In the following sentences:

(1) I am writing a letter.
(2) I wrote a letter yesterday.
(3) I will write a letter tomorrow.
(4) I often write letters.
(5) I like writing letters.
(6) It is my evening habit to write letters.

(1)-(3) are not-habitual. These sentences contain a SINGULAR object. (4)-(6) are habitual. They contain a PLURAL object. We cannot say:

(7) *I often write a letter.
(8) *I like writing a letter.
(9) *It's my evening habit to write a letter.

Is it reasonable to assume that the HABITUAL aspect in (4)-(6) contributes to licensing PLURAL objects in these data? Observe that the argument structure is not violated here. All these verbs are transitive with two lexical nouns (sub & obj).

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    – Alenanno
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 6:28

2 Answers 2


Is it reasonable to assume that the habitual aspect in (4)-(6) contributes to licensing plural objects in these data?

No. Your examples are not ungrammatical, and your question proceeds from false premises. There are counterexamples to your conjecture in other dialects of English which overtly mark habitual aspect such as AAVE, and once we show (7-9) are grammatical, we can see that your data contains its own counter examples.

Simply Googling sentences (7-9) show that they are substrings used in exactly the way you describe:

  • "I often write a letter or paragraph, and on revision throw my MS. away in disgust and vexation." (1952)
  • "I like writing a letter every couple days to a family member and or loved one" (2020)
  • "Longstroth said he's made it a habit to write a letter each fall for agents to include with insurance claims" (2013)

These sentences undeniably denote habitual activities, and yet take singular objects. If (7-9) are ungrammatical, then these sentences must also be ungrammatical. Since these examples are naturalistic productions by speakers, they are by definition grammatical. Thus, we have proved by contradiction that the original premise---that sentences (7-9) are ungrammatical---must be false.

Since (7-9) are grammatical, we have minimal pairs between (4-6) and (7-9). Despite the verbs having habitual aspect in both cases, the object can be either plural or singular meaning the verb has no effect on the plurality of the object. Thus it is not reasonable to assume that habitual aspect contributes to the forms of (4-6).

  • You’ve altered the data again, don’t you see that clearly. You’re not allowed to add more chunks to the sentences; leave them as they are, and see if they’re ungrammatical. I don’t how can I make this clear enough !!
    – Tsutsu
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 8:39
  • If your hypothesis is correct, it should generalize beyond 3 sentences.
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 5:51
  • which hypothesis ?
    – Tsutsu
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 7:22
  • The hypothesis that habitual aspect is related to object plurality. If (7)-(9) are the only sentences in the English language which exhibit this pattern, then it's probably not actually a pattern. It's not that you've been unclear; it's that your question proceeds from false premises. I've been trying to make my answers more helpful than just saying your question is misguided.
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 8:03
  • It’s not a hypothesis, by the way. I was trying to understand what relates aspect to object number that’s all..your answers were helpful.
    – Tsutsu
    Commented Jun 8, 2020 at 15:42

Most Englishes don't mark habitual aspect in the present tense. As commenters have pointed out, the examples in (7-9) aren't ungrammatical. Despite this, your question is still interesting: Do verbs with habitual aspect require plural objects? We can test this with African-American Vernacular English which has overt habitual aspect marking in the present tense.

Dillard (1972) provides the following sentence which I've glossed:

You    makin  sense but you    don't  be  makin  sense
2nd.Sg making sense but 2nd.Sg do.Neg Hab making sense
`You're making sense, but usually you don't make sense.'

In this example we see a verb with habitual aspect take "sense" as its object. As used here, "sense" is uncountable and so has no plural form---"You don't make senses" is ungrammatical. So we see in this example a verb marked with habitual aspect taking a singular object.

We can also test this with a pronoun. English 1st person distinguishes singular and plural number, so if an aspectual verb can take a singular object, we should see the singular first person pronoun instead of the plural first person pronoun. This example from The Sacred Place (Black 2007) shows this is the case:

Sometime    she    be  laughin  as she    be  beatin  me
Sometime.Pl 3rd.Sg Hab laughing as 3rd.Sg Hab beating 1st.Sg
`Sometimes she [speaker's mother] laughs when she disciplines me.'

Given the evidence from AAVE and the grammaticality of (4-6), it seems that there is no relationship between habitual aspect and plural objects in English.

  • Dillard, J. (1972), Black English: its history and usage in the United States. Random House.
  • Black, D. (2007), The Sacred Place. St. Martin's Press.
  • Comments above have either changed my data or put them in different context, as you did with your answer. You took different data and started to comment on them. If you want to answer consider whether (7)-(9) still stand as ungrammatical, if they do then answer if they don’t then your additional data would add nothing.
    – Tsutsu
    Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 9:26
  • I've added another answer which addresses your data more directly
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 4, 2020 at 1:54

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