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Grammatical Aspect in English

Grammatical aspect can be defined as the grammaticalized expression of the temporal structure of an action or state. Temporal structure roughly relates to duration. The English language has four grammatical aspects:

  1. Simple aspect
  2. Perfect aspect
  3. Progressive aspect
  4. Perfect-progressive aspect

Simple Aspect

The first grammatical aspect in the English language is the simple aspect. The simple aspect allows speakers to express discrete or habitual actions or states. For example, the following sentences are examples of the English simple aspect in the present tense:

  • The little girl reads a book every morning.
  • The train leaves in an hour.
  • Book are returned to the main library.

And the following sentences are examples of the English simple aspect in the past tense:

  • He painted me a picture.
  • The puppy puked on the floor.
  • The dishes were washed last night.

Perfect Aspect

The second grammatical aspect in the English language is the perfect aspect. The perfect aspect allows speakers to express and emphasize the consequences of a previous action or state. For example, the following sentences are examples of the English perfect aspect in the present tense:

  • I have studied for the test.
  • The woman has changed her outfit.
  • The speech has been written for the ceremony.

And the following sentences are examples of the English perfect aspect in the past tense:

  • The students had met the lecturer before.
  • I had just jumped into the shower when the phone rang.
  • The bedding had already been washed.

Progressive Aspect

The third grammatical aspect in the English language is the progressive aspect. The progressive aspect allows speakers to express incomplete or ongoing actions or states. For example, the following sentences are examples of the English progressive aspect in the present tense:

  • I am listening to the song.
  • He is watching the movie trailer.
  • Refreshments are being provided by the professor.

And the following sentences are examples of the English progressive aspect in the past tense:

  • The woman was shopping online.
  • We were hiking in the woods.
  • The packages were being delivered by UPS.

Perfect-Progressive Aspect

The fourth grammatical aspect in the English language is the perfect-progressive aspect. The perfect-progressive aspect allows speakers to express and emphasize the consequences of a previous ongoing or incomplete action or states. For example, the following sentences are examples of the English perfect-progressive aspect in the present tense:

  • Her grandfather has been smoking again.
  • We have been studying English verbs.
  • The vegetables have been being watered by kids in the neighborhood.

And the following sentences are examples of the English perfect-progressive aspect in the past tense:

  • He had been jogging when the storm hit.
  • Donations had been being collected over the summer.
  • The company had been being investigated for code violations.

Grammatical aspect expresses the temporal structure of an action or state.

References

Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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