Does English have the [ inchoative aspect ] ?

The first passage quoted below says NO, but the second says YES. . . . So I guess it depends on the definition.

Is English generally/usually said to (or considered to) have the [ inchoative aspect ] ?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inchoative_aspect -- The English language can approximate the inchoative aspect through the verbs "to become" or "to get" combined with an adjective.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stative_verb#Difference_from_inchoative -- In English, a verb that expresses a state can also express the entrance into a state. This is called inchoative aspect. The simple past is sometimes inchoative. For example, the present-tense verb in the sentence "He understands his friend" is stative, while the past-tense verb in the sentence "Suddenly he understood what she said" is inchoative, because it means "He understood henceforth". On the other hand, the past-tense verb in "At one time, he understood her" is stative.

1 Answer 1


This is a case where we have to distinguish between the ability to express something in a language and the presence or absence of a grammatical structure dedicated to expressing that something.

English does not have a grammatical structure dedicated to expressing the inchoative aspect. But it is still possible to express inchoativity by using the verbs ''become'' or ''get'', or some other means (some of which are outlined in the WP articles referenced by the question). Inchoativity is something that I'm sure all human languages can express, but many do not have a specific grammatical structure dedicated to this usage.

Regarding the two passages you quote, they both say the same thing: that English has a variety of grammatical constructions that can be used to indicate inchoative aspect, but there is no particular grammatical construction which can be said to be the 'inchoative aspect'.

This amounts to a terminological issue as ''aspect'' can refer to either the meaning expressed or grammatical equipment used to express the meaning. By contrast, in the related domain of modality we have two terms: ''mood'' refers to the distinctive grammatical form/s, while ''modality'' refers to the meaning/s being expressed. Again, all human languages can express all the modalities that humans want to express, but languages vary in how many grammatical moods they have.

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    Why do you not consider the "get V-ing" construction to be a grammatical construction?
    – user6726
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 23:36
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    Perhaps it is reductionist, but I think aspect is usually part of verbal inflectional paradigms. At least in most cases. The get V-ing structure is not inflectional.
    – Teusz
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 13:32
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    Get is a very common source of inchoative sense, but it's not totally productive and it's certainly not paradigmatic. There are dozens of ways to signal inchoation (and causativity, for that matter), but there is no one single way to do it. This is akin to "future 'tense'" in English; we can express the future in dozens of ways, but there is no single "future tense".
    – jlawler
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 14:31
  • @user6726 it is of course a grammatical construction but as jlawler points out it is used to express a variety of meanings. There may be some dialectal variation in this, for me it seems the core semantics of the "get V-ing" construction is more hortatory or inceptive but certainly it is also often inchoative. Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 2:26
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    Perfect, progressive, inchoative, etc. are all expressed using serial (control) verbs. Perfect and progressive are well behaved and their control verbs ('have' and 'be') are called 'auxiliaries'. 'Get' (or often 'become') can replace 'be' as the auxiliary for both progressive ("get going") and passive ("get eaten"). Control verbs often have nuance between 'verb-ing' and 'to verb' ("He is/gets going" vs "He has/is/gets to go"). Some even imply passive ("It needs washing" = "It needs to be washed", instead of "It needs being washed").
    – amI
    Commented Sep 7, 2016 at 19:33

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