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The category of aspect


§ 11. In general the category of aspect shows the way or manner in which an action is performed, that is whether the action is perfective (совершенное), imperfective (несовершенное), momentary (мгновенное, однократное), iterative (многократное, повторяющееся), inchoative (зачинательное), durative (продолженное, длительное), etc.

In English the category of aspect is constituted by the opposition of the continuous aspect and the common aspect.

The opposition the continuous aspect <——> the common aspect is actualized in the following contrasting pairs of forms:


Continuous Common
is speaking was speaking will be speaking has been speaking speaks spoke will speak has spoken


The forms in the left-hand column (whether taken in context, or treated by themselves) have a definite meaning: they describe an action as a concrete process going on continuously at a definite moment of time, or characteristic of a definite period of time (hence its name - the continuous aspect). The forms in the right-hand column, if treated by themselves, are devoid of any specific aspectual meaning. They denote the action as such, in a most general way, and can acquire a definite and more specified aspective meaning due to the lexical meaning of the verb and specific elements of the context in which they are used. Thus, for example, the verb form sang, when regarded out of context, has no specific aspectual characteristics, conveying only the idea of the action of singing with reference to the past. However when the same form is used in the context, it acquires the aspectual meaning conferred on it by that context. Compare the following sentences:


When he was young he sang beautifully (пел = умел петь).

He went over to the piano and sang two folk-songs (спел).

He went over to the piano and sang (запел).

While everybody was busy lighting a camp fire, he sang folk-songs (пел).


The fact that these forms may express different aspectual meanings according to the context, accounts for the term - the common aspect.


§ 12.Whereas all verbs can be used in the common aspect, there are certain restrictions as to the use of the continuous aspect. Some verbs do not usually have the forms of the continuous aspect. They are referred to as statal verbs. The most common of them are the following:


1. Relational verbs have, be and some link verbs:

become, remain, appear, seem, sound.

However, both to be and to have can be used in the continuous aspect forms where to be has the meaning to act and to have has a meaning other than to possess.


She is so foolish! I have three brothers. She is being so foolish (acting foolishly) today. I am having dinner (am dining) now.


Other verbs having the same meaning of relation are not used in the continuous aspect forms:


to apply to to belong to to compare (to) to concern to contain to cost to depend on to deserve to differ from to exist to hold to interest to matter to measure to own to possess to remember to stand for to weigh


2. Verbs expressing sense perception, that is involuntary reactions of the senses:


to feel (чувствовать),

to hear (слышать),

to see (видеть),

to smell (чувствовать запах),

to taste (чувствовать вкус).


However these verbs as well as other statal verbs may be sometimes used in continuous and perfect continuous forms, especially in informal English.*

* These verbs will be considered in detail in § 22.


3. Verbs expressing emotional state:


to care, to detest, to envy, to fear, to hate, to hope, to like, to love, to prefer, to want, to wish.


4. Verbs expressing mental state:


to assume, to believe, to consider, to doubt, to expect, to find, to forget, to imagine, to know, to mean, to mind, to notice, to perceive, to remember, to suggest, to suppose, to think, to understand.




Care should be taken to distinguish between some of these verbs denoting a mental state proper and the same verbs used in other meanings. In the latter case continuous aspect forms also occur. Compare, for example, the following pairs of sentences:


I consider (believe) her to be a very good student. I expected (supposed, thought) you’d agree with me. I feel (suppose) there is something wrong about him. I think (suppose) you’re right. I’m still considering (studying) all the pros and cons. I could not come for I was expecting (waiting for) a friend at the time. I’m feeling quite cold.   I am thinking over (studying) your offer.


I am forgetting things more and more now (beginning to forget).

She is understanding grammar better now (beginning to understand).


Moreover, all the verbs treated in § 12 can occur in the continuous aspect when the ideas they denote are to be emphasized:


Don’t shout, I'am hearing you perfectly well!

Why are you staring into the darkness? What are you seeing there?

Are you still remaining my friend.

You see, she’s knowing too much.

They don’t know that inside I know what they’re like, and that all the time I’m hating them.


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