Indefinite aspect {habitual action vs. fact}

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Lun-14, Jan 13, 2018.

  1. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    Hi

    Indefinite Aspect | What is the Indefinite Aspect?

    I don't understand the red line. If someone eats fish, it is clear that it is a habitual action. Also, it is a fact that that "someone" eats fish.
    So I don't understand why it is unclear whether it's a habitual action or a fact.:confused:

    Could you please clear this up for me? If you could give an example to support your explanation, it'd be very helpful.



    Thanks a lot.
     
  2. grassy

    grassy Senior Member

    Warsaw
    Polish
    It can indeed mean two things:

    a) it's a habitual action; he eats fish every day, for example
    b) it's a fact that he consumes fish; he's not a vegetarian; it doesn't matter when or how often he does it, he just does it.
     
  3. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    The sentence could be used to refer to a habitual action or merely a fact. It needn't be a habitual action.
    By itself, it doesn't say anything about whether it's used to refer to a habitual action or a fact. It's dependent on context. The earlier two examples are more clearly merely facts.

    Cross-posted.
     
  4. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    It is a difficult distinction to describe, as it involves "fish" as a countable and uncountable noun (often where the distinction is only slight) - but they are two distinct concepts that are clearer when there is context:

    Habitual/regular/frequent action:
    1. Mankind and bears are both omnivores - they both eat plants, meat, and fish.
    2. "I am cooking snapper, please join me. Do you eat fish?" -> "Do you regularly eat fish?" with the nuance of "Is fish something that you enjoy eating?"

    A simple single action.
    "John goes into the restaurant and eats fish."

    The problem becomes easier to see if a countable noun

    "People eat apples" same as "People eat fish."
    "I eat an apple" same as "On this occasion, I eat a fish".
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
  5. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    But this sentence seems to mean John regularly goes into the restaurant and eats fish, doesn't it?
     
  6. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    How do you know? It could also refer to a single occurrence.
     
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    You seem to be raising objections without making the effort to understand.
    No, it doesn't (notice "into" and not "to".)

    But
    (i) even if it does, I think you can use your imagination to envisage a single event. For example, I do not think that providing your own example of "He happens to be hungry so he goes into a restaurant and eats fish." is beyond your capabilities.

    (ii) If you can see that the sentence has two potential meanings, then you have understood the problem that the author in the link is trying to explain - you have therefore answered your own question.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
  8. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    I know because the tense is simple present, i.e. "goes". Simple present tense shows the regular/habitual action.
    More examples:
    He plays cricket. -> He regularly plays cricket.
    I drink water. -> I regularly drink water.
    The sun rises in the east. -> The sun regularly rises in the east.
    People ask questions on WRF. -> People regularly ask questions on WRF.


    How? If it'd referred to a single occurrence, it would have used the simple past tense, i.e.

    John went into the restaurant and ate fish.


    This clearly shows John's going into the restaurant and eating fish at some time in the past. So it is a single occurrence - John doesn't regularly/habitually goes into the restaurant and eats fish.
     
  9. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    Did you read #7?
    That doesn't necessarily mean it has to be a habitual action.
    Not necessarily.
     
  10. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Did you read #7?
    Now give us four examples of where the present tense relates only to one instance...
     
  11. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    Yes, I did, but I'm confused - I don't understand his point. I have always been taught that present simple tense always shows the regular/habitual action (examples in #8). I'm not sure how it can refer to a single occurrence.:rolleyes:

    I need to know when present simple tense can refer to a habitual action and when it can refer to a single action.
     
  12. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    I can't - I am having a hard time understanding how present simple tense can refer to a single occurrence of an action.:confused::rolleyes:

    A woman slaps me in the supermarket. -> Every day when I goes to the supermarket, a woman slaps me. It is a habitual action that I receive every day from the woman. It is a habitual action. -> How can it refer to a single occurrence?:confused::rolleyes:

    A woman slapped me in the supermarket -> It is a single occurrence of the action that I received from the woman on one particular day. -> How can it refer to a habitual occurrence?:confused::rolleyes:
     
  13. VicNicSor

    VicNicSor Senior Member

    Russia
    Russian
    So not only have you been taught the wrong thing, you've also always been taught that!
    But it only takes a couple of clicks in the internet to see that the present simple has many other meanings apart from "habitual". E.g.:
    Present simple ( I work ) - English Grammar Today - Cambridge Dictionary
    Note the first usage at the link: "general truths and facts", which is what is meant by "fact" in the OP.
     
  14. velisarius

    velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    The present simple is used also for present tense narratives. Whole novels have beeen written in the present tense. A running commentary will also make use of this tense. (I'm sure you've heard sports commentators.)
     
  15. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    Lun asked me to comment on this thread, but if there is any confusion here it appears all to be in Lun's understanding.

    Lun - it appears very clear to me, you simply are insisting on something that isn't true.

    I think perhaps you don't comprehend what is meant by something being "a fact."

    Light passes through transparent materials. This is a fact, not a habitual action. There exist transparent materials that have been kept in the dark since they were produced (for example, unused photographic film). They are still transparent, and light still passes through them (although it never has). That is what it means that the present tense is used as a 'fact.'

    So let's take the example of Emily. Emily has been raised as a vegetarian her whole life. But now that she is 18, she has decided she will no longer be a vegetarian. Now, she is an omnivore and she eats fish and meat.

    She has never eaten fish, but, now she isn't a vegetarian anymore and she eats fish. It is not a habitual action... it's just a fact.

    Emily's older sister, Esther, also stopped being a vegetarian when she turned 18. She eats fish and meat. But Esther's husband Michael is a vegetarian, so Esther doesn't eat those foods often or habitually. She only eats them once in a while. It is still a fact that she eats meat and fish.
     
  16. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Me too, and I agree.
    - That is simply untrue. It sounds far too much like a rule, and there are no rules.

    Try and get your money back from your teacher.

    "The man dies."
    How habitual is that?
    :thumbsup:
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
  17. moseen

    moseen Senior Member

    Farsi
    Hello.
    How we can understand when it is habitual and when a fact, please?
     
  18. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    From the context, moseen. And if there's any likelihood of confusion, we ask for clarification.

    (Lun did not ask me to contribute to this thread.)
     
  19. moseen

    moseen Senior Member

    Farsi
    Thank you very much.
    I am sorry, If you have only one sentence, Can you please explain it in two ways when it is habitual and when it is a fact?
     
  20. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    Let's forget what she'd been doing before she turned 18. Now, as you say, she eats fish. How do you know that it is not a habitual action?
     
  21. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    moseen - Some sentences are more likely, stand alone, to be one or the other. Most can be made to mean either given the right context, but some usages of present tense just don't quite fit into every category.

    Here's an example of a stand alone sentence that could easily be construed in several of the ways described above, and some example contexts I like...

    Mary writes magazine articles.

    1. Fact: Mary has just been hired at her first job as a writer. The magazine Marie Claire hired her last week. And what is her job there? Mary writes magazine articles. She also has to suggest topics for other writers' articles, and conduct interviews with celebrities.

    2. Habitual action: Mary is a freelance writer. Once, she wrote a guidebook for tourists visiting her hometown. How does she make most of her money? Mary writes magazine articles. Usually the editor of a magazine will send her a request for an article on a specific topic of a specific length. Mary has a reputation for turning in good articles of the right length on time and without causing trouble, so she has as much repeat business as she wants.

    3. Present tense narration: It's the end of the month and Mary has a lot of bills to pay. Her husband was fired from his job last week, and she's worried. She's never had to be the breadwinner before. She's a poet, and most of what she writes gets published in literary journals that pay in prestige, not cash. But, she thinks, she can trade on that prestige. Mary writes magazine articles. When she has three finished, she sends an email to each of the three magazine editors who, at various times in the past, she's become personally acquainted with. She sells the articles overnight. Now she can pay those bills.

    ---

    Lun - it's meaningless to say an action is habitual if it has never occurred. I don't even understand how you can ask that given the quote. "She has never eaten fish." "How do you know that it is not a habitual action?" What?
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
  22. Jimbob_Disco

    Jimbob_Disco Senior Member

    England
    British English
    If it’s just a fact, I’d be more likely to say ‘he’s eating fish’, to imply the currency of this. However, I’d say ‘he eats fish’ to imply habituality. Hope this helps! JD
     
  23. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    Jimbob - even in my examples? Because I think that would be odd. I'd say your assertion not only doesn't help, it's going to make Lun have an even harder time accepting that sometimes the present simple tense is used factually rather than habituallly.
     
  24. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    You said she's turned 18, and now she eats fish. It is not clear here whether or not she's eating fish habitually nowadays. Then how can you claim with full certainty that she isn't eating fish habitually nowadays? -> (your bold red)

     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018
  25. Jimbob_Disco

    Jimbob_Disco Senior Member

    England
    British English
    Not in your examples. You’ll notice that I quoted ‘grassy’, and was therefore rephrasing HIS examples to try and show a difference that SOMETIMES occurs in the English language.
     
  26. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    If you only have one sentence you do not have enough context to know which is meant - and because there's no context for interpretation, it doesn't matter which is meant! It's like asking what does the word "wind" mean, without any context, it could mean a variety of things.

    Simple context :
    On Fridays she eats fish. (Regular occurrence)
    She doesn't eat meat but she eats fish. (Simple fact about her food preference, but not about how often she eats it)
     
  27. VicNicSor

    VicNicSor Senior Member

    Russia
    Russian
    Really, why are you even asking such a question, if the reply was like this?:confused:
     
  28. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I agree with you that any statement that is true is a fact, whether it says anything about a habit or not.

    I also find the use of the word habit misleading when used to describe things like imperfect aspect.

    But all that is clear about "eats" in "He eats fish" is that it is simple present tense. It could be historical present about something that happened one time, it could be about something that happened more than once, it could be about something he is able to do (as when I say "I speak English"), it could be about something he is willing to do (as when I say "I am a pescetarian"), it could be about something he does as a habit, either regularly or irregularly, or it could be about something he does routinely though not necessarily habitually. (And there are other possibilities, probably not worth listing out.)
     
  29. RM1(SS)

    RM1(SS) Senior Member

    Connecticut
    English - US (Midwest)
    He can claim that because of the context.

    She eats fish once in January, twice in March, and once in November. A simple statement of fact, told using the present tense.
    She eats fish every other Tuesday. A habitual action.

    I've eaten lobster twice, and both occasions were over 34 years ago, but I would be willing to eat it again.* I eat lobster.


    * As long as I don't have to butcher it myself, anyway.
     
  30. dojibear Senior Member

    Fresno CA
    English - Northeast US
    Many present tense statements are not "habitual" or "universal facts". For example:

    You are wearing a green shirt today.
    Your shirt is pretty.
    I am hungry.
    That bus is very crowded.

    How do you know when a statement refers to habitual action? It is up to the writer (or speaker) to tell you! The writer must add words someplace that lets you know it is habitual. Sometimes it is a time word like "most evenings". (It may be in different sentences, not this one.)

    It's the same with "universal facts". They often use a pronoun like "you, we, one" to mean "any person", but they will also express "universal fact" in some way in this same sentence or a connected sentence.

    It is never the responsibility of the reader to guess: is this simple present, or habitual, or a universal fact? The writer must make it clear.
    If the writer doesn't tell you, you don't know -- and neither does a fluent AE speaker like me.

    In this forum, we often use single sentences as examples. That is okay for studying syntax. But not for meaning. That is not how sentences are used in real life (in any language). Sentences are part of a paragraph, an essay, an article, or a conversation. Everything around them is "context" which will tell you whether this sentence (or sentence fragment, in spoken English) is a habitual action, a universal fact or a simple statement -- or an idiom, an old proverb, a command, a question, an exclamation or something else.

    If you make up a one-sentence example and ask what it "means," we often don't know. It may be ambiguous.

    If you find a single sentence or phrase in a dictionary, you often don't know what it implies. It may be ambiguous.

    Those are not complete examples of how language is actually used.
     
  31. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    I can claim with full certainty because I made Emily up and she turned 18 the day before yesterday - has no idea how to cook fish - and still lives with her vegetarian parents. Her boyfriend promised to take her to a restaurant tonight for a date, and she might order fish, but she's a little afraid to because what if she doesn't like it? Then her boyfriend would have paid for an expensive dish she didn't like. She would rather taste it for the first time in a less pressure-filled situation. So maybe it'll be weeks before she eats fish for the first time. It hasn't happened yet. The only thing that already happened was her decision to eat meat and fish now that she's legally an adult, so she can make up her own mind about vegetarianism instead of feeling like it was forced on her by Mom and Dad.
     
  32. VicNicSor

    VicNicSor Senior Member

    Russia
    Russian
    Just in case it is confusing: my remark in #27 was addressed to Lun, who later edited her post (#24) so it now says the opposite of what I quoted:):D
     
  33. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    It was slightly confusing, but I figured it out, I think. It still made sense.

    Why ask "how do you know she does not habitually eat fish?" when the context "she has never eaten fish" was given? How can that question even arise in a person's mind given that context?

    Nevertheless I sympathize with Lun's need to argue this into the ground. I used to do the same thing (and still do when sufficiently distressed/upset by my own misperception's inaccuracy). It was my way of bashing new facts into my head past the cognitive dissonance.
     
  34. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    Got it, Truffula. Thanks.
    Could I ask what you would comment on the following sentences, please? How can they be taken as a habitual action and how can they be a fact?
    He plays cricket.
    I drink water.
    The sun rises in the east.
    People ask questions on WRF.
     
  35. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    The sun rises in the east: a nice obvious one that is both fact and "habitual" action in one. To the extent that you can say a celestial body has a "habit."

    He plays cricket: Could be either, or part of a narrative, similar to Mary writes magazine articles in my above post. If he just changed employers from a football team to a cricket team, it's a fact. If he has belonged to an amateur cricket league for the last ten years, it's habitual. If you're telling a story about how he goes to a field, picks up a bat for the first time, and plays pretty well for a novice, it's narrative.

    I drink water: - this one is like she eats fish just change the details from not being a vegetarian anymore to giving up drinking carbonated beverages for health reasons.

    No comment on the last one :D
     
  36. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    This is what you said:
    The confusion arises from your bold red. You said she [now] eats fish - she's started eating fish now. Next you said the bold blue, i.e. she is not eating fish habitually. My question was: how did you come to know that she is not eating fish habitually? From the standalone sentence "She [now] eats fish. -> She is eating fish nowadays.", it is not clear whether she is eating fish habitually or occasionally.
    For example,
    When I say to you, "I go to ShiwaJi Temple" and you say "You go to the temple habitually". I would immediately ask, "Truffula, how do you know that I go to the temple habitually?".:rolleyes: I didn't tell you that I go to the temple habitually; I just told you that I go there.

    I hope it is now clear. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018
  37. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    From the context, as people have been trying to explain and which you'll see if you read #15.

    Yes, true, but you're the only one who's reading it as a stand-alone sentence. Others read it in context. And the fact that you're saying it's not clear whether it's habitual or occasional shows that it doesn't need to be habitual.
     
  38. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    Thanks, Barque. I now have got it. :)
     
  39. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    Good explanation, Barque - thank you for clearing it up. :)

    So, Lun asked me to comment on why this is called the "indefinite" aspect. I had no idea so I looked it up.

    Indefinite Aspect | What is the Indefinite Aspect? is where Google pointed me. Fortunately, there was a good explanation at the very beginning.

    "The indefinite aspect (or simple aspect as it's more commonly called) is the verb form used to express a fact. Unlike the progressive aspect or the perfect aspect, the indefinite aspect does not make it clear whether the action is a complete action or a habitual action." This, in the article linked, is followed by examples.

    I think they are saying that it's called indefinite because you aren't sure which way it means (factual and habitual, or factual and not habitual) without context.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
  40. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    Did you find it anywhere else? I looked and didn't find it.

    The OED gives a meaning for "indefinite", which corresponds to the linked author's definition, but the examples are from the same author, in the same book, and from the 16th century:

    Indefinite II. specifically (in various technical uses).
    3. Grammar.
    a. Applied to various adjectives, pronominal words, and adverbs, which do not define or determine the actual person or thing, the place, time, or manner, to which they refer; as any, other, some, such, somewhere, anyhow, otherwise, etc.: esp. in indefinite article, a name for the individualizing adjective a, an (a adj.), or its equivalents in other languages.
    1727 N. Bailey Universal Etymol. Eng. Dict. II Indefinite Pronouns.
    1728 E. Chambers Cycl. at Article The Article A is said to be indefinite, because applied to Names taken in their more general, and confused Signification.
    1877 W. F. Moulton tr. Winer Gram. N.T. Greek iii. §25. 2 The indefinite pronoun τις, τι, is joined to abstract nouns.


    b. Applied to those tenses or inflexions of verbs which merely denote an action taking place at some time (past, present, or future), without specifying whether it is continuous or complete (thus distinguished from both imperfect and perfect), e.g. the Greek aorist and the English simple past; [reference to French omitted]
    1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement Introd. 32 The indiffynite indicatyve of the thyrde conjugation endeth ever in S.
    1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 84 The indiffinite tens, as je parlay, I spake.
    1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 382 To knowe therfore howe and whan the frenche men use their preter imparfyte tence, and whan their indiffynyte tence, whiche name I borowe of the grekes, for they have a tence whiche they call aoristus, that is to say, indifinitus, whiche moche resembleth this tence in the frenche tonghe.
     
  41. Truffula

    Truffula Senior Member

    English - USA
    Sure... wikipedia Simple present - Wikipedia

    Grammarly blog: Simple Present "sometimes called present indefinite"

    and this english arts blog English Grammar: The Indefinite Tenses

    There's probably more... but no, it's not exactly a TON of reputable sources... So it sounds like the real answer is "some guy in the 16th century called it that in a book and people still use his term" :)

    (the big smile is insulting, this is sad news... I think it is cute)
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
  42. VicNicSor

    VicNicSor Senior Member

    Russia
    Russian
    It's the source Lun was using in #1, by the way:D And indeed the very first paragraph there explains it well enough!
     
  43. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    I had problem understanding the little explanation given in that link. That is why I asked in here. I thought native speakers would explain it better.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2018
  44. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    That link indeed does contain the same key message everyone has been providing:
    and context or logic are the required pieces that can make it clear.
     
  45. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    Could you please give an example and explain how in this example it isn't clear whether the action is complete or a habitual action?
     
  46. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    You've provided one yourself.
     
  47. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    But in the definition that I've marked blue in #45, there's also mention of "complete action". I don't know how to understand the concept of the "complete action" in the example.:(
     
  48. Barque Senior Member

    India
    Tamil
    It's the same as a factual statement referring to a single completed action. It's described on that page you linked to.
     
  49. VicNicSor

    VicNicSor Senior Member

    Russia
    Russian
    This is from the link you gave in #1:
    I was going to clarify that, but that request was deleted before I could, so I hope it is not anymore insulting--:D--
     
  50. Lun-14

    Lun-14 Senior Member

    Hindi
    But from the standalone sentence "We climbed Mount Everest yesterday", it is clear that it is a complete action, isn't it? :confused:
    Could you please clarify?
     

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