I am wondering if there are any verbs/phrases that qualify both as ditransitive, and as atelic. The following shows the relevant tests. The satisfying verb/phrase should have the same * patterns as give w.r.t. ditransitivity, but * patterns with sleep and watch in the telicity tests. A complete answer will provide the evidence that the proposed word passes the test in these ways.

(*'s in the below indicate low acceptability. Note that the absence of a phrase must be interpreted as the absence of any inferrable phrase--adding a phrase silently will increase acceptability, but this should be avoided in order to understand the judgments. It is also intended that a difference in transitivity not change the meaning of the verb, so sometimes a * might indicate that example is not interpretable in the same way as the corresponding non-*ed examples.)


Al slept.

*Al watched.

*Al gave.


*Al slept a man.

Al watched TV.

*Al gave a ring.


*Al watched Mary TV.

*Al watched TV to Mary.

Al gave Mary a ring.

Al gave a ring to Mary.

Single-event compatibility with "in"-phrases:

*Al slept in an hour.

*Al watched TV in an hour.

Al gave Mary a ring in a year.

Single event compatibility with "for"-adverbials:

Al slept for an hour.

Al watched TV for an hour.

*Al gave Mary a ring for a year.

Entailment from the progressive to the perfect:

Al is sleeping. => Al has slept.

Al is watching TV. => Al has watched TV.

Al is giving Mary a ring. !=> Al has given Mary a ring.

Single-event compatibility with "a lot":

Al slept a lot last night.

Al watched TV a lot last night.

*Al gave Mary a ring a lot last night.

  • Am I right or if you replace "a ring" by "rings", "to give" is going to pass every tests?
    – Ugo
    Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 17:39
  • Bare plural nouns ("rings") make a verbal phrase atelic.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 1:39
  • I would like to distinguish atelic in the sense of "durative" from the sense of "frequentative". Hence some tests explicitly mentioned "single-event compatibility": with "for"-phrases, you get a multiple event interpretation: Al gave Mary rings for a year, similarly with "a lot": Al gave Mary rings a lot last night. You also don't get the entailment from the progressive: Al is giving Mary rings !=> Al has given Mary rings. Commented Jun 10, 2013 at 13:47

1 Answer 1


Here are some possibilities, I guess it depends on your test of telicity. In English telicity depends to a large degree on the semantics of the arguments.

rent; allow; cause; cost; guarantee; leave; owe.

  • I'm going to update the question so that its clear the tests should be applied for a complete answer. Using arguments like those in the tests I listed, each of these items fails to pass one or more tests. "rent" is the best, but I think even it fails the single event with "a lot" test, if not also the progressive entailment to the simple past. Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 16:16
  • @AlexisWellwood I did think through the tests with each, and felt they passed (of course, introspection is an unreliable guide to grammaticality) but am quite willing to accept I was wrong on some. But to reiterate, I think their acceptability depends a lot on the arguments. Also I should have made clear leave is not the motion verb but inheritance. Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 4:11

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