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Verb, the categories of voice and aspect

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The category of voice

The category of voice expresses the relations between the subject and the object of the action. He invited his friends. – He was invited by his friends. In the first sentence he – is a doctor of the action, in the second – the object of the action.

The grammatical category of voice is represented by the opposition of active and passive voice. (invites – is invited; is inviting – is being invited; invited – was invited; has invited – has been invited; should invite – should be invited).

The passive form is a strong member of the opposition.

In colloquial speech the role of the passive auxiliary may be performed by get or become. The frequency of occurrence of the English Passive voice is very great, greater than in Russian. One of the reasons is that the number of verbs capable of forming the Passive voice (not only transitive but also intransitive including prepositional ones) is greater in English than in Russian.

Debated question:

The question is, whether there are other voices in the English verb, besides active and passive. At various times the following three voices have been suggested in addition:

  1.  the reflexive, as in He dressed himself.
  2.  the reciprocal, as in They greeted each other, and (возвратный)
  3.  the middle voice, as in The door opened.

The category of aspect

The category of aspect is a grammatical category showing the manner in which the action is either performed or represented. In English this category consists of two constituents, the common and the continuous aspects. They form a binary opposition, the unmarked member of the opposition (common aspect) being opposed to the marked member (continuous aspect): call - ------ + be calling. The categorical meaning of aspect indicates that the speaker wants to attract attention to the process/state described in the sentence itself.  The strong member of the opposition is the continuous form, which presents an action as a process developing at a certain moment or a limited period of time: These flats are being built so fast that they are changing the profile of the city. The common aspect just names the action: Look at the way he walks.

Some linguists don’t find any aspective meaning in the common (indefinite) form and consider the continuous form to be one of the tense forms, which marks an action as simultaneous to some other action or time.

As a rule the continuous form is not used with verbs, denoting abstract relations, such as belong, and those denoting sense perception or emotion, e.g. see, hear, hope, think, love. But there are numerous examples of their usage in the continuous form. In this case they change the meaning of the verb which comes to denote either an activity (I am thinking of him. – I think, you’re right) or the temporary character of the state. (You’re being silly!).

G.O. Curme (A Grammar of the English Language) distinguished 4 aspects: durative aspect, point-action aspects which he subdivided into ingressive and effective, terminative aspect and iterative aspect.

 Durative aspect represents the action as continuing. He is eating.

 Point-action aspects call attention, not to an act as a whole, but to only one point, either the beginning or the final point. The ingressive type is often expressed by begin, start, in connection with an infinitive or get, grow, fall, turn, become, run, set, take in connection with a predicate adjective, participle, noun or a prepositional phrase. He awoke early. He often gets sick.

 Effective type of point-action aspect directs the attention to the final point of the activity or state. The two friends fell out. He knocked him out.

 Terminative aspect indicates an action as a whole. He handed me a book. I overlooked this item in my calculation.

 Iterative aspect indicates an indefinitely prolonged succession. He pooh-poohs at everything. He threw his head back and haw-hawed.

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Exam Questions. The Subject of Theoretical Grammar. Syntagmatic relations. Segmental units. History of English Grammars. Parts of speech. The noun as a part of speech.

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