I am a reading a book called, The Teacher's Grammar of English.

Achievement verbs have previously been mentioned here. Many of you might be familiar with the matter.

The sentences below are examples of ungrammatical sentences, which I don't understand.

The book says:

Achievement verbs usually cannot occur with stop or start.

*He started catching the kitten. (I don't understand this sentence, it seems alright to me.)

*He stopped recognizing the thief.

  • 4
    Please edit your question. The quoted sentence from the book is not correct English. Achievement verbs are usually cannot occur with stop or start. If this is indeed what is written in the book, then please throw the book away. Otherwise, please post the correct sentence here.
    – teylyn
    Mar 27, 2014 at 7:32
  • You probably think that 'He started catching the kitten' has an obvious and sensible meaning. We'd say something like 'He needed to / wanted to / ought to / should catch the kitten. He set about the task.' Rather a mouthful, but it doesn't break any of the rules of grammar. Sadly, 'He started catching / to catch the kitten' does. Somebody has analysed the situation with this sort of forbidden construction, looking at the types of thing the verbs involved do, classifying the types and giving them fancy names. Mar 27, 2014 at 12:41
  • '[At last, seventeen years after the oil spill, t]hey started catching more fish' doesn't sound at all unacceptable. This is probably because the 'catching' here is not a one-off event (or attempt!). Mar 27, 2014 at 15:02

3 Answers 3


Here is a screenshot of the chapter, as can be seen on Google books here:

enter image description here

You may recognize someone or you do not recognize them. But there is no start or end to the process of recognition.

With the kitten: you either caught it or you didn't. It's one or the other. But there is no process where you start catching, and then continue catching and then stop catching. The kitten runs across the room. You make a grab for it. You either catch it or you don't. No start or stop.

It's different with the verb "hunting". This does indeed have a start and an end and a duration. So you can start hunting the kitten while you two are in the same room. And while you are hunting it, you may catch it. But the catching is an instantaneous achievement, not a process.

  • The 'process of recognition' starts when you subconsciously start to connect memories and visual etc stimuli; it ends with the event of recognition (to which the often punctive verb 'recognise' usually refers). One can reference the process in broadened senses: 'I'm beginning to recognise just how selfish he is.' Mar 27, 2014 at 12:29

It's quite simple --

"catching" or "recognizing" happens at one moment in time. (You could say, "during one split-second.")

So you can't "stop" doing those things.

In contrast, for example: "searching" happens over say 10 minutes. So you can "stop" "searching".

The book is just trying to explain that in a complicated way.


I should think that such "grammar explanations" as achievement verbs can' t be used as to-infinitive after such verbs as to start or to stop are overexplanations of trivial things. I can't imagine that in any language someone would say: 1 I started to find my lost key. or 2 I stopped to find my lost key.

I would agree with teylyn and say throw that book away. It crams things into your head which are not grammar but rubbish.

  • "I stopped to find my lost key" makes perfect sense, but it doesn't mean what you think it does. For example, "I was driving to the daycare center. I had given my child my house key to play with, and she threw it out the window. I stopped to find my lost key. After I pulled over, the police gave me a ticket for parking illegally." Mar 27, 2014 at 12:52
  • Well, I would say the woman stopped to look for her key
    – rogermue
    Mar 27, 2014 at 13:47
  • 'English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.' English is not as simple as many people would like it to be; this is not the website for most of them. Would you say 'I have started to find my feet / true identity' is as 'wrong' as 'I have started to find the kitten'? '[Y]ou really have to start finding a job' [internet] shows that you can 'start [the motions that lead to] finding a thing', at least in colloquial English. It's not obvious why some catenations are allowed but not others Mar 27, 2014 at 14:58

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