From what I've been reading about progressive verb forms those types of verbs are more often atelic, but I'm wondering if there are progressive forms that are exceptions to that. Or how can atelic/telic verb forms be used to definitively express either progressive, or simple forms of verbs?

Some of the usual verb forms:

  1. He looked in the mirror brushing his teeth.
  2. He looked in the mirror while he was brushing his teeth.
  3. He brushed his teeth while looking in the mirror.

I have a related question here Are there verbs that are neither telic, or atelic?

The article on telicity https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telicity

Edit: I think I have figured out the difference between telicity, and progression. Progression is more precise, and standard. I still don't know if progression is necessarily atelic, or telic. Or the other way around.

  • Aren't 1 and 2 the same, just with the verb phrase left out in 1?. This is high-level linguistics stuff for sure. I can't even find a reference for 'Atelic' and it's not a term I know.
    – user8356
    Mar 15, 2019 at 17:20
  • Maybe. I just put some quick examples to start with. I'll add an article about telic/atalic in the body. Mar 15, 2019 at 17:27

1 Answer 1


Verbs can be expressed in a progressive form if they have duration (ex: I was running. Running is something one does for an amount of time).

Telic verbs involve a change of state on completion, or have some intrinsic limit.

These are somewhat independent. Some examples:

An event that has duration and is atelic is sometimes called an activity. "I was running. " (note that "I ran" doesn't sound right unless context implies some intrinsic limit- for instance if you were talking about yesterday, or how you got to the park).

An event that has duration and is telic is called an accomplishment. "I was running to the store. I ran to the store." (Ok, telicity isn't really a property of verbs but of predicates. [run] is atelic, [run,to:store] is telic.

An event that does not have duration but is telic is called an achievement. "I found my keys." (one couldn't say "I am finding my keys" because finding something doesn't have duration)

Note that a sequence of same achievements can happen. This sequence has a duration, though the individual achievements do not. "I was finding good stories in the newspaper." Finding something is telic without duration, but finding a class of things has duration and is atelic. I think these later actions are called semelfactives.

This description of an underlying action (does it have duration? does its completion involve a change of state?) is referred to as aktionsart or lexical aspect. (lexical because it refers to the underlying verb and not its conjugation- though we saw that one must consider the verb's complements to characterize its aktionsart). Grammatical aspect is how the lexical aspect is present- [run,to:store] may have duration, but the lexical aspect of "I ran to the store" places the listener after the action as is independent of whether the action has duration. "I was running to the store" places the listener in the middle of the action, implying it has duration. These two phrases have different grammatical aspect while working with the same lexical aspect.

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