etc) of items. The open classes are defined as classes with descriptive/semantic content (N, V, A) containing indefinitely many items and which allow conscious coining, borrowing etc. On the other hand, functional categories include free morphemes: determiners, quantifiers, pronouns, auxiliary verbs, complementizers etc. and bound morphemes/inflectional affixes: inflections for tense, aspect, agreement/number. Hence the term functional categories covers minor parts of speech and inflectional categories. They form a closed set of items which

never occur alone,

have a unique Complement and cant be separated from it,

lack descriptive semantic content,

act as operators placing the Complement in time, in the world

are heads of lexical categories.

Information expressed by inflection is not always dictated by syntactic structure. There are two types of inflection:

Inherent/morphological inflection (not required by the syntactic context): number with nouns and pronouns, person for pronouns, gender for nouns.

Contextual/syntactic (which follows from syntax): number and person in verbs, case in nouns.

For instance:

They are running in the field now.

He is running home now.

They 3rd information contained in the lexical meaning of they. Hence, inherent.

Are running vs. is running is contextual information provided by the context in which the verb is used and triggered by the presence of an agreement between the subject and the verb.

Gender for nouns is inherent. E.g. queen.

Case for nouns is contextual (triggered by the type of verb double transitive as in ask somebody a question or a verb with dative and accusative as in lend money to someone).


Aspect a notion of time, distinct from tense, which describes the internal temporal structure of events

What Tense and Aspect have in common: both are functional categories delimiting the lexical category Verb, they are related morpho-syntactically (realized by verb inflections and auxiliaries) and semantically (both partake of the notion Time but in distinct ways).

Where Tense and Aspect differ:

Tense represents the chronological order of events in time as perceived by the speaker at the moment of speaking; it locates the time of the event in the sentence relative to NOW

Aspect gives info about the contour of the event as viewed by the speaker at a given moment in time

Traditional grammars: aspect is used for the perfective imperfective opposition, referring to different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation

The perfective provides a holistic view upon the event, looking at the situation from outside

The imperfective is concerned with the internal phases of the situation, it looks at the situation from inside

Current approaches: aspect covers two perspectives. It is still used to refer to the presentation of events through grammaticized viewpoints such as the perfective and the imperfective (viewpoint / grammatical aspect). In addition, the term also refers to the inherent temporal structuring of the situations themselves, internal event structure or Aktionsart (situation/eventuality-type aspect). Situation/eventuality type aspect refers to the classification of verbal expressions into states, activities, achievements, accomplishments and semelfactives (how we conceive of situations or states of affairs).

Both viewpoint aspect and situation type aspect convey info about temporal factors such as the beginning, end and duration of a state of affairs/situation. However, we need to draw a clear line between them as situation types and viewpoint aspect are realized differently in the grammar of language, i.e. they differ in their linguistic expression:

viewpoint aspect (perfective vs imperfective) is signaled by a grammatical morpheme in English (be-ing); it is an overt category

situation type aspect is signaled by a constellation of lexical morphemes. Situation types are distinguished at the level of the verb constellation (i.e. the verb and its arguments (subjects and objects) and the sentence (adverbials)). Situation types lack explicit morphological markers. Situation type aspect exemplifies the notion of a covert category.


She ate an apple.

She was eating an apple.

She walked to the park.

She was walking to the park.

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 viewpoint subsystem. Situation types can be distinguished as covert categories in all languages.

Since Aspect can be assumed to be defined as the interaction of the lexical meaning of the verb, the nature of its arguments (subjects and objects) and grammatical inflection, aspectual meaning holds for sentences rather than for individual verbs or verb phrases. Sentences present aspectual info about situation type and viewpoint. Although they co-occur, the two types of info are independent. Consider:

Mary walked to school. (perfective past tense, goal / natural endpoint)

Mary was walking to school. (imperfective be-ing, goal not reached)

Mary walked in the park. (perfective, no goal; the event was simply terminated)


Aspectual info is given by the linguistic forms of the sentences: situation type is signaled by the verb and its arguments, while viewpoint is signaled by a grammatical morpheme, usually part of the verb or verb phrase. The perfective viewpoint gives info about endpoints (beginning and end) while the imperfective gives info about internal or other stages or phases.

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. In other words, speakers choices in presenting actual situations are limited by conventional categorization, conventions of use and the constraints of truth.

ASPECT - Conceptual features of the situations types

There are three semantic features that help us distinguish among situation types: [+/- stative], [+/- telic] and [+/- durative]. They function as shorthand for the cluster of properties that distinguishes them.

[+/- STATIVE] covers the distinction between stasis and motion and separates situation types into the classes of states and events (activities, accomplishments, achievements and semelfactives).

States are the simplest of situation types, consisting of undifferentiated moments. States are said to hold whereas events occur, happen, take place or culminate. Events are doings; they are [+ dynamic] or [- stative], involving causation (which includes both agentive and non-agentive subjects), activity and change. Events consist of stages/phases rather than undifferentiated moments.

[+/- TELIC] separates situation types into telic and atelic. Telic situation types are directed towards a goal/outcome, that is, they have a culmination point. The goal may be intrinsic to the event, in this case constituting its natural endpoint, as it is with accomplishments and achievements (e.g. break). In other cases, the endpoint is arbitrary, as it is for activities and semelfactives, which can be stopped or terminated at any time.

N.B. 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:

a) John stood up in a second. (telicity given by the particle up; the verb is intransitive/atelic)

b) John pushed the cart for hours. (the verb has a direct object/internal argument, yet the situation is an activity)

N.B. Telic events are not limited to events that are under the control of an agent. In The rock fell to the ground. there is a final point given by the expression to the ground, but the subject is not an agent.

[+/- DURATIVE] distinguishes between situation types that take time (activities, states, accomplishments) and instantaneous events (achievements and semelfactives). Duration is grammaticized overtly or covertly. In English duration is explicitly indicated by adverbials (for phrases) and main verbs (keep, continue). The imperfective viewpoint (be ing) is also related to duration, since imperfective focuses on the internal stages of durative situations. With instantaneous events, which lack an interval, the imperfective may focus on preliminary or iterated/repeated stages:

She was jumping up and down. (repeated activity from a semelfactive)

The plane was landing. (preliminary stage from an achievement)

+/- stative+/- durative+/- telic







States are stable situations. Typical, basic states are: know the answer, be tall, desire, want. States are characterized by the features [+ stative] and [+ durative]. The feature [+ telic] is not relevant for states because they are unbounded and have an abstract atemporal quality. Intuitively, they predicate a quality or property of an individual (possession, location, belief and other mental states, dispositions, etc).

There are different types of states: basic-level states and derived stative predicates.

Basic-level states

According to the type of referent they apply to, basic states separate into predicates that apply to individuals (kinds of objects or objects) or to stages of individuals. Thus, English syntactically distinguishes between:

a) Individual level predicates: permanent, non-temporary states (know, desire, be tall, be widespread), which describe relatively stable, non-transitory inherent properties that apply to individuals (objects or kinds), and

b) Stage level predicates: temporary states (be available, be in the garden, be drunk, be angry), which denote transitory properties and apply to stages of individuals. They are compatible with expressions of simple duration and punctuality: He was angry for an instant. She was hungry at noon.

c) Individual / stage level predicates: with interval statives, that is, with verb constellations of position and location (sit, lie, perch, sprawl, stand). They may appear in the progressive, although they involve no agency or change.

The socks are lying on the bed. (stage level predicate)

London lies on the Thames. (individual level predicate)

*London is lying on the Thames.

Here, the progressive has a stative interpretation (they denote temporary states), whereas usually the progressive is associated with an active interpretation. The progressive is acceptable with these predicates only if the subject denotes a moveable object, hence the ungrammaticality of the third sentence in which London does not qualify as a moveable object.

Derived statives

a) generic sentences

b) habitual sentences

Events can be recategorized into states, changing into individual level predicates, if used in the simple present or past. They are semantically stative precisely because they denote properties that hold over individuals or patterns/generalizations over events rather than specific situations.

Tigers eat meat. (generic)

My cat eats carrots. (habitual)

He writes novels. (habitual)

N.B. Perception verbs (see), verbs of feeling (like, love) and some verbs of mental states (know, understand), which are stative at the basic level of classification, may also have an achievement interpretation in the context of adverbs like suddenly or with completive adverbials. Compare:

I saw the city hall from my window. (state)

Suddenly, I saw a star. (achievement)

I like music. (state)

I liked him in a second. (achievement)


The term process is favored over activity because, while activity is associated with human agency, process encompasses both activities associated with human subjects (external causation) (he swam/slept/strolled in the park) and activities that are not cases of human agency (the ball rolled/moved, it rained for hours, the jewels glittered).

Processes are atelic, durative, dynamic events. An activity does not have a goal or natural endpoint. Its termination is merely cessation of activity, that is, an activity has an arbitrary endpoint, which is why they simply stop or terminate, but never finish.

Process sentences consist of verb constellations presenting a process situation. The verb constellations may consist of:

a) an atelic verb and compatible complements (if any): push a cart, play chess/the piano, laugh, sleep, think about, dream, walk in the park, run along the beach, enjoy, etc.

b) an atelic durative verb with a complement that is cumulative or uncountable. These qualify as multiple-event processes: eat cherries, write letters, drink wine, etc. Multiple events also include iterations, repetitions of instantaneous events, such as achievements and semelfactives: cough for five minutes, find pebbles on the beach all afternoon, etc.

c) in English, there are other means of changing the telicity of a constellation, for instance using a particular preposition: read a book (acc.) vs. read at a book (activ.), paint the fence (acc.) vs. paint away at the fence (activ.).


Accomplishments describe change-of-states prepared (brought about/caused) by some activity/process, the change being the completion of the process: build a bridge, repair a car, drink a glass of wine. Accomplishments are conceptualized as durative events, consisting of a process and an outcome / change of state and having successive stages in which the process advances to its conclusion. Thus, accomplishments are complex events because they have other event types as their components.

An accomplishment is a causal structure of the type e1 causes e2) where e1 is the causing activity/process and e2 is the resulting (change of) state. Thus, lexical causative verbs are accomplishments (break a window, cook a pie, cool the soup, shelve the books, poison your roommate). Also, resultative constructions (which lexicalize both the causing activity and the resulting state) qualify as accomplishments:

The wind shaped the hills into cones.

The maid swept the floor clean.

He sang himself hoarse.

Verbs plus particle constructions also read as accomplishments: throw something away/down/up/aside/in.

In a nutshell, accomplishment constructions consist of constellations that have:

a) Atelic, durative verbs and countable arguments: They drank a glass of beer and left.

b) Atelic, durative verbs and directional complements: The kid walked to school.

c) Atelic, durative verbs and certain prepositions: The boy ran out.

d) Atelic verbs and resultative phrase: The alarm clock ticked the baby awake.


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. 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 (land, die, reach the top, win the race), this instantaneous type does not conceptualize it. But remember that we can focus on the preliminary stage and turn the achievement into an activity if we employ the progressive:

The plane landed. (achievement)

The plane was landing. (activity)

The predicates that do not presuppose a preparatory activity are known as lucky achievements: find, recognize, discover, notice, lose, remember, etc.


Semelfactives are atelic, instantaneous events: cough, knock, hit, flap a wing, hiccup, slam/bang the door, kick the ball. Semelfactives do not have preliminary stages, nor resultant stages.

When they occur with period adverbials and the progressive, they are interpreted as derived durative processes/activities consisting of a series of repeated, iterated semelfactive events. The predicates are reinterpreted as multiple-event activities:

John was kicking the ball when I saw him.

John kicked the ball for five minutes and then left.


Predicates shift from their prototypical class due to various elements in the verb constellations:

(1) Subject: If the subject of an achievement is an indefinite plural noun phrase or a collective noun, the achievement recategorizes into an activity.

The tourists have discovered a beautiful castle. (achievement)

Tourists discovered that beautiful castle for years. (activity)

The battalion had been crossing the border for twenty minutes. (activity)

(2) Direct Object: If the direct object of an accomplishment or achievement is a bare plural noun phrase, they become activities.

Tom wrote the essay in two hours. (accomplishment)

Tom wrote essays for two hours. (activity)

He discovered a treasure in the backyard. (achievement)

Tom has been discovering lice in his son's hair for three days. (activity)

If the direct object of an accomplishment or an achievement is a mass noun, it turns it into an activity.

Tom ate his hamburger in three minutes. (accomplishment)

Tom ate popcorn for an hour. (activity)

(3) Adverbials: If an activity is combined with an adverbial of extent, it turns into an accomplishment.

Tom walked for an hour. (activity)

Tom walked two kilometers in half an hour. (accomplishment)

If an activity combines with a locative noun phrase, it becomes an accomplishment.

Tom walked in the woods for an hour. (activity)

Tom walked to the building in ten minutes. (accomplishment)

(4) Tense: Habitual sentences always designate states. Almost any verb can become part of a habitual sentence if used in the simple present, sometimes with a frequency adverbial.

He played chess for two hours. (activity)

He plays chess (every day). (state)

Activity verb phrases such as rub, burn, scratch turn into states when used in the simple present form, designating a general characteristic of the subject:

The wood is burning in the fireplace. (activity) / This burns like fire. (state)

(5) Progressive / Continuous Aspect: When used in the progressive aspect, states, accomplishments and achievements recategorize into activities unfolding at a certain reference time. N.B. Some verbs can have several readings even though the verb phrase does not undergo any change of the type illustrated above:

Tom read a book for an hour. (activity) / Tom read a book in an hour. (accomplishment)

She combed her hair for two minutes. (activity) / She combed her hair in two minutes. (accomplishment)



Used in the continuous aspect, with or without adverbials expressing duration (all the time, meanwhile, all day / night long, for some time, etc.), activity verb phrases designate processes unfolding at a certain reference time. Sometimes they describe two simultaneous processes and are connected either by and or by subordinating conjunctions such as while, as, all the while, etc.

The river is flooding. / Meanwhile he was trying to find out who had robbed him. / While she was rehearsing for the show, her maid was sewing her dress for the gala. / As he was crossing the street, he slipped on a banana skin and broke a leg.

When used in the progressive, semelfactives: jump, kick, tremble, nod, knock, tap, pat, slam / bang the door, etc. describe a series of repeated processes rather than a single process:

The boy was kicking the ball against the wall.

The dog is jumping up and down.

Her lips were trembling.


The internal structure of accomplishments and achievements presupposes a final goal, outcome or result that is suspended when the respective verb phrases combine with the progressive aspect. When they appear in the continuous, they acquire an activity reading.

They built their house in two years. (accomplishment)

They were building the house when the accident happened. (activity)

The man fell into the river and drowned. (achievement)

When his son came running to help him, the man was already drowning. (activity)


States are defined as having an abstract quality and an atemporal interpretation. They are said to designate a property of the subject that lasts throughout time. Hence, they do not normally combine with the progressive, which refers to situations of limited duration. However, there are certain state verb phrases that may appear in the continuous, changing their meaning.

(1) to be + property-designating adjectives and nouns: If the adjective / noun designates a permanent property of an individual, the verb will never appear in the continuous (be tall, be young, be old, etc.). Yet, certain adjectives / nouns express properties that can be altered and thus, allow us to refer to only a temporally limited stage of the individual, in which case the use of the progressive is required. Compare:

He is a teacher. / She is taller than you. (general properties)

He is being rude tonight. / You're being a total bastard. (process unfolding now)

The second set of sentences describes temporary activities under the control of the individuals. The implication is that their behavior is deliberate and they can put an end to it if they want to.

(2) mental cognition verb phrases: know, believe, hope, trust, imagine, wonder, think, etc.

When they occur in the progressive, they express temporally and spatially limited processes unfolding at a certain reference time. They refer to a manifestation of the individual, not to a characteristic property of his. Compare:

I imagine she will agree to your proposal. / I was only imagining those ugly scenarios.

I think he is wrong. / I'm thinking of giving up smoking.

They hope to win. / He was hoping against hope that there was still a chance of success.

(3) physical cognition verb phrases: see, hear, smell, taste, feel

Also referred to as 'verbs of perception', they do not occur in the progressive if they denote a general characteristic of a certain individual / object. Even if they make reference to an act of perception unfolding at a specific moment like NOW, they avoid the use of the continuous. Instead, they appear accompanied by the modal verb CAN: I hear the wind blowing. / I can hear the wind blowing. / *I'm hearing the wind blowing.

It they combine with the progressive, they describe processes going on for a limited period of time. In this case the subject is attributed intention or purpose:

You smell nice. / I'm smelling your perfume to see if I can guess what it is.

The milk tastes sour. / He is tasting the soup to see if it's got enough salt.

See and hear even acquire new meanings when appearing in the continuous: The court is hearing the evidence tomorrow. (they are listening to and trying the case); I'm seeing the doctor next week. (I have made an appointment)

(4) emotive verb phrases: love, hate, like, dislike, want, miss, etc.

Again, the atemporal quality of the state verbs is replaced with the temporal quality of the process unfolding for a certain period of time.

I despise bad behavior. / He will be despising me heartily.

Everybody envied everybody in that room. / I was envying him his freedom at the time.

(5) other property designating verb phrases: belong, contain, consist, weigh, measure, etc.

If used in the progressive, they express temporary properties.

The necklace belongs to me. / Are you belonging to the local library?

The castle costs a fortune. / The mistake is costing us dearly.

Verbs like weigh or measure have a behavior similar to that of perception verbs, that is, the subject deliberately does the action of 'weighing' or 'measuring': The baby weighs six pounds. / The nurse is weighing the baby.

(6) locative verb phrases: sit, stand, lie, rest, remain, etc. Such verbs appear in the continuous if their subject represents a moveable object and describe temporary states:

Her new house stands / (*is standing) at the corner of our street. / He is standing near the pole.


Time vs Tense (time is reflected by tense)

Time is objective in the sense that it does not have absolute reality outside the form of our perception of the world; it is not inherent to objects.

Time is an epistemic notion as it mirrors our experience of the world.

Time has a linear representation, which preserves the sequential character of our perception of the world.

Time is durationally infinite and segmentable; we perceive it as unidirectional (forwards).

Time is segmented by two different procedures:

a personal subjective estimate of duration

a public estimate based on the periodicity of natural phenomena

Accordingly, there is

a personal time: mans endeavor to measure duration by using his emotions as an instrument (time is expanded or contracted)

a public time, characteristic of society; time measurement is subjected to public agreement and it is based on the periodicity of some observable natural phenomena (revolution of the earth round its axis, its periodic relation to the sun, the moon, the stars etc)

Tense: a deictic category

Tense is generally defined as representing the chronological order of events in time as perceived by the speaker at the moment of speaking, speech time (ST). Tense is a deictic category, i.e. the moment NOW is central in the sense that time past or time future represent DIRECTIONS whose ORIENTATION depends on ST. ST/NOW is a central point on the temporal axis of orientation according to which we interpret the ordering of events/states. All accounts of tense make interpretation sensitive to tense. Events can be simultaneous with ST (at relation) or they can be sequential to it (before / after relations).

Tense is a functional category that expresses a temporal relation to the orientation point (ST) in the sense that it locates in time the situation talked about.

Tense: more than tense inflections

A common mistake in approaching the category of tense is the belief that tense inflections alone mirror time. In fact they are not enough to express the temporal specification of a message. A proper interpretation of temporal forms presupposes an analysis of the relation between

(i) tense specification of the V (i.e. tense inflection) and

(ii) temporal adverbials.

INFL identifies the event of the VP in the sense that it places that particular event in time. A VP consists of both its lexical head V0 and the complement(s) it has selected. We know that information about the selection of complements by a verb is part of the lexical entry of that verb in the lexicon and it represents more or less its descriptive content. If we assume that, roughly speaking, the descriptive content of a verb is the idea of event, we cannot conceive of this event without taking into account the complements of the respective verb as well as those explicit lexical means of placing the event in time: time adverbials. It means that when discussing temporal interpretation, we have to talk about sentence temporal interpretation or, at least, about predicate temporal interpretation.

Time/TEMPORAL adverbials

Time adverbials include adverbs, adverb phrases and adverbial clauses and they specify RT together with tense inflections. Tense inflections are strongly related to adverbials. The latter add meaning to a sentence and during the process they might even disambiguate it. On the other hand, sentences without time adverbials may be non-ambiguous due to the context, which acts as a time adverbial giving a certain temporal reading or due to the fact that people tend to maximise available information, i.e. we apply the relation of simultaneity wherever possible.

Albert is playing tennis. (now / tomorrow)

Albert was playing tennis. (then / future)

This actually means that we associate with a sentence that is vague the temporal interpretation that requires the least additional information (sort of default reading).

In addition to this, there are regular co-occurrences between tense inflections and time adverbials (there are adverbials that co-occur only with simple past or only with present perfect and there are others that co-occur with both).

Classification of time adverbials

The relation between time adverbials and ST can be explicit or non-explicit. We distinguish between:

(i) anchored time adverbials which are in an explicit relation to ST in the sense that their temporal interpretations are determined relative to ST (now, yesterday, tomorrow)

(ii) unanchored adverbials which do not have an explicit relation to ST and which orient themselves to times other than the utterance time or to utterance time (in June, on Friday); they have various interpretations.

Given that temporal adverbials also contribute to the aspectual interpretation of sentences we can establish a further classification that distinguishes among: duration adverbials, completive adverbials, locating / frame adverbials and frequency adverbials. Duration and completive adverbials also have an aspectual value (they are sensitive to the aspectual value of the situation), requiring compatibility with the situation type.

a. Duration adverbials: for three months/a day/a week, for a while, since the war/Christmas, at night, all afternoon, for hours, all the time, over the weekend, through August, during the war, always, permanently, all day long, etc.

they indicate the duration of the described event by specifying the length of time that is asserted to take

contribute to the location of the event in time, more specifically within the stated interval

compatible with atelic sentences, but odd with telic sentences

compatible with states and processes (activities)

1. Susan was asleep for two hours. (atelic)

2. Andrew swam for three hours. (atelic)

3. (?) John wrote a / the report for two hours. (telic)

4. *The train arrived late for two hours.

Whenever telic events occur in the context of duration adverbials there is a clash between the aspectual properties of the situation type and the aspectual properties of the adverbials. Such clashes are resolved by a shift in the value of the verb constellation, which receives a marked interpretation. This contextual interpretation is made possible by the process called coercion.

1. I read a book for a few minutes. (coercion into a process)

2. Jerry wrote a report for two hours. (acc. into activity)

3. John knocked on the door for two hours. (semelf. into process of the multiple-event type)

4. Jon played the sonata for two hours. (acc. into process iterative: many times)

5. For years, Mary went to school in the morning. (acc. into state habitual)

6. For months, the train arrived late. (ach. into state habitual)

The felicity of the aspectual reinterpretation is strongly dependent on linguistic context and knowledge of the world. Compare:

*John went into the house all afternoon.

John crossed the border all afternoon.

b. Completive adverbials: in 2 hours, within two months, in a second.

they locate the situation at an interval during which the event is completed/culminates. Aspectually, completive adverbials are telic

compatible with telic situations and odd with atelics

1. John noticed the painting in a second.

2. Mary wrote a sonnet in five minutes.

3. (?) Bill swam laps in an hour.

4. (?) Mary believed in ghosts in an hour.

If (3) and (4) can be understood at all, they impose an ingressive interpretation to the sentences, in the sense that the adverbials refer to an interval elapsed before the beginning of the situations and not an interval during which the situations occur. The possible telic reinterpretations are: Bill swam his planned number of laps in an hour, In/after an hour Bill swam laps, At the end of an hour/after an hour Mary began to believe in ghosts. The same interpretation as the latter occurs with achievements and semelfactives: They reached the top in ten minutes (after ten minutes), She knocked at the door in ten minutes (after ten minutes).

c. Frequency adverbials: frequently, on Sundays, never, sometimes, often, whenever, monthly, daily, once a week, every week/month etc.

they indicate the recurrent pattern of situations within the reference interval

they express a series of events which as a whole make a state of the habitual type:

We often/always went/go to the mountains in wintertime.

d. Locating adverbials / Frame adverbials:

they locate situations in time by relating them to other times or to other situations

they refer to an interval of time within which the described situation is asserted t have taken place

according to the time of orientation we can distinguish three classes:

1. deictic adverbials: oriented to the time of utterance (ST): now, today, last Sunday, last week, this year, tomorrow, tonight, two weeks ago

2. anaphoric adverbials: relate to a previously established time: until, till, in the evening, on Sunday, at night, early, before, in three days, on Christmas, at lunchtime, two years later, in March, already

3. referential adverbials: refer to a time established by clock or calendar: at six, august 19, in 1987


Present Tense Simple is associated with the present moment - the speech time - in the sense that it may refer either to a point in time identified with speech time (ST) or to an interval that includes the moment of speaking. As far as its factual status is concerned, the present is between the past and the future. The past is considered to be factually determined since we know if an action took place or not in the past. On the contrary, the future is the least factually determined time. The present expresses both situations whose time of occurrence is known and situations whose time of occurrence is not known.


1. GENERIC VALUE unmarked value

Present Tense Simple used in generic sentences indicates the validity of a state at speech time without making reference to a particular situation or moment. It ascribes a property to a subject; therefore, it appears in so-called characterizing sentences. Generic sentences are true of some particular entities, namely kinds. Kind referring expressions are bare plurals, definite singular NPs and mass nouns. They can also appear with indefinite NPs, proper names and quantified NPs but in this case the locus of genericity is not in the NP but rather in the sentence itself, i.e. these NPs get a generic interpretation only when occurring in characterizing sentences. Present simple is associated with stative verbs and it is used in scientific language, in proverbs, definitions, geographical statements, in instructions or when specifying game rules etc. Generic sentences are timeless statements expressing general or universal truths.

Water boils at 100C.

Blood is thicker than water.

London stands on the Thames.

2. HABITUAL VALUE unmarked value

Habitual sentences indicate that a situation is repeated with a certain frequency during an interval of time. Since they do not focus on a particular situation but rather on its recurrence, they do not point to a specific moment in time and in this respect they resemble generic sentences. However, unlike generic sentences, habitual sentences refer to an individual or an object about which the respective property is true at speech time. Very often, they include adverbs of frequency classified into general (ever, never, whenever, usually, often, seldom) and specific (three times a week, twice a day, every two weeks).

Habitual sentences may be completely specified, indicating both the frequency and the interval during which an event takes place. Yet, more often than not they have less than complete temporal specification. Compare:

They visit me every two days during holidays. (specified frequency and interval)

They visit me every day. (unspecified interval)

He eats a lot of vegetables in winter. (unspecified frequency)

He doesn't eat many vegetables. (no frequency and no interval)


The instantaneous simple present refers to an event that is assumed to be simultaneous with the moment of speaking. It is used in sports commentaries, demonstrations, war reports, and exclamations, commentaries on pictures, books or movies and stage directions:

Hagi takes the ball and passes it to Popescu. Popescu sends the ball into the net. Goal!

First I roll out the pastry, and then I add the mixture and spread it

Here comes the winner!

In Gone with the wind Scarlet writes a letter.

Seth and Minnie come forward as far as the lilac clump He nudges Minnie with his elbow (ONeill, Mourning Becomes Electra)

It is true that in most cases the event does not occur exactly when it is mentioned, but this simultaneity is rather subjective than objective.

Events that are simultaneous with the moment of speaking may be expressed either by a simple present or a present continuous:

He shuts the window. / He is shutting the window.

However, whereas the continuous present represents a neutral description of an action going on at the moment of speaking, the use of the simple present is rather dramatic since it insists on the total completion of the event mentioned.

The instantaneous present is also used in performative sentences that employ performative verbs - verbs that themselves are part of the activity they report - such as accept, deny, name, declare, pronounce. When having an instantaneous value, the performative verb appears in the first person singular or plural and may be accompanied by hereby:

I name this ship "Queen Mary".

We sentence you to prison for life.

I hereby pronounce you man and wife.

In performative sentences the event reported and the act of speech are simultaneous simply because they are identical. A performative act is felicitous on condition that the persons and the circumstances involved in it are appropriate for the invocation of the respective procedure (for instance, it is only a priest that can marry you and this can happen only in a church).

Both habitual and generic sentences may receive instantaneous readings under certain circumstances:

Swallows fly higher than doves. (generic reading)

Look, the swallows fly higher than the doves. (instantaneous reading because of the suggestion of instantaneous perception indicated by "Look")

He scores goals. (habitual interpretation because of the plural direct object)

He scores a goal. (instantaneous interpretation)

4. FUTURE VALUE - marked

The simple present may acquire a future value either in simple sentences or in subordinate adverbial clauses of time and condition introduced by after, as soon as, when, before, if, unless etc.

In simple sentences it is accompanied by a temporal adverbial indicating the future: The plane leaves for New York at 5 p.m. tomorrow. The use of the simple present signals the fact that the future event is bound to happen, in other words, the anticipated event is attributed the same degree of certainty that we normally assign to present or past events. For this reason the simple present with this value represents the only marked way to express the future time in English. It refers to mostly official or collective future plans or arrangements that cannot be altered. It may relate to timetables, schedules, itineraries etc.:

The caravan sets off tomorrow morning.

We leave Bucharest on Monday morning, arrive in London at noon and set off for Glasgow in the evening.

The use of the simple present with future value in adverbial clauses of time and condition has more than a syntactic explanation. In the examples below the content of the adverbial clause is assumed to exist as a fact:

I'll see what to do when I meet him.

By the time you get there, the show will have already begun.

I will be very unhappy if our team does not win.

There is a contrast of meaning between the main clause and the subordinate. The event referred to in the former is a prediction, whereas the event expressed in the latter is a fact that is taken as given, which provides an axis of orientation for the action predicted in the main clause.

NB. Students are inclined to think that they must use only the simple present after clauses introduced by when and if. However, the rule applies only to those cases in which when and if introduce adverbial clauses of time and condition. Compare:

I will talk to him when I see him. (time clause)

I don't know when I will see him. (direct object clause) / I don't know this.

I will take my umbrella if it rains. (conditional clause)

I don't know if it will rain. (direct object clause) / I don't know this.

5. PAST VALUE - marked

The use of the Simple Present with a past value is best known as the historic present and represents a storyteller's license, being typical of an oral narrative style. As Jespersen (1931:17) remarked, the "historic present is pretty frequent in connected narrative: the speaker, as it were, forgets all about time and imagines, or recalls, what he is recounting, as vividly as if it were now present before his eyes". The simple present with this value often alternates with a time adverbial indicating the past:

At that moment in comes a messenger from the Head Office, telling me the boss wants to see me in a hurry. (I. Stefanescu, 1988:261)

However, a distinction has to be made between the historic present described above and the present forms employed to narrate fictional, that is, imaginary events.

The historic present is also used after verbs of linguistic communication such as tell, say, learn, hear:

Mary tells me that you are going to buy new furniture. (in a letter)

Your correspondent Mr. Pitt writes in the March issue that (in the correspondence column of a journal)

In both cases the simple present emphasizes the persistence in the present of the effect of a past communication. Though tell and hear in the examples above refer to the initiation of a message, the use of the present seems to transfer the verbal meaning from the initiating to the receiving end of the message, so that communication is still in force for the receiver.

At the same the historic present is employed when describing an artist and his work because this feels as if they were still alive. The difference between using the present and using the past simply involves the speaker's point of view: if he employs the present, then he considers that the artist still survives through his work, and if he uses the past, then he sees the artist as a person who died at a certain moment in the past. Compare:

Brahms is the last great representative of German classicism.

Brahms was the last great representative of German classicism.

Finally, the simple present appears in newspaper headlines to announce recent events, its use reminding one of the dramatic quality of the instantaneous present; it is also present in photographic captions in newspapers, in historical summaries and tables of dates:

MPs back school reform. / Ex-president dies of heart attack.

Mr. Gore shakes hands with Mr. Bush. (photo caption)

1876 - Brahms finishes his first symphony.

Although so far all the uses of the simple present have involved real facts, the simple present may also refer to imaginary situations. This fictional use makes reference to no real time, but to an imaginary present time, giving the reader the impression that he is actually witnessing the events described. In such cases, the simple present often alternates with a past tense.

His lordship had no sooner disappeared behind the trees of the forest, but Lady Randolph begins to explain to her confidante the circumstances of her early life. The fact was she had made a private marriage (Thackeray, Virg. Ch. LIX, 614)


The simple past is used to locate a situation at some specified time in the past; the content of the event or state described being actually recollected at speech time. There are two basic elements of meaning involved in the common use of the simple past. First, the situation described by the simple past takes place before the present moment, which means that the moment NOW is excluded. Second, the person uttering the sentence must have a definite time in mind suggested by means of specific time adverbs (yesterday, two days ago, in 1974, last summer, etc.).

He was born in London in 1952 and spent his entire life there. / I just talked to him on the phone a moment ago. / I bought this dictionary when I was in Lisbon.

However, speakers do not need to locate a past event by means of a time adverb. The simple past may appear alone if the speaker who has a specific time in mind can assume that his interlocutor can understand this either by inferring the time from the larger context in which the situation occurs or by making use of the definiteness of the participants involved:

Did you remember to give him my message?

Did you see Led Zeppelin perform live in Bucharest?

A: I couldn't find Mary at the party last night. / B: Well, I couldn't find her either.

Thus, in the first two examples above the definiteness of the situation is confirmed by the definiteness of the participants involved (my message) or of the circumstances (Led Zeppelin did perform in Bucharest on a specific day which is officially known). In the last example, speaker A specifies the past moment and speaker B does not need to mention it in his turn. Thus it becomes obvious that the definiteness of the event expressed by the simple past does not necessarily presuppose that the time in question be specified, only that it be specifiable.

Another particular case in which a past simple is used without a definite adverb of time involves a combination with the present perfect. The latter is used to introduce an unspecified event that takes place anterior to the moment of speaking in a period that began in the past and includes the moment NOW. Once an anterior frame of reference is established for the discourse it is only natural to refer to the already introduced situation by means of a definite specifier, i.e. the simple past:

A: Where have you been? / B: To the restaurant. / A: What did you do there? / B: I had lunch, of course.

Finally, the simple past can be used without a definite adverb of time if the utterance refers to a comparison between present and past conditions as in: Bucharest is no longer what it was / used to be. / He is a nitwit, but he is less of a nitwit than he was.



The simple past can be used deictically with a deictic adverb of time of the type yesterday, two years ago, last night, in 1987, etc. In this case the location of the event in time is established in relation to the moment of speaking NOW:

Haydn was born in 1732. / My friend left for Poland in July. / I finished reading the book last night.


Since it deals with past events the simple past is a natural choice for narratives, whether the events narrated are real historical events or just fictional situations devised in novels. However, in this case, the simple past is no longer accompanied by a time adverbial and the situations described by this tense are ordered by the laws governing the narrative mode rather than by information present in the sentences proper. It is the whole context created by the advancing of the story that supplies the order of the events.

'() She left him alone in the kitchen. He picked up a chair, then set it down again and went out into the scullery. He opened the garden door, and a great moth flew into his face. Then he stepped out into the garden and faced the enemies.()' (Dylan Thomas - 'In the Garden' - Collected Stories)

Moreover, we use the simple past for narrative even when referring to future events as in science fiction. "We are invited by this convention to look at future events as if from a vantage-point even further in the future. Any narrative normally presupposes, in the imagination, such a retrospective view." - A. S. Leech (1971: 10).

In the year AD 2201, the interplanetary transit vehicle Zeno VII made a routine journey to the moon with twenty people on board.


When used with this value, the simple past refers to events recurrent within a given past interval of time. Unlike simple present sentences in which the time adverbial specifies the event time - i.e. indicating the recurrence of the event, simple past sentences allow the presence of both a time adverbial indicating the frequency specification and a time adverbial that supplies the interval during which the recurring event took place. Compare:

Brian runs a mile every day.

Brian ran a mile every day during his childhood.

The habitual interpretation can be rendered by the frequency adverbial whose determiner must be indefinite or by a plural indefinite object:

I went to the mountains three times a year. (habitual)

I went to the mountains three times that year. (non-habitual)

My dog chased my neighbor's cat / a cat. (non-habitual)

My dog chased cats. (habitual)

4. past perfect value

This value is derived from a contrast between simultaneous past events and past events occurring in a sequence.

He enjoyed and admired her paintings. (simultaneous)

He unlocked and opened the door. (sequential)

In the first example the order of the events can be reversed without altering the meaning of the sentence, whereas a reversal of the order of the events in the second example is impossible basing our judgment on our knowledge about the way these activities can be performed. The event of unlocking the door necessarily takes place before its opening and thus the simple past "unlocked" has past perfect value.

On the other hand, the temporal relation between two consecutive events can be overtly marked by means of conjunctions (preserving the simple past in both the main clause and the subordinate clause) or by the auxiliary HAVE, which indicates anteriority:

I (had) read twenty more pages before I went to bed.

As soon as she saw / had seen me, she rose quickly and left the room.

After I (had) finished dinner, I went out with my friends.


This represents a special development of the normal past meaning, which appears in everyday conversation making reference to the present feelings or thoughts of the speaker:

A: Did you want me?

B: Yes, I hoped you could give me a hand with the cleaning.

Although speaker B could have used the present instead of the past, his choice of the respective verbal form renders the request indirect and thus, more polite. Unlike a present form, which would have made a polite answer impossible, the past form avoids a clash of wills, allowing speaker A to either accept or decline the request. Similarly, speaker A's question indicates politeness. "Do you want me?" would have been rather imperative, suggesting that speakers A and B have similar social positions, and would have implied that the former was not at all pleased with speaker B making a request.

Other verbs often present in similar contexts are wonder and think; in most cases they are used in combination with the continuous aspect, which adds a further overtone of politeness:

I wondered / was wondering if you could help me with the kids while I am away.

I thought I might drop by later tonight if you don't mind.


Past events can be predicated about either in the past tense or the present perfect from two different perspectives. In John read the book last year, the event of Johns reading the book in is entirety is specified/dated as occurring during last year, which is prior and thus distinct from the moment NOW. In John has already read the book, we understand that Johns reading the book in its entirety occurred at some unspecified time in the past, but the event is related and, thus, relevant to the present moment through its result: now, John knows what the book is about.

There have been several theories that tried to capture this distinction between the past simple and the present perfect:

(a) The Indefinite Past Theory present perfect locates events somewhere before the moment of speaking, without identifying any particular point or interval of time. ET is indefinite and specified only by indefinite adverbials: since 3 oclock, for two hours, so far, yet, etc. in contrast, ET of past simple events is definite: at two oclock, yesterday, etc.

(b) The Current Relevance Theory it is only present perfect that claims relevance at the moment NOW, a feature the past simple lacks. Compare You woke him up when you went to the bathroom ten minutes ago. to Youve waken him up the present perfect itself in the second sentence locates the effects of the event at NOW.

(c) The Extended Now Theory speakers can psychologically extend the present backwards by means of present perfect in English. The present perfect serves to locate an event within a period of time that begins in the past and extends up to the present moment (and includes it). In contrast, the past tense specifies that an event occurred at a past time that is separated and distinct from the present.

Before embarking upon an analysis of the two tenses mentioned above, we should clarify the relationship between the English perfect and the perfective aspect, since the English perfect is quite often related to the meaning of completion or result. Without renouncing the idea that the perfect marks anteriority, we can maintain the connection between the perfect and the perfective in view of the fact that what is 'summed up as a whole' (i.e. perfective) may also be anterior to a certain moment in time. What we need to understand is that the 'result / completion' meaning is not intrinsic to the perfect; rather, just like the other meanings of the present perfect, it stems from the interaction of the perfect form with the aspectual meaning of the verb phrase, plus the temporal adverbials it co-occurs with.

Thus, the perfect may acquire different senses according to the type of aspectual class 'have' combines with:

1) continuative perfect

2) experiential perfect

3) resultative perfect

4) 'hot news' perfect

continuative PRESENT perfect

When the present perfect combines with state verb phrases in sentences that contain a durative adverbial (for instance, since / for phrases), they express states extending over a period of time that lasts up to the present moment:

I have lived in Paris since 1987.

The castle has been empty for ages.

Have you known my uncle for a long time?

Generally, the adverbial of duration cannot be absent from the sentence or otherwise the construction acquires an indefinite past reading. I have lived in Paris simply places the situation at some unspecified point in the past, without carrying any other information.

At the same time, there are exceptions to this rule if the semantic content of the respective sentence suggests a period leading up to the present. In I've had a good life or You've outstayed your welcome the adverbials of time are felt as implicit ('during my life' / 'so far' or 'for too long' in the case of 'outstay').

Used with process verb phrases and a frequency or a durative adverbial, the perfect expresses a habit and thus has a recurrent continuative reading:

Mrs. Jones has played the organ in this church for fifteen years.

I have followed her behavior every day since she got here.

When I have tried to join their club, they have constantly turned me down.

The news has been broadcast at ten o'clock for as long as I can remember.

Since a habit is described as a state consisting of repeated events, this iterative use closely resembles the continuative use of the perfect and, in fact, we may subsume it in the previous class as a type of 'recurrent continuative' perfect.

Continuative: also with event verbs if in the progressive:

e.g. Hes been sleeping for two hours./ It has been snowing since noon./ Ever since the house has been occupied the poltergeist have been acting up.

Modes of occurrence: a) continuous continuative: I have been sitting in all day.

b) discontinuous continuative: He has been building the house for the last five years. (i.e. on and off)


With process and event verbs phrases (accomplishments and achievements), the perfect may refer to some indefinite situation in the past. By 'indefinite' we mean on the one hand, that the number of occurrences is unspecified and on the other hand, that the time when it takes place is not mentioned. Therefore, such use is often accompanied by adverbials of time of the type never, ever, always, before (now):

I have never seen such a majestic cathedral before.

Have you ever been to the States?

Have you visited the Dali exhibition?

The temporal location of some events may be very close to the moment NOW, in which case we refer to recent indefinite past situations. Such examples often contain adverbs like just, already, yet or recently: Has the postman called yet? / They have already had breakfast.

If the definite time when the experience occurred is mentioned, the speaker shifts from Present Perfect to Past Tense:

e.g. A: Have you been to Edinburgh?

B: Yes, I have.

A: When did you go?

B: Oh, last April, thats when I did.

A: And did you visit many places while you were there?

B: Yes, I went to Hollyrood Palace.

Modes of occurrence: a) general experiential: He has never liked heavy metal. / A: Have you ever in your life seen anyone so entirely delightful? B: Only when Ive looked in the mirror.

b) limited experiential: Have you had a letter to type today?/ She has already had three proposals this morning.

Resultative PRESENT perfect

The association of event verb phrases (accomplishments and achievements), that presuppose a climax or end point, with the perfect generates a resultative reading - that is, it implies that a transition comes to a final state valid at the present moment. The resultative meaning does not need the support of time adverbials:

He has delivered the parcel. / The plane has landed. / He has recovered from his illness.


The perfect is often used in newspapers and broadcasts, especially in news reports, to introduce 'the latest' events, which afterwards are described using the past tense. The temporal location of such situations is generally mentioned in the second sentence, but even if it is not, the simple past is still employed at this point in the discourse:

The struggling Romanian soccer club Jiul Petrosani has experienced what may be one of the more humiliating moments in recent sports history. Last week, the club announced that it would trade midfielder Ion Radu to second-division club Valcea for two tons of beef and pork.

(Newsweek, March 1988)

NB. There is a special use of the present perfect instead of the simple present in adverbial clauses of time referring to the future introduced by after, when, until, once, etc. In such cases the present perfect is said to have a future value. In most cases the alternation of present simple and present perfect bears no significance. The presence of the perfect simply places emphasis on the order of the events: I shall leave when I finish / I have finished.

On the other hand, there are contexts in which the perfect is obligatory, namely, in those sentences that are semantically based on the cause - effect relationship. We say You will feel better after you have taken this pill if the pill conditions the well-being of the patient. Similarly, when the events in the main clause and the subordinate temporally coincide, the simple present is favored; when the event in the subordinate occurs before the one in the main clause, we use the present perfect: Come over and see us when our guests leave / have left.


As already stated, present perfect and simple past resemble in that both express anteriority to a given moment in time. What differentiates them is their relation to the present. The simple past marks events assigned to a past that is concluded and completely separate from the present. In contrast, the present perfect either involves a period of time lasting up to the present or has results persisting at the present moment. The common factor is the inclusion of the present in its analysis.

Bearing this in mind, let us compare the various uses of the present perfect with the simple past. Consider the following examples of continuative, experiential and habitual perfect:

She has been poor all her life. (She is still alive.)

She was poor all her life. (She is dead.)

Hannibal brought / *has brought elephants across the Alps.

For generations, Nepal has produced the world's greatest soldiers. (Nepal still exists.)

For generations, Sparta produced Greece's greatest warriors. (Sparta no longer exists.)

The use of either the perfect or the past in the above sentences is to be interpreted pragmatically. The period referred to is rather assumed than named, but our knowledge of the world allows us to employ the appropriate tense; thus, we talk about Hannibal or Sparta in the past because we know they no longer exist, whereas Nepal obviously has relevance for the present.

This last observation relates to another notion - that of Discourse Topic (defined as 'the subject matter under discussion in a certain context'). Discourse topics condition the use of the present perfect in the sense that only those covering a period of time that includes the moment of speaking can be expressed in sentences that employ present perfect. Compare:

Shakespeare has written impressive dramas.

*Shakespeare has quarreled with every playwright in London.

The first sentence is appropriate if the discourse topic is 'great dramatists of the world' or 'impressive dramas in world literature', because such a topic would have relevance for the present moment. But if the discussion (i.e. discourse topic) is about Shakespeare as a person and his activities, neither of the two sentences is correct since Shakespeare is dead. In conclusion, "at the pragmatic level, the present perfect is appropriate in all those uses in which the event described has relevance for the discourse topic, a fact which can be evaluated entirely only on the basis of contextual factors" (Ioana Stefanescu, English Morphology, vol. II, 1988).

The basic difference between present perfect and simple past stems from the contrast definite / indefinite. As already seen in the analysis of the simple past, this tense requires the use of a definite time adverbial which locates the respective event at a certain point in the past. If there is no time adverbial, then 'definiteness' is retrieved by assumption of a particular time from the context or is justified by the preceding use of a past or perfect tense:

We met yesterday. (definite time adverbial)

I have already talked to him; he came to ask me for money. (the past event is introduced by the perfect)

Did you walk the dog? (said between husband and wife who refer to a particular time when the dog is usually walked)

Contexts as that supplied by the second example also emphasize a characteristic of the present perfect; this is used to initiate conversations, since it is only natural to start conversations indefinitely and then to carry on using definite linguistic expressions (be they the simple past, definite articles or personal pronouns):

I have bought this bag in Cypress Street.

How much did you pay for it?

I paid 15 $.

Since it specifies a definite moment in the past, the past tense is expected in (subordinate) clauses of time introduced by when, while, since, etc. because the time indicated by them is considered to be already given. Naturally, a clause introduced by when will trigger the use of a past tense in the main clause as well because the subordinate functions as a definite time adverbial:

When did you last see him?

I haven't seen him since we met at Jane's party.

I didn't recognize him / *haven't recognized him when I saw him.

The present perfect is less used in American English, especially when it appears with recent indefinite past value; Americans tend to say Did you meet him yet?, while the British say Have you met him yet? or I did it just now vs. I've just received word that he isn't coming.

In spite of the differences mentioned so far, there are contexts in which the two tenses are interchangeable - that is, when they describe recent events. Their alternation depends on the speaker's viewpoint. Compare: Where did I put my gloves? to Where have I put my gloves? In the first example, the speaker focuses on the moment when he misplaced his gloves, perhaps trying to remember what he was doing at the time, while in the second he concentrates on the present moment and is only interested in where they are at present.


Time adverbials (i.e. adverbs, adverbial phrases, adverbial clauses) classify into definite (bearing the feature [+THEN], indefinite (which are [-THEN]) and those that have both features (that is, they are [+/- THEN]). The first class combines only with the past, the second only with the perfect and the last with both, resulting in different meanings.

The definite adverbials of time point to a specific moment in the past, having no relation to the present and hence, they cannot occur with the present perfect (yesterday, a week / month / year ago, last night / Tuesday / week / month / year, etc.). Apart from them, there is the class of unanchored adverbs of the type in the evening, at 5 o'clock, on Monday, then, soon, next, after lunch, etc. which most likely occur with the simple past, although they do not make specific reference to it:

He went out ten minutes ago.

I left home at 8.00 and got here at 12.00.

I saw him on Sunday morning.

On the other hand, the following adverbials are associated only with the present perfect: since, so far, up to now, hitherto, lately, for the present, for the time being, for now, as yet, during these five years, before now:

I haven't been able to talk to him since I last saw him at the mall.

He hasn't done much work lately.

We have been very busy so far.

It is interesting to notice that, though since - phrases cannot be used with the simple past, for - phrases occur with both the perfect and the past, given the appropriate contexts:

They haven't spoken to each other for three weeks.

They didn't speak to each other for three weeks, but then they made up.

The third group of adverbials allows the use of both the perfect and the past, resulting in different interpretations. Compare:

I haven't read the paper this morning. (uttered at 10.00 a.m.)

I didn't read the paper this morning. (uttered at 6.00 p.m.)

Today, tonight and all phrases with this (this afternoon / month / year / Christmas / March, etc.) behave in a similar way. I saw her this July implies that July is over, but I've seen her this July suggests that it is still July when I utter the sentence. The difference lies in whether the event is viewed simply as a factor of experience obtaining at the moment of speech (with the present perfect) or within the context of the time at which it occurred (with past simple).

The difference in use between just and just now is the following: just can take either past simple or present perfect: I have just seen your sister. / I just saw your sister. while just now is interpreted as a moment/second/minute ago and occurs only with the past tense: I saw your sister just now.

Never, ever, always combine with both tenses, again depending on the context; when used with the past tense, the 'never' period, for instance, must be restricted to a past temporal frame as in: I never liked bananas when I was a child where the time clause supplies the background.

Now is mainly associated with present tense: Now my ambition is/has been fulfilled. But it may also be a substitute for then and thus occur with past tense: Now my ambition was fulfilled.

Once appears with the simple past when it means 'on a certain occasion' or 'at one time', but if it is a numerical adverb that may contrast with twice or three times, it may be used with both tenses:

I was happy once in this house.

I've seen the movie only once.

I met him only once when I was in Spain.

Already, still, yet and before occur with the perfect if they mean 'as early / late as now' and with the past if interpreted as 'as early / late as then':

I've already heard that piece. ('as early as now')

I was already fed up with that piece. ('as early as then')


Past perfect may appear with both [+then] and [-then] adverbials, unlike present perfect which combines only with [+/-then] and [-then] adverbials:

They had been there since 5. [-then]

Susan knew John had left at 5. [+then]

Moreover, past perfect may appear in narrative contexts, again unlike present perfect.

On the other hand, like present perfect, past perfect has three values: continuative, resultative and experiential:

Jim had dislocated his shoulder. (resultative)

He had been at work for more than two hours. (continuative)

I had watched United lose twice that season. (experiential)

In Indirect Speech, past perfect is the tense we obtain if in Direct Speech we have present perfect or past simple:

I have laid the table.

She said she had laid the table.

The show finished two minutes ago.

She said the show had finished two minutes before.

In conclusion, past perfect has two dimensions: (a) it parallels the semantics of present perfect; (b) it is seen as a past tense that expresses past anteriority , in which case it is said to have a pre-preterite value. In this sense, past perfect describes a past event that takes place before another past event or past moment:

They found out where she had buried the treasure.

By the time they went to dig it up, she had already hidden it in a new place.

By Friday they had already found a way to get rid of her.

As already exemplified in the sentences above, the past perfect occurs in both main and subordinate clauses introduced by when, after, before, until, by the time, etc.

The past perfect can be substituted with the simple past, which acquires a past perfect meaning: When he came back from the States, he landed a very important job. However, in some cases the substitution is semantically impossible: When he had read the letter / *when he read the letter, he burned it.

There are three reasons for which we attribute this value to past perfect:

(a) its co-occurrence with [+then] adverbials

(b) the fact that it is the equivalent of past simple in Direct Speech. NB. In Indirect Speech, if the verb expresses an event, past perfect is optional: Yesterday I went to the market. / She said she went/had gone to the market the day before. If the verb expresses a state, then past perfect is obligatory: Lily was here. / She said Lily had been there. / *She said Lily was there.

(c) the fact that it can be used in narratives to tell a story within a story, in which case past simple sets the scene and past perfect expresses what had happened before: That morning I was quite content. I had written the essay the previous evening, I had finished washing the clothes and Id gone to bed early. Now I was anxious to go to school.

NB. Mai mult ca perfect: always past perfect

Past perfect: mai mult ca perfect, perfect compus, imperfect.


It should be stated from the beginning that the use of the continuous aspect with the perfect forms is similar to the interaction of this aspect with other tense forms. Again, it is a matter that depends rather on the aspectual class of the verb phrase.

When combined with the progressive, event verb phrases (accomplishments and achievements) turn into processes and the completion / result meaning is suspended. Compare:

I have pumped up three tires. (The job is completed)

I have been pumping up tires in the garage for the last quarter of an hour. (I haven't finished the job yet)

Although the perfect progressive never refers to a 'present result', it may imply that the effects of a certain action are still apparent at present. The activity described by the verbal form does not necessarily carry on at present; on the contrary, quite often it is implied that the respective activity has just stopped: You've been walking too fast. That's why you're tired.

Process verb phrases in the present perfect have the tendency to appear in the progressive as well. When they do, the continuous aspect simply reinforces the idea of continuity of an activity: He's been sleeping since ten o'clock. It's time he woke up.

Non-durative process verbs phrases (i.e. the semelfactives) acquire an iterative meaning: She's been knocking at my window for two minutes.

Finally, state verb phrases of the locative type in the progressive develop a 'temporary or limited duration' meaning: I have been living in this castle for weeks now.


If present and past situations are conceived of as facts, it is certainly not the case of future events, which have not happened yet and therefore merely translate into potential, possible courses of action. Thus, we can predict what will happen, we can express intentions, plans, promises or threats that we mean to carry out in the future, and these situations describe our attitude towards possible, non-factual states of affairs. Therefore, it is no surprise that almost all the linguistic forms that express future time belong, in fact, to the sphere of modality or to the aspectual paradigm. Epistemic will and shall, for instance, are modal verbs denoting predictions; it is in the very nature of predictions to describe what might happen in the future, hence, they are used to express future events. Actually, all epistemic uses of the modal verbs refer to people's present attitudes with respect to the future time sphere: The meeting can / may / must / shall / will, etc. take place tomorrow.

It is only natural for future events / states to have modal or aspectual implications since "we cannot be as certain of future happenings as we are of events past and present, and for this reason, even the most confident prognostication must indicate something of one speaker's attitude and so be tinged with modality" (Ioana Stefanescu, English Morphology II, 1988, pp. 302).

In fact, the only linguistic form that denotes a future event and has temporal sense alone - that is, it does not reflect any attitude on the part of the speaker - is the simple present tense combined with a future time adverbial.

Apart from the simple present, there are five other linguistic forms that, beside their basic modal or aspectual quality, contain a future time implication:

1) Present Tense Simple

2) Present Tense Continuous

3) Be Going To

4) Future Tense Simple

5) Future Tense Continuous

6) Future Perfect (Simple and Continuous)


As already discussed in the chapter on the values of the simple present, this tense denotes the future either in subordinate clauses of time and condition or in main clauses, being generally accompanied by a future time adverbial. The presence of the simple present instead of a will / shall construction in the subordinate is justified by the fact that the situation contained in this clause is taken as a given fact, not as a prediction. The reasoning behind such structures would be: "If X is a fact, then I predict Y.'

Similarly, the simple present in main clauses denotes future facts, not possible future events. We attribute to such sentences the same degree of certainty we would attribute to present or past events. Therefore, constructions with the simple present describing a future event are restricted to certain areas, like statements about the calendar, programs or itineraries regarded as immutable:

Tomorrow is Friday. / School starts on Monday / next week. / We leave for Brasov tomorrow morning.

Since such arrangements are supposed to be unalterable, it is easy to understand why they are normally collective or impersonal - made by official authorities, committees, a court of law, etc.

There is an entire range of verbs commonly used in such contexts, verbs associated with announcements about timetables, schedules or organized events: start, begin, end, leave, set off, come, go, depart, arrive, etc.

If we consider that the simple present with future value describes a definite occasion in the future in the same way the simple past refers to a definite occasion in the past, we have an explanation for the obligatory presence of the future time adverbial in such sentenc