I think it’s punctual because an attempt in my view is a specific action and not a process, but I’d appreciate your thoughts on it.

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    Why exactly do you want to make this classification? I'm not aware that it's a significant factor in the analysis of English. For what it's worth, I suggest it's neither/both, since it all depends on what you're attempting. Some attempts are "instantaneous", but you could spend a half a lifetime continuously making a single attempt. Dec 22, 2012 at 5:40
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    if u dont know the answer would u be so kind as to not replying? this is a very significant factor in the analysis of english, actually. and it matters for many interpretations including the meaning the present perfect has when connected to a punctual or durative verb...
    – fay
    Dec 22, 2012 at 5:50
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    Fay, Oh Fay, try linguisticsSE -- ELU is not for linguistics so much as for English exclusively. Remember, grammar is relevant to all languages (or almost?).
    – Kris
    Dec 22, 2012 at 7:33
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    Would you be so kind, Fay, as to use conventional spelling and punctuation here? It makes posts so much easier to read. Dec 22, 2012 at 9:09
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    @FumbleFingers On the contrary, many linguists consider the stative/dynamic, punctual/durative, and atelic/telic contrasts rather important to the analysis of English. Quirk et al. (1985) and Huddleston & Pullum (2002) both felt lexical aspect was a major enough factor to cover in detail. It has practical importance, too―many common errors made by learners are due to unawareness of aspect.
    – user28567
    Jul 9, 2014 at 20:15

2 Answers 2


It may be either. I quote from grammaticalfeatures.net:

Punctual and durative - these refer to situations which are not conceived of as lasting in time (punctual), versus situations which are conceived of as lasting for a certain period of time, however short it may be (durative). Inherently punctual situations can be further interpreted as semelfactive (taking place only once) or iterative (repeated).

To attempt a field goal in (US) football is punctual, and indeed semelfactive, and may be, in the course of a game, iterative; to attempt to build a consensus behind a policy is durative.

The punctual/durative contrast should not be confused with another pair of aspectual terms which I believe are in play here (same source):

Telic and atelic - these refer to situations which have an internal structure consisting of a process leading up to the terminal point and the terminal point (telic), versus situations which do not have an inherent endpoint (atelic). In this semantic distinction, it is particularly clear that situations are not described by verbs alone, but rather by the verb with its arguments (subject and objects), and it is in fact difficult to find sentences that are unambiguously telic or atelic. The telic nature of a situation can often be tested as follows (Comrie 1976:44-45): “if a sentence referring to this situation in a form with imperfective meaning (such as the English Progressive) implies the sentence referring to the same situation in a form with perfective meaning (such as the English Perfect), then the situation is atelic; otherwise it is telic. Thus from John is singing one can deduce John has sung, but from John is making a chair one cannot deduce John has made a chair. Thus a telic situation is one that involves a process that leads up to a well-defined terminal point, beyond which the process cannot continue.”

Note that this author ascribes aspect to situations and the utterances which describe them, not to verbs. In my opinion this is the most convenient way to treat not only aspect but tense and mood in English. My opinion, however, is not expert; for a more authoritative treatment I refer you to the link above and to this ELU question and its answers, particularly that by Drew Ward. His CALLE blog has a valuable series of essays on Time & Language which is still in process.

  • Interesting... The paper I quoted in my answer seemed to indicate that semelfactive meant that it was indeterminate as to whether it was once or iterative. Or maybe I read it wrong?
    – Jim
    Dec 22, 2012 at 6:55
  • @Jim The grammaticalfeatures link addresses this: “In Slavonic linguistics [the whole aspect thing came out of Slavonic linguistics-StoneyB], the term semelfactive is often used to refer to punctual situations irrespective of whether they are used iteratively or not.” I note also that the same terms are often used very differently in our respective sources: for instance, the test your source employs to distinguish durativity is employed in mine to distinguish telicity. I fear lest you and I are come between the pass and fell incenséd points of mighty opposites. Dec 22, 2012 at 7:02
  • This employment is but a whimsy for me; I do not make love to it and thus do I hope to avoid the fates of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
    – Jim
    Dec 22, 2012 at 7:12
  • @Jim A hit, a very palpable hit. Dec 22, 2012 at 7:18
  • @StoneyB- I deleted my answer. I reread that paper and now think that attempted is durative because it is telic.
    – Jim
    Dec 22, 2012 at 9:31

I attempted for nearly five minutes to perceive it as a punctual verb but finally gave up.

  • Why, was it late?
    – tchrist
    Dec 22, 2012 at 5:37
  • But were all those minutes part of the same process? I spent nearly as long the first time around, but stopped attempting at all for a bit, to write a comment. Then I just had another attempt, which really was over in a flash (I had become weary of it by then, and now just seek the tranquillity of closure). Dec 22, 2012 at 5:44
  • I attempted to sleep through the storm last night but the lightning and thunder kept me awake for more than five hours. I can think of more …
    – MetaEd
    Dec 22, 2012 at 5:50
  • ok, let me put it like this. if i say 'i have attempted to discover smthng', would u say im done with my attempt or still attempting at the moment. i think it means im done with it. i think if i were still trying id say 'i have been attempting to discover ...' . the perfective only relates to a finished action with a punctual verb. thats why i think it is punctual. can anyone elaborate an answer that contradicts that without trying to be funny or clever... i only care about the grammatical explanation... please...
    – fay
    Dec 22, 2012 at 6:06
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    @fay: The fact that you can casually write both "I have attempted" and "I am attempting" is surely all the evidence you need that this specific verb can be considered both durative and punctual. I'm not convinced the classification is useful in English, and I don't see how it can usefully assist in establishing meaning, but I think that's a matter best answered over on linguistics, so I will be voting to migrate. Dec 22, 2012 at 19:23

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