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Linguistic Inquiry

Summer 2014, Vol. 45, No. 3, Pages 403-447
(doi: 10.1162/LING_a_00161)
@ 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Tense and Aspect in English Infinitives
Article PDF (1.79 MB)
Abstract

This article investigates the temporal and aspectual composition of infinitival complementation structures in English. I show that previous classifications of tense in infinitives are insufficient in that they do not cover the entire spectrum of infinitival constructions in English. Using the distribution of nongeneric, nonstative, episodic interpretations as a main characteristic, I show that infinitival constructions fall into three classes: future irrealis infinitives, which allow episodic interpretations with bare VPs; simultaneous infinitives that do not allow episodic interpretations; and simultaneous infinitives that allow episodic interpretations depending on the matrix tense. I argue that the three classes of infinitives are derived from the following properties: future infinitives are tenseless but involve a syntactically present future modal woll; simultaneous propositional attitude infinitives impose the now of the propositional attitude holder as the reference time of the infinitive; and certain simultaneous infinitives form a single temporal domain with the matrix clause. The analysis proposed has consequences for the composition of tense and aspect, the syntax of infinitives, and the way selection is determined.