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A coworker and I have been discussing the grammar of an error message on a computer when downloading a file that is too big. The debate is between whether it should say "The file exceeds the maximum file size limit," or "The file is exceeding the maximum file size limit."

I looked up information about transitive/intransitive verbs as well as active/passive verbs, but I couldn't find the grammar or style rules that describe this type of situation (I think I just don't know what to look for.. hence the poorly-worded title). Any insight?

  • The grammar rule that mandates exceeds instead of is exceeding in this case is the one disallows the progressive construction (is selling, is succeeding) when the verb involved is stative (describing a state). Thus you can' t say *I am owning that house because own is stative, but you can say I am renting that house because rent is not stative. Exceed, as it happens, is stative. – John Lawler Jul 18 '18 at 23:07
  • This is the answer I was looking for! Why did you make it a comment instead of an answer? – Marisha Jul 19 '18 at 0:01
  • It's easier this way, and I don't need more points. – John Lawler Jul 19 '18 at 2:12
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In a comment, John Lawler wrote:

The grammar rule that mandates exceeds instead of is exceeding in this case is the one disallows the progressive construction (is selling, is succeeding) when the verb involved is stative (describing a state). Thus you can' t say *I am owning that house because own is stative, but you can say I am renting that house because rent is not stative. Exceed, as it happens, is stative.

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  • Aha! "Stative verb" was the terminology I was looking for and allowed me to search for further examples and explanation. Is there a reason John Lawler commented instead of answered? – Marisha Jul 18 '18 at 23:20
  • @Marisha You can ask him by replying to his comment. 'Rules' in English are notorious for exceptions, though his 'stative verb' comment is an excellent generalisation. – Lawrence Jul 18 '18 at 23:48
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The present participle (-ing) form of a verb expresses something that is an ongoing process.

If you start a stop watch when I begin to grin, you could say after ten second (if I held it that long) that I have been grinning for ten seconds. I am still in the process of grinning.

The file exceeds the maximum file size limit.

This is a simple fact. There is a file that is too large.

The file is exceeding the maximum file size limit.

A common interpretation of this sentence would be that the file, which is too large, is actually growing—there is a process that is ongoing. It started to exceed the limit and it is continuing to exceed to the limit. In computer terms, it could be a log file with events that keep being written to it.

When downloading a file, with a fixed size, it is the former phrasing that you would normally use—because the file isn't growing.

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