Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 205–218

Two new challenges for the modal account of the progressive



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) Semantics Imperfective paradox Tense Aspect Application of truth-conditional semantics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abusch, Dorit. 1985. On verbs and time. PhD dissertation, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.Google Scholar
  2. Aristotle. 1941. The basic works of Aristotle. Edited with an introduction by Richard McKeon. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  3. Bennett, Michael, and Barbara Partee. 1972. Towards the logic of tense and aspect in English. [Reprinted with a postscript by IULC, Bloomington, 1978].Google Scholar
  4. Declerck Renaat, Susan Reed. (2000) The semantics and pragmatics of unless. English Language and Linguistics 4(2): 205–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dowty David. (1979) Word meaning and Montague grammar: The semantics of verbs and times in generative semantics and in Montague’s PTQ. Reidel, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  6. Higginbotham, James. 2004. The English progressive. In The syntax of time, ed. J. Guéron and J. Lecarme, 329–358. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Jespersen Otto. (1932) A modern English grammar on historical principles. Allen and Unwin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Landman Fred. (1992) The progressive. Natural Language Semantics 1: 1–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Montague, Richard. 1970. Pramatics and intensional logic, Synthese 22: 68–94. [Reprinted in R. Montague, Formal philosophy, Chap. 4. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1974.]Google Scholar
  10. Naumann, Ralf, and Christopher Piñón. 1997. Decomposing the progressive. In Proceedings of the 11th Amsterdam Colloquium, 241–246. Amsterdam: ITLI.Google Scholar
  11. Parsons Terence. (1989) The progressive in English: Events, states and processes. Linguistics and Philosopy 12: 213–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Parsons Terence. (1990) Events in the semantics of English: A study in subatomic semantics. MIT Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  13. Portner Paul. (1998) The progressive in modal semantics. Language 74: 760–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Scott, Dana. 1970. Advice on modal logic. In Philosophical problems in logic, ed. K. Lambert, 143–173. Dordrecht: Reidel.Google Scholar
  15. Stechow, Arnim von. 2001. Temporally opaque arguments in verbs of creation. In Semantic interfaces: Reference, anaphora, and aspect, ed. C. Cecchetto, G. Chierchia, and M. T. Guasti, 278–319. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  16. Sweet Henry. (1898) New English grammar, Part II. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  17. Szabó Zoltán Gendler. (2004) On the progressive and the perfective. Noûs 38:29–59Google Scholar
  18. Vlach, Frank. 1981. The semantics of the progressive. In Syntax and semantics, vol. 14: Tense and aspect, ed. Philip J. Tedesschi and Annie Zaenen, 271–292. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

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

Personalised recommendations