Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 205–218

Two new challenges for the modal account of the progressive


DOI: 10.1007/s11050-009-9040-z

Cite this article as:
Wulf, D.J. Nat Lang Semantics (2009) 17: 205. doi:10.1007/s11050-009-9040-z


The progressive in English appears to be inherently modal, due to what Dowty (Word meaning and Montague grammar: The semantics of verbs and times in generative semantics and in Montague’s PTQ, 1979) terms the imperfective paradox. In truth-conditional accounts, the literal truth of a clause with the modal progressive hinges on the possibility of the described outcome. The clause’s truth under such accounts has also been tacitly assumed to describe its felicitous use. Two challenges for this strategy are discussed. First, a progressive clause exhibiting the imperfective paradox can occur felicitously even when the described outcome is not possible. Second, a progressive clause exhibiting the paradox can occur felicitously with an accompanying unless-clause, yet the analysis of unless-clauses directly contradicts the modal analysis of the truth-conditional behavior of the progressive clause in such cases. If the analysis of unless is not flawed, then the modal progressive will require reanalysis.


English language (modern)SemanticsImperfective paradoxTenseAspectApplication of truth-conditional semantics

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.English Department (MSN 3E4), Linguistics ProgramGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA