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Aspectual Verbs: a study of cease and continue

Geneviève Girard-Gillet


Two aspectual verbs, “cease” and “continue” do not conform to the usual opposition that exists between an infinitival complement and a gerund clause, and thus cannot be compared with “stop” or “carry on”. Unlike what happens with “stop”, the infinitive after “cease” does not express a goal, but, on the contrary, the cessation of the process that was developing. The infinitive after continue” does not mean that a process was resumed after its cessation, but that there was no cessation at all. These differences call for an analysis of the parameters that construe the diverging interpretations. The to+V and V-ing opposition does not play the same role it does with other verbs. Drawing on examples in context, we will show that the interpretation depends on the semantic features of the main verb, which is more complex than usually acknowledged, on the role played by the referent of the subject and on the way the speaker conceptualizes the event. This paper builds and enlarges on earlier works, by taking into account what type of causation is implied.

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Author's notes

I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of my paper for their extensive comments and rich suggestions.

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  • 1 With stop the pause is not compulsory, but occurs when the speaker wishes to stress the purpose cla (...)

1The construction of aspectual verbs has puzzled linguists for years and in particular since Perlmutter’s seminal analysis in 1970. One verb seems to refuse all suggested explanations as it does not behave as is expected from its semantic features. It is the verb cease, which, unlike stop, can be followed by either an infinitive or a gerundive, in order to denote the end of a process. If I say John stopped to talk to his father I mean that he stopped doing what he was doing in order to talk to his father. The infinitival clause, to talk to his father, is a purpose clause, and a pause is possible before to, namely between stopped and to, in the oral production. On the contrary, with John ceased to talk, it is the end of the talking event that is expressed, and, in this sentence, no pause can occur between ceased and to talk.1

  • 2 « On trouve dans cette sous-classe de prédicats des permutations avec TO+V (begin, start, commence, (...)

2Duffley (2007: 61) remarks that cease is an exception among verbs denoting the termination of an event in being preferentially construed with to plus infinitive, in approximately 90% of its uses. The verb continue is as intriguing, as it can also be followed by an infinitival clause or a gerund to encode the continuation of a process. Utterer-based approaches focusing on the role of to as opposed to V-ing do not seem to have clearly explained why, in the linear order, the infinitive following stop construes the beginning of an intended process, while the infinitive following cease construes the end of an existing process. Deschamps (2014: 65, 70) considers that the interpretations of the alternations between V-ing and to + V for begin, start, commence, continue, cease are semantically very close to each other, and that it is only the opposition between the two constructions that explains the semantic differences2. This is indeed the case, but the opposition does not play the same semantic role, as the latter depends on whether it is stop or cease which is the main verb. The two constructions do differ widely, and this is the issue we wish to address here. The analysis builds and elaborates on two earlier works (Girard 1999, 2008).

3After briefly summing up some parameters in already existing analyses, we shall try, in the second and the third part, to show that the two constructions correspond to two different meanings, or at least that there are tendencies explaining that the two types of construction are not interchangeable. In other words, it will be suggested that the properties of the constructions are explained by appeal to semantic notions, distinguishing between Agentive subjects and non-Agentive ones, and to the way the events are conceptualized by the speaker. Wierzbicka noted (1988: 81) that with he stopped breathing, the process is generally thought of as intentional, whereas, the process is probably not intentional with he ceased to breathe. A comparison in the fourth part with nominal arguments raises the question of whether these verbs are transitive or intransitive, a point which could shed some light on the reasons why there is an opposition between infinitive constructions and gerundive ones.

1. Some previous approaches

4Since Perlmutter (1970), it has been assumed that aspectual verbs in English can be considered as raising and as control predicates. In comparing a) and b):

a) there began to be a commotion (1970: 108)

b) I tried to begin to work (1970: 111)

  • 3 A raising verb is a verb which does not select its arguments, whereas a control verb selects them. (...)

5Perlmutter noted that in a) begin is a raising verb, whereas in b) begin is a control verb, with a thematic subject.3 Another argument for the control hypothesis is that begin is compatible with the imperative, as in: begin to work (1970: 113). In this syntactic approach the distinction that exists between infinitival complements and gerundives does not seem to be taken into consideration, or at least is not assumed to be an important factor, as far as the interpretation of the event is concerned.

6Analyses focusing more on the semantic data have some difficulty explaining how the two constructions differ, as they look for a general explanation of all to-constructions as opposed to all V-ing constructions. Freed (1979: 152), for instance, suggests that:

[i]n general the to V form of a sentencial complement, whether occurring with start, begin, continue or cease, carries with it a generic reading. Once again a generic reading of an event suggests a repetition (or a series) of the event in question, occurring at different moments throughout an unspecified stretch of time. The V-ing form, on the other hand, has a durative reading, which here refers to the unspecified duration of a single event.

  • 4 In chapter VI, Freed explains that she found very few data for cease in the nine novels she read, w (...)

7When focusing more on the opposition between stop and cease Freed claims that cease expresses the definitive termination of an event (1979: 121)4, as opposed to stop. She explains that “cease from latin cessare via French cesser, became common in expressions such as cease to exist. This sense of cease will be of interest when we compare the definitive quality of cease with the more temporary nature of stop.” She posits (p. 108) that “what distinguishes one form from the other is the nature of the cessation -whether or not the cessation is intentional, and whether it is definitive as opposed to being merely an interruption of the event.” She also notes that the “to construction” is found to occur more comfortably with states than states can occur with many aspectualizers (p. 122), and this is confirmed by corpora-based studies, and in particular Egan’s (2008).

8To avoid the paradox with stop, Egan treats the to construction with cease as a General Construction, following Freed (1979: 152) and Langacker (1987), and not as a backward-looking construction, even if he acknowledges that “it seems very much like a Backward-looking construction”(p. 105). By General Construction, he refers to the General to infinitive schema, and explains (p. 122) that:

the cease to component contains the semantic component: a certain situation had been occurring at intervals or had pertained for some time at point x: at point y (y>x) this was no longer the case. It is this element of something having pertained in “general”, as it were, which has led to the classification of cease to as a General construction. In this way, the construction differs from Backward-looking constructions, such as cease-ing, which only make reference to the past and the present, in relation to which the past is defined.” (p. 297)

9It is not clear to us how the classification operates, and we prefer to opt for a backward-looking interpretation, whether to or -ing is used. It remains that Egan’s analyses provide one with numerous examples and is a fascinating read for anyone interested in this kind of opposition.

  • 5 Fukuda asked fifteen native speakers to choose between two imperatives that could have been pronoun (...)

10In a syntactic analysis, Fukuda (2008) tackles the problem of the two constructions, and wishes to account for the distinction without adopting the control or the raising analysis. He notes that the main problem for the raising analysis is the possibility of an imperative: begin writing! which suggests an Agentive subject, while, on the contrary, begin to write is rare.5 Such data contradict Perlmutter’s analysis. The other problem for the raising/control analysis is the very existence of the infinitive. English infinitives have been analysed as consisting of their own tense, based on the fact that infinitives can have a time adverbial that is in conflict with another time adverbial modifying the matrix event (Bresnan, 1972; Stowell, 1982; Martin, 2001, among others).

c) Yesterday, John decided to leave tomorrow

d) Today, John hopes to win someday

11The infinitival complement in these cases denotes a yet-to-be-realized event; but aspectual verbs disallow this interpretation:

e) * or ?? Today, the law ceased to have its effect tomorrow.

12Fukuda concludes that aspectual verbs lack the tense projection, and he proposes that they are functional heads which appear above and below a projection of the Voice head or little v (Kratzer, 1994 ; Chomsky, 1995). The complement of High-Asp (vP) is realized as an infinitival complement (Bill started to run) and the complement of Low-Asp (VP) is realized as a gerundive complement (Bill started running).

13The interpretation of certain adverbs like stupidly can be ambiguous between a speaker-oriented reading, which is generally associated with a relatively high position, and a manner reading, which is generally associated with a relatively low position. Fukuda claims that, when such an ambiguous adverb occurs within the clausal complement of an aspectual verb, its possible interpretation differs according to the nature of the complement. He gives the following example:

f) I found everyone around me grew quiet as I began stupidly to say what I really thought.

14and suggests that the adverb is interpreted as a speaker-oriented adverb. The meaning is: what I did was stupid. The referent of the subject considers that it was stupid of him to do what he did.

15He contrasts the example with:

g) I found everyone around me grew quiet as I began stupidly saying what I really thought.

16and posits that the adverb here is interpreted as a manner adverb, which is generally associated with VPs. The meaning is that what I said was stupid. We suggest another interpretation, namely, that the individual spoke in a stupid way.

17Although Fukuda’s interpretation is debatable, his suggestion of taking into account the role of adverbials leads us to reconsider former analyses (Girard: 1993, 2008), and to focus more on the role played by the subject of the aspectual verb, the subject of the embedded lexical verb, and the Speaker. See 2.4.1. for the interpretation of adverbials.

2. Our hypothesis about cease: thematic roles in the cease to V / cease V-ing constructions

2.1. Cease to V

18Let us consider the following examples:

(1) The ten p coin ceased to be legal tender on July 1.

(2) The above-mentioned Agreement ceased to have effect on 3 August 1983.

19In these examples, the subject of cease is not the intentional Agent of the end of the state, be legal tender; and the same can be said about the Agreement. With inanimate subjects it is clear that no agentivity can be attributed to the subjects. But cease can also be used with animate entities:

(3) Once people retire, they automatically cease to be union members. (Oxford English Dictionary)

(4) It is odd, but until Dad ceased to speak I never had this need to talk to him. (G. Swift, Shuttlecock).

(5) Roma lay so still that, for a second, Cordelia feared that she had ceased to breathe. (P. D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman)

20In (3) the decision not to be a union member any more is not the pensioner’s decision. But the change of social status implies that he can no longer be a unionist. In (4) the father had a stroke and as a consequence could not speak any more. In (5) the interpretation is that Cordelia died, and not that she held her breath voluntarily.

21The first conclusion we can draw is that in these five examples the subject of the aspectual verb is not the Agent of the process. It is a participant in the process, and can be considered as the “affected” entity of the change of state, the undergoer in Van Valin & LaPolla’s hypotheses (1997) for a change of state not wished for. The term “affectedness” needs, of course, clarifying. In his 2011 article, Beavers resorts to various tests to decide whether the entity is affected or not by the process, and among these the What happened to X is Y test is used. This test, which deals with direct objects cannot be used here, as it is the subject of cease that requires a semantic interpretation. A possible test could be: What X lost in the process was Y. For (1) we could say that the coin lost its financial influence, and for (3) that the workers lost the possibility of their unions’ help in case of difficulties. This question is in fact beyond the scope of our present analysis, but should be taken up in another analysis.

22Here are some other examples:

(6) the problem with death is not that we grieve, but that we cease to grieve. (P.D. James, Original Sin)

(7) Mary was not faultless; and one of her faults was a certain envy of Ernestina. It was not only that she ceased abruptly to be the tacit favourite of the household when the young lady from London arrived; but the lady from London came also with trunkfuls of the latest London and Paris fashion. (J. Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman)

(8) The result of this, as time wore on, was that Dad gave me up. He ceased to be interested in me as I ceased to be interested in him. (G. Swift, Shuttlecock)

23In (6) what is expressed is that, as time flies by, all sufferings gradually vanish, without the individuals doing anything to bring this about. In (7) Mary did not choose to be less appreciated, but the arrival of the young lady from London affected the way she was considered. This implies that she lost the consideration she used to enjoy. In example (8) we have the expression of another parameter, i.e. the notion of result, which suggests the following paraphrase: he was no longer interested in me/ I was no longer interested in him, or he lost all interest in me, and I in him. Similar paraphrases can be given for the previous examples: the ten p coin is no longer legal tender, the father couldn’t speak any longer, they are no longer union members.

24The following occurrences construe similar interpretations:

(9) They have art in common, although Helena has long ceased to see any connection between the work of Tom and his paintings. (A. Charney, La vie en rose)

(10) The will for the deed was absolute, yet surely it wasn’t the need for revenge. That had long ago ceased to motivate him. (P.D. James, Innocent Blood)

(11) And when Leah saw that she had ceased to bear, she took Zilpah her maidservant and gave her to Jacob as wife.

(12) What between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land had ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. (P. D. James, The Private Patient)

25Another interpretation is possible: there is no end (cessation) at all in the real world, but only in the speaker-observer’s mind:

(13) I never knew this. This is cruel. I can’t make out the simplest thing. I am being humiliated. And suddenly my optician ceased to be an optician. He is the remorseless teacher at infants’school, knocking into us the rudiments of reading. (G. Swift, Myopia)

(14) He had ceased to be amusing; he was really too inhuman. (H. James, The Wings of the Dove)

26In (13) the Speaker/subject was having his eyesight checked and he discovered to his surprise that he was short-sighted. All of a sudden the optician reminded him of his teacher when he was a young boy. The optician didn’t change jobs during the consultation. In (14) Kate Cray, the heroine of the novel, felt that her father was no longer amusing, even if the father had not altered his behaviour at all. What is expressed is only the young girl’s new feeling. Although this feeling is real, it was not triggered by any change of attitude in her father’s psychology. The gerund disallows such a reading, as we shall now see.

2.2. Cease V-ing

27The use of the gerund is preferred when the subject is the Agent of the end of the process, namely when he willingly puts an end to the activity he was engaged in:

  • 6 I wish to thank Claude Delmas for this example.

(15) We have ceased trading at this address.6

(16) A guard drew close; we had to cease whispering for a moment. (G. Swift, Shuttlecock)

(17) I ceased being his secretary some time ago. Two or three months after I met Edmund. (A. Christie, Nemesis)

(18) On the eve of the elections politicians ceased working and spent their time in betting and bluffing. (The New York Times)

(19) The papal nuncio in Dublin ordered Comiskey and three bishops who supported him to remain silent and cease causing scandals to the Church. (Time Magazine)

(20) I remember his instructing me to cease giving donations to a particular local charity. (Time Magazine)

  • 7 Fukuda cites an example given by Ross (1972: 576): “I suggested that they not shriek anymore, so th (...)

28In each case the decision is made by the subject-agent: they decided not to trade at their previous address; they stopped whispering; she resigned. If the papal nuncio can order the bishops to cease causing scandals, it is because they can act, they can do what they are asked to do.7 The Verbs + their complements express activities. Even be a secretary is understood along the same line, and can be paraphrased by: she ceased working as his secretary.

  • 8 A distinction is made by Levin & Rappaport-Hovav (1998: 109) between internally caused state [x <STATE>] a</STATE> (...)

29We have the expression of an on-going process and the cessation of the process. The subject is construed as controlling the process and its end: the subject of cease and the covert subject of the verb in the gerund are co-referential. Both referents are Agents. The verb cease expresses the change of state, and can be assimilated to agentive causative verbs as they are described by Rappaport-Hovav & Levin (1998)8, and Alexiadou & Anagnostopoulou (2007), who claim that “the event is necessarily brought about by an Agent.” We shall come back to this point later on.

30With the infinitive, we have the resultative state, and the previous situation is backgrounded. The VP does not denote controlled activities, but expresses either states: be legal tender, be union members, be interested, be the favourite, be a profit, or involuntary physical or psychological processes: breathe, grieve, bear children. It is the result of the change of state that is being focused on. We know that a state predicates a property of an entity (object or individual). Mental and psychological events have the grammatical status of states, as psych-verbs involve states that last for a while. The subject of cease is not understood as the Agent/Actor of the change of state. It can be assigned the theta-role of Patient in relation with the verb cease, but syntactically it can be considered as a formal subject which is raised from its underlying position. It is the state/process denoted by the verb in the infinitival clause that comes to an end. The change of state that is expressed by cease is brought about either (a) by the passing of time, which gradually modifies the states or properties of the entities concerned, and which necessarily brings about their end, or (b) by an outside initiator.

  • 9 A “from PP” is thought to be evidence for a causative analysis, by Alexiadou & Anagnostopuolou 2003 (...)

31In case (a) the change of state is inherent to the natural course of its development: after a while one ceases to grieve, or ceases to be interested, the land ceases to be a profit, the woman ceases to bear children from old age. In case (b), the father ceases to speak because of a stroke, Mary ceases to be the favourite because of the arrival of a young lady, and so on9. The father lost his ability to speak and Mary lost her influence in the family, but both changes of state were unexpected, and neither the father nor Mary had any part in it. They were the results of a mental accident and of the arrival of a fashionable lady.

  • 10 See Alexiadou &Anagnostopoulou (2003) and Levin (2009) for a discussion of whether internally cause (...)

32We could say that in (a) it is a case of internal causation: the cause of the change-of-state event exists in the “built-in” properties the entity undergoing the change possesses.10 But this internal causation is the consequence of the passing of time, which functions as the trigger. Without this continuous flow of time, the state would not be altered. We shall discuss the role played by the passing of time, which does not seem to have been taken sufficiently into account, and reconsider the distinction between internal and external causations.

33We could posit an opposition between a controlled interpretation and a “raising” one:

34with the gerund we have the controlled interpretation:
i ceased [PROi smoking]

  • 11 It does not indeed allow: *it ceased that he spoke, a construction which is possible with prototypi (...)

35with the infinitive we have an interpretation that resembles a raising construction:11
e ceased [ my father-to speak]

36where something happened to the father; but the sentence also says that the father is affected by what happened to him: he is no longer capable of speaking. With typical raising verbs such as happen in John happened to meet Mary, nothing is said or even deduced as regards John’s new state, except perhaps, by implicature.

2.3. Cease + to and the unaccusative functioning

37The infinitive construction is also found with unaccusative verbs, such as arise, emerge, exist, occur, among others, that is verbs which are not supposed to select a subject, or in other words, which have no argumental subjects. The verbs of existence figure among the prototypical locative insertion and there-insertion verbs (Levin 1993: 250). The possibility of the there-insertion can be taken in English as the sign of unaccusativity.

38Google gives the following hits, showing an over-riding tendency of the infinitival use.

  • SN ceased to exist: about 10 700 000 / SN ceased existing: 6180

  • SN ceased to occur: 311 000 / SN ceased occurring: 2580

  • SN ceased to arrive: 309 000 / SN ceased arriving: 2110

  • SN ceased to happen: 310 000 / SN ceased happening: 2320

(21) On 10 October 2010 the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist as a legal entity. Two new countries were born on that date. (Weekly Geopolitical Summary)

(22) After six sessions of desensitization with an additional self-control procedure, the dream ceased to occur and anxiety about sleeping diminished. (Journal of behaviour therapy)

(23) In the eighteenth century, the sugar boom ended and fresh imports of Africans ceased to arrive in Montserrat. (Irish Cultural Society)

  • 12 Despite their assent to the Creed of Nice in 359, they ceased to play a role in eastern theology or (...)

39The COCA gives very few occurrences of the constructions. We get 220 hits for ceased to exist, and none for ceased existing; 368 for ceased to be and 56 for ceased being. With agentive verbs, we only find the gerundive construction: ceased working, ceased talking, ceased telling. For the verb play, which is thought to be an agentive verb, we get 3 hits for ceased playing and 5 for ceased to play, which seems to ruin our hypothesis. But the complement of play makes all the difference: we retrieved indeed ceased to play a role, ceased to play a significant part, which denotes the end of an influence which was not wanted by the Agents.12 The infinitival construction is then the construction that is required for the right interpretation to take place.

40We need now to analyse some verbs exhibiting two different meanings, depending on their constructions. The verb live can function as an unaccusative verb in: once upon a time there lived a young princess in the forest, and in the following examples:

(24) “We too ceased to live the very day that we killed our husbands”. These are the words of a woman who spends her nights on the bed across from me. (​site/​english/​spip.php?article62)

(25) Do not lose hold of your dreams or aspirations. For if you do, you may still exist but you have ceased to live.” (H. D. Thoreau)

(26) If cliché is language that has ceased to live, then Martin Amis’s style is something like its antithesis. (​articles/​2008/​03/​21/​1205602632115.html)

41but not when it is a synonym of inhabit:

(27) the parties ceased living together as of June 1. (​tx-court-of-appeals/​1483943.html)

(28) Lisa chooses to treat her dwelling as her main residence for the period after she ceased living in it. (​books?isbn=2810700230)

(29) Where have you been living since you ceased living in your parents’ household? (​site/​english/​spip.php?article62)

42The verb shine shows unaccusative characteristics in: There shone a star above the three kings to guide them to the King of Kings, and in the following example, it is affected by its own qualities:

(30) the Sun will cease to shine in another five billion years or so, and the Universe will eventually become cold and inert.

43and can be contrasted with:

(31) Flowers should always be watered in the evening, after the sun has ceased shining on them. (Magazine of Botany)

(32) Within 3-4 minutes the sun ceased shining on the water’s surface. (​books?isbn=0816657564)

44In (30) the sentence says that the death of the sun is programmed and that it depends on its inherent characteristics, the nuclear reactions inside. When it has burnt up all its hydrogen and helium, the sun will explode and become a supernova. In (31) and (32) the sun is still shining. What is over is the illumination of the flowers and of the water’s surface, because the sun rays no longer reach the surface of the earth. The situation in the garden is the consequence of the rotation of the earth, but the sun is felt, to a certain extent, as if it was responsible for the shadow developing over the surface of the earth, hence the use of a gerund, in an anthropomorphic interpretation, the interpretation we have in the sun rises and the sun sets.

  • 13 I was suggested the opposition between my dishwasher ceased to work, and my colleague ceased workin (...)

45To explain the difference, we think it useful to resort to the idea already hinted at earlier that there are semantic sub-classes of causative verbs: internally and externally caused verbs. Guéron, in her 2008 article, considers that the opposition is between “inertial causality” and “intentional” one. “Intentional” causality only implies a human being as the Agent of the cause, which is not sufficient to define all kinds of causality. For Levin & Rappaport (2001:790), externally caused verbs describe eventualities conceptualized as being brought about by an external cause with immediate control over the eventuality. Internally caused verbs describe eventualities that are conceptualized as arising from inherent properties of the verb’s argument. Under internal causality, the change of state does not depend on a human actor, and the change that cease denotes is understood as the consequence of the inherent properties of the entity concerned, as regards a given process. This may account for the interpretation of “definitive end” as opposed to a temporary one, which was suggested by Freed. These two types of causality explain the difference between (30) and (31-32). In (30) We have a case of internal causation. In (31-32), it is a case of external causation.13

2.4. Correlation with other data

2.4.1. Correlation with adverbials

  • 14 C stands for Complementizer Node, INFL for Inflection Node, and V for Verbal node.

46Fukuda distinguishes between speaker-oriented adverbs and manner adverbs. Higginbotham (2000) assumes that C licenses the sentential or speech-act adverbs such as clearly, frankly, apparently; that INFL licenses the subject-oriented adverbs such as reluctantly and intentionally and adverbs of appraisal such as probably; and that V licenses manner adverbs.14

47We can note an interesting correlation between the interpretation of the adverb and the construction used:

(33) The experiences seem to point to the assumption that, although an animal organism may have apparently ceased to live, a germ of life may exist somewhere. (Bristol Yachting News)

48We have a speech-act reading/modal interpretation in this example, and in the following ones (34-37). Google gives 8 hits for apparently ceased existing / 9 640 hits for apparently ceased to exist. Other adverbs such as unfortunately, obviously, also express the speaker’s viewpoint towards the events (Speech-act reading):

(34) The manor court apparently ceased to meet after Thomas Gerrard’s eldest son and principal heir, Justinian, died childless in 1688. (​books?isbn=0807843431)

(35) His essays have appeared over the years in journals and magazines, some of which have unfortunately ceased to be published. (​The-Nostalgic-Drum-Literature-Culture/​dp/​0865438064)

(36) At this point the issue obviously ceased to be how far Jewish religion should be modernized. (​books?isbn=0521340063)

(37) In the 1990s, the issue of genocide unfortunately ceased to be an item of primarily historical concern. (​books?isbn=1316061272)

49In the next examples, the adverb denotes the subject’s attitude towards the process (subject-oriented interpretation):

  • 15 We think that the adverb naturally is subject-oriented here, but this point needs explaining. We co (...)

(38) I naturally ceased talking, and every one looked at me with astonishment, and asked what was the matter. (A Ghost Story and others, eBook n°0605741h.(html,

(39) On Monday, the first day of school, he reluctantly ceased working on his class assignment in order to talk to a pesky reporter. (​effingham/​2007-08-06/​students-enter-next-level-education)

(40) In an effort to combat an ever-declining metabolism and a constantly expanding waistline, Mr. Rasmussen has reluctantly ceased consuming massive quantities of food. (​Attorney-Profiles/​Scott-N-Rasmussen.shtml)

(41) I have no sympathy anymore for drunkards not because they have intoxicated themselves to death willingly, but because they have willingly ceased being men. (lost reference)

(42) Another, after a once in a lifetime windfall, had cleared their overdraft, taken the surplus and gracefully ceased trading. (​books?isbn=1491893100)

(43) Later he reconsiders and begins again to dwell on the same pictures. He commits two sins, because he willingly ceased acting before starting again. (F. Cunningham, The Christian Life <​books?isbn=1608992861>)

50In some occurrences reluctantly and willingly appear with the infinitive. We can only say that the tendency is that the higher the syntactic position is, the more often the infinitive is found.

2.4.2. Correlation with behaviour ADVERBIALS

  • 16 D node stands for Determiner node.

51There exists a semantic opposition between two behaviour adverbials depending on their D. node16: in alarm/in his alarm, the opposition being expressed by the absence or presence of a determiner in the DP. Girard (1999) showed that in a sentence with in + psychological state, the subject is the initiator of the event, even when the action is close to a reflex, and the process is understood as an adequate reaction to a given feeling or impression:

(44) He felt a hand on his shoulder and leapt to his feet in alarm. (W. Boyd, Stars and Bars)

(45) Both women looked up in surprise when the sharp ring of a bell from the gate announced the arrival of Madame Delon. (BNC)

(46) Words! words! Of what use were words against the whole bent of a nature? He clenched his hands in despair. (​books?isbn=0748131973)

(47) Wondering what bargain we had made, I turned to the class for an answer, but the class looked back at me in puzzlement. (H. Lee, To kill a Mocking-bird, 28)

52With a determiner, on the contrary, the subject is not the Intentional Agent of the event, because its referent is in such a state of panic that he/she does not know what he/she is doing. The individuals do not control the process at all, even if they are taking part in it. And the processes, unlike those in (44-47) are in fact not adapted to the situation, and can even be detrimental.

(48) The man sits helplessly while the second woman upsets the table in her alarm. (

(49) He colored all over, while in my confusion I half-choked myself with my tongue. (D. H. Laurence, Sons and Lovers)

(50) In her surprise she had cut her finger on one of the pieces of glass and it bled unheeded. (R. Rendell, Simisola)

(51) Zoe, meanwhile, gets a fright at the sound of her name and in her surprise flips the carton into the air. (​books?isbn=0748131973)

53Can we use this test to discriminate between the two types of construction? The gerund sounds better when the subject is an agent reacting in adequacy with the situation:

(52) On hearing his father come in, he ceased talking in alarm.

54He did what was best, knowing how his father would react, if he did not. The infinitive tends to be favoured when the subject is not acting of his own accord:

(53) In his alarm, he had ceased to talk.

55We understand that the individual was in such a state of panic that his words choked in his mouth.

56So far we can sum up the motivation for the two types of construction as follows:

1) the Speaker acknowledges a change of state in a given entity

  • this entity is the intentional agent of the end of the process, in which case the speaker resorts to the gerundive;

  • the entity is not the Agent of the end of the process, whether the event is actually brought to an end, or only thought to have come to an end by the speaker-observer, in which case the speaker uses the infinitive. When the entity is [-animate] the infinitive is favoured.

(54) Port-based redirect ceased to work after upgrading Capitan to 10.11.3.

572) the subject is not selected by the verb (unaccusative functioning of the verb) -> the infinitive is chosen.

583) there is an opposition between internal and external causality.

59We do not then agree with Fukuda, who proposes that aspectual verbs are functional heads that never bear theta roles. An important parameter, to us, in the distinction between the two types of complement seems to be the selection of the theta roles. A look at Middle English examples seems to exemplify the distinction, but there are too few of them for us to reach any conclusion. Boulonnais gives one occurrence: Whan he … ceeseþ [for to blede], In al haste agayn he toke his stede (14/5° Lydgate) (2004: 64), where the subject, the wounded soldier, had no part in the healing process. De Smet gives 4 occurrence with V-ing in his Ph.D dissertation (2008: 335), and all of them have agentive subjects, such as: I .. ceesse not doynge thankyngis for ȝou. (c1384, Middle English Dictionary)

3. Our hypothesis about continue

60Freed (1979) suggested that there was an opposition between a single event and a repeated event, and she gave the following examples:

That never ceases to amaze / ?? amazing me.

That student continued to fall asleep / ?? falling asleep.

61According to her, gerundives are thought to force a single event interpretation and infinitives allow for the interpretation of an event repeated several times.

62We would like to suggest another explanation based on the role played by the subject of amaze and of fall asleep. The subject of amaze is not an Agent, as the verb denotes the reaction to a process as it is experienced by someone witnessing the process. This is what we understand in the following examples:

(54) Your meanness never ceases to appal me, Greg. (C. Peattie & R.Taylor, Alex III, Son of Alex) [Greg has just jammed the meter, and put a note on the windscreen saying "meter jammed".]

(55) The Berbers have never ceased to baffle. (BBC, Radio 4)

63In (54) and (55) we have verbs expressing the psychological reactions of the Speaker/Observer to certain activities/behaviours. The Speaker is appalled in (54) because Greg has jammed the meter, in (55) because Berbers have a fascinating way of life. But we can hardly say that Greg and the Berbers have deliberately chosen to appal or baffle the Speaker. As far as fall asleep is concerned, the gerund sounds weird, as falling asleep is not an Agentive process. If the gerund was used, the interpretation would be that the student deliberately woke up, then deliberately fell asleep again, which does not really make sense.

3.1. Continue to V

64The verb continue also presents diverging semantic features:

65if someone continues to do something, they keep doing it and do not stop. What is described is an ongoing process.

66if someone continues doing something, they start again after stopping for a period of time, and the reading is close to resume.

67Our hypothesis is that the two constructions help one to differentiate between the two meanings:

(56) This continued to be a concern for them even though the members of the school staff with whom they worked were accustomed to doing grade-level planning. (

(57) Nevertheless there continued to be a scarcity of labor. As a result, wages throughout the colonial period stood at a considerably higher level than rates. (​books?isbn=1400856175)

(58) Despite a 1970 congressional ban on aid to the Lon Nol army, there continued to be reports of MEDT personnel working as advisers to the Cambodian military. (

68The verbs used here are stative verbs, which reminds us of what we had noticed with cease. But the explanation must be different, as activity verbs can also be found, such as make payments.

(59) Silvio Berlusconi continued to make payments of thousands of euros to an alleged call girl even after the announcement that he would be sued for proxenetism. (

69In the following examples play a part appears in an infinitival sentence, and it can be compared with the exemples with cease analysed above:

(60) In spite of her Christmas duties, in spite of her brother, the Wilcoxes continued to play a considerable part in her thoughts. (E. M. Foster, Howards End)

70The presence of concessive adverbials such as even though, nevertheless, despite, in spite of, even after, suggests that the end of a process was expected, imagined, either by the speaker or by other observers of the events, but the process did not stop; it went on, and consequently there was no resumption of it. The occurrences given above can be explained accordingly: in (58) a ban on military cooperation should have prevented US advisers from helping Lon Nol army, but it did not. In (59) Italians thought that Berlusconi would stop paying the call girl, but he did not.

71The same interpretation prevails in the next examples, where in each case the end of a process was imagined, but did not take place. There are no concessive adverbials, but the co-text plays the same concessive role:

(61) In the three days following Rhoda Gradwyn’s murder, Lettie was struck by how briefly death is allowed to interfere with life. […] The routine of the Manor went on. Dean continued to cook his excellent meals, although a certain simplicity in the menus suggested that he was paying a perhaps unconscious tribute to death. Kim continued to serve them. (P. D. James, The Private Patient)

72The sudden violent death of a patient ought to have altered the habits in the Manor, but things went on as usual, despite the tragedy.

(62) I will certainly not allow this aggression to affect me, and I will continue to work as ever for the good of this country. (Silvio Berlusconi).

(63) Title: Daycare worker charged with assault continued to work in child care. (CBC News)

(64) Obama’s spokesman said: Yes, he continued to work with Ayers after he found out about his past.

73In (62) the dangerous situation should have pushed Berlusconi into changing his politics, but it did not. In (63) it is rather strange to hear that someone charged with assault was allowed to look after children. What was expected was her condemnation instead. And in (64) the revelations about Ayers should have compelled Obama to dismiss him. He did not.

3.2. Continue V-ing

74On the contrary, with the gerund, we understand that a process ceased, and then was resumed. This requires the decision of an Agent, who first puts an end to his activity, before resuming it:

(65) I continued working on letterpress jackets for the forthcoming issue of Parenthesis today. (​.../​807571699356673)

(66) Last night I continued working on the scarf for Barry at the knitting circle. I was so distracted that I kept on making big mistakes, so I just put the needles down and enjoyed the conversation. (Tokapedia)

(67) After five querries, you need to register, and then you will be able to continue using the corpus. (Home page of the Corpus of Contemporary American)

75In (65) the mention of the date today suggests that there was an interruption before and a resumption of the work. Otherwise the date would not have been added. In (66) the lady only knits at the knitting circle, and not at home. Consequently there is an interruption between the meetings of the knitting club. (67) is the sentence that appears on the home page of the COCA after five querries, which means that the corpus is no longer available, but will be available again after registration.

76Interruptions are also deduced from what is said in the context of the next occurrences:

(68) He put down the phone and tried to continue working. (Corpus of Contemporary American English)

77The man was working, he stopped to answer the phone, and then turned back to his work.

(69) Stay with us, Dr. Saper, if you would. We’re going to continue talking about migraine headaches in just a moment, their signs, their symptoms.

(70) After a time I stopped sending postcards, thinking that Lucy had either forgotten me or was busy with her school life […] I did feel some shame and regret that I’d not continued trying to keep in touch, but that passed. (P. D. James, The Private Patient)

(71) I’ll phone Benton. I need to have Sharon watched but it has to be done with complete discretion. While I get this set up, could you continue looking through the files here? I’ll phone from the dining-room. It may take some time. (P. D. James, The Private Patient)

78In all these examples, we tend to understand that a process was momentarily stopped, then started again. This is not what was understood when the infinitive was used. The complementation, gerund, or infinitive, triggers a change of interpretation. Remember that when the process was expected to come to an end by the speaker-observer, but did not, the infinitive was preferred.

  • 17 Wierzbicka had noted (1988: 82) that the construction with to implied an expectation.

79How can we account for the two constructions? And what do they share with the constructions we analysed for cease? We do not exactly have the distinctions we noticed with cease, namely the opposition between an agentive and a non-agentive activity, expressed through the use of a gerund vs the use of an infinitive, but the notion of agency still seems relevant, although in a slightly qualified fashion. I have been suggested examples with inanimate subjects, such as the unlocked door continued banging in the wind, or it continued raining. These occurrences are worth analysing, but they are rather puzzling, inasmuch as Google gives 10 hits for the door continued banging, and 1030 for the door continued to bang; 17 500 for it continued raining, and 64 600 for it continued to rain. We do not have any clear explanation, even if the rain examples we studied, in context, are taken from texts where either the individual hopes that the rain will stop but it does not, hence the use of to, or considers that the rain is beneficial and does not hope for its end17:

(72) Another hour, and the rain still continued to come down as hard as ever, the wind blowing half a hurricane [...]Across every entrance to the Haram there is a raised stone parapet, apparently built for the purpose of keeping the water out during these floods [...]The rain showed no sign of easing [...] It continued to rain and the water to flow in until about three P.M. (F.E.Peters, Mecca: A Literaray History of the Muslim Holy Land, <​books?isbn=069103267X>)

(73) The governor of Oregon just barely declared an official state of drought, however, when it started raining. It rained through the rest of March, and I rejoiced. My garbanzos would germinate. It continued raining in April. The rains have usually stopped by May, but it continued to rain. I quit rejoicing. The field with the garbanzo beans turned into a big lake. (The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self reliance in Uncertain Times, <​books?isbn=1603583157>)

80Our tentative conclusion will then mainly concern sentences with animate subjects. The phenomenon with inanimate subjects does require further research.

  • With the gerund, the [+ animate] subject does actually put an end to his activity, then resumes it, which means that he is controlling the two events: the end of the previous activity, then the new beginning. This is similar to what was described about the use of cease. We can compare (74) with continue and (75) with cease:

(74) John continued smoking after drinking his cup of coffee. [John voluntarily stopped smoking to drink his coffee, then picked up his cigarette again. John controls both events.]

(75) John ceased smoking: he voluntarily stopped smoking. [John also controls both events: the smoking and the cessation.]

  • With the infinitive, the [+animate] subject, John, might be thought to be the controller of both activities but he is not. With continue, it is the speaker who imagines that the activity he is considering will/should be stopped, but the agent of the activity in question does not, in fact, put an end to his activity:

(76) John continued to smoke although he knew quite well that I was allergic to smoke.[I expected John to stop smoking when I came in, but he did not. The subject, John, is only the agent of smoke, but not of continue since his activity went on without a second’s pause.]

(77) John ceased to be interested in linguistics. [we understand that one day his interest ceased, without his actually taking the decision not to read linguistic analyses any more. He was the subject of be interested in linguistics, but not of cease, as his interest gradually faded without his being aware of it.]

4. Comparison with nominal arguments and the question of transitivity/intransitivity

4.1. Continue and cease with NP functioning as complements

4.1.1. Continue

81The following examples show that the subject of continue is co-referential with the subject of the nominals in the Noun Phrase (DP), because of the possessive his.

(78) He arrived in Norway where he continued his campaign. (’s%20merry%2)

(79) He received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado and continued his research as a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech. (​books?isbn=030951777X)

(80) In the 1990s, he continued his collaboration with José Luis Garci, maybe the director who best understood his potential. (​books?isbn=1461672171)

82In each case, a paraphrase with a gerund is felicitous: he continued campaigning/ he continued doing research/ he continued collaborating, and in each sentence the subjects are both the Agents of the continuation and of the activities continued. In (78) the change of location and the arrival in Norway suppose an interruption in the campaign and its resumption, just as the research for a Ph.D. implies the passage from the subject developed in the doctoral dissertation to another point of interest. This supports the claim that continue is a control verb, when followed by a gerundive.

83Discussing the existence of two constructions after intend, the infinitive and the gerundive, De Smet (2008: 57) suggests that the infinitive is semantically motivated, as it is forward-looking, but the gerund is also motivated, albeit for another reason: intend, which is a transitive verb is compatible with actions controlled by the matrix subject. Passive sentences indicating the dates when the activities began demonstrate that these activities had previously been put an end to:

(81) The research was continued to update the data set previously collected. (​books?isbn=9712335437)

(82) The collaboration was continued in 2010 with another exhibition. (

4.1.2. Cease

84With an NP complement, cease also functions as a transitive verb:

(83) They ceased publication last year.

(84) They threatened to cease financial support to the university.

85The sentence can be passivised:

(85) Commercial production was ceased in 1941, with the outbreak of the World War.

(86) Trading of these products was ceased on Nov. 30, 2000.

86It can be coordinated with another transitive verb:

(87) They developed then suddenly ceased their production.

87The subjects are the Agents of the cessation of activity and they were the Agents of the activity before they put an end to it.

88We know that stop can be used instead of cease when the subject is the Agent:

(88) John ceased talking = John stopped talking.

  • 18 Croft (1991) and the notion of transmission of force.

89It is even possible to have: John stopped himself talking, indicating, with the reflexive, that John acts upon himself to bring about the end of the process in a force-dynamic relation18. In each sentence the subject of cease and of continue is [+ animate], and thus is thought to be endowned with the capacity of performing the activities denoted.

4.2. Continue and cease with NP subjects

90When cease is constructed with an infinitive, a parallelism with an intransitive use of the verb seems quite relevant:

(89) Just as the rain ceased we reached the mouth of the river we intended to explore. (

(90) This rain seemed to have travelled south for it ceased to rain at Philadelphia on the 14th. (​books?id=r58EAAAAQAAJ)

91and the subject, this rain, is [-animate].

92Here are other examples with inanimate subjects:

(91) As a result, the traditional pattern of rent inflation ceased.

(92) At first the fungi grew linearly, but later the growth ceased rapidly.

(93) Train service will continue uninterrupted. (

(94) Bad weather will continue through February. (

93and corresponding paraphrastic examples with the infinitive:

(95) it will ultimately happen that the per capita wealth will cease to increase. (​books?isbn=1602069557)

(96) When a gourd has ceased to grow, its connection with the vine turns brown. (

(97) But over time, the ruble began to stabilize and inflation ceased to grow.

(98) Trains will continue to bring you up even on bad weather. (​ShowUserReviews-g188098-d531608-r231868707-Gorn)

(99) Bad weather will continue to hamper the recovery of flight AirAsia. (​bbcweather/​.../​5499773139880796)

94This brief analysis shows that cease and continue construe different readings depending on the NP they cooccur with. This confirms our hypothesis that these two aspectual verbs can only be adequately understood if the propositional complements they appear with are taken into account, and hence the semantic role played by the infinitive and by the gerund.

95With the infinitive, the lack of agentivity for the subject of the aspectual verb suggests a correlation with raising constructions, exhibited with such verbs as happen, turn out, even if cease cannot be said to be a prototypical raising verb. It is then understandable that a NP correlation should be possible when the NP is subject and [-animate]. We compared it ceased to rain, and the rain ceased. On the contrary, with the gerund, the construction suggests a control interpretation, with co-reference between the subject of the aspectual verb and the subject of the gerund. The comparison is then possible with an NP complement: he continued doing research on genes / he continued his research on genes.

Figure 1. Cease and Continue with propositional complements.

Subject [+ AGENT] of V1 and V2

Subject [-AGENT] of V1


V2 - ing

to + V2

change of state brought about by the referent of the Subject:

John ceased talking

no change of state:

he ceased to be the optician

change of state


- internal causation:

the sun will cease to shine

- external causation:

she ceased to be the favourite


change of state (cessation then resumption of the activity)

Mary continued working after the phone call

No cessation of the ongoing process:

nevertheless there continued to be a scarcity of labour

he continued to speak when ordered to stop

Figure 2. Cease and Continue with subject NPs.

Subject [+ AGENT]

[+ animate]

Subject [- AGENT]

[- animate]


they ceased publication

inflation ceased


he continued his research

bad weather will continue through February


  • 19 As we said before more data are necessary to better account for [-animate] subjects.

96Our problem is the well-known matching problem of one type of matrix verb and one type of complementation: how language-users decide which complement type to combine with which predicate? We have tried to show that the type of complementation seems to be determined by the thematic role played in the process by the referent of the subject of the aspectual verb, as it is conceptualised by the speaker. For the verbs under study, what matters is whether the referent of the subject is the Agent/Initiator of the cessation and of the continuation of the process. When the referent is the agent, the gerund is used. When the end of the process depends on the “built-in” properties of the referent, especially when it is inanimate19, or when the animate referent undergoes a change of state without his wishing for it, cease is complemented by an infinitival proposition. When no change of state takes place in the extralinguistic world, but is expected by the speaker, the verb continue is followed by an infinitive. And thus the construction only denotes the speaker’s subjective analysis of the situation he is witnessing.

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1 With stop the pause is not compulsory, but occurs when the speaker wishes to stress the purpose clause. With the cease clause the pause is impossible, which shows that the two constructions are different, as regards the link between the finite clause and the non-finite one.

2 « On trouve dans cette sous-classe de prédicats des permutations avec TO+V (begin, start, commence, continue, cease) avec des valeurs sémantiques très proches, mais aussi des nuances. » (p. 65). « On voit que là où l’alternance est possible entre TO+ V et V-ING c’est la simple opposition entre ces deux formes qui conditionne la variation sémantique. » (p. 70)

3 A raising verb is a verb which does not select its arguments, whereas a control verb selects them. With John happened to meet Mary, we understand that something happened, namely that John met Mary, but *John happened does not make sense. On the contrary, with John asked Mary to help him, a semantic relation exists between John and the notion ask; in other words John asks for something. Moreover, in case a subject is covert, the control verb enables one to retrieve its reference.

4 In chapter VI, Freed explains that she found very few data for cease in the nine novels she read, which can explain her tentative conclusions. She says “my analysis was actually hampered by limited intuitions about the word and its infrequent use.” Today’s vast corpora provide researchers with numerous occurrences, which help them posit new hypotheses.

5 Fukuda asked fifteen native speakers to choose between two imperatives that could have been pronounced by the proctor, after giving instructions to a group of students who are about to write an in-class essay. Fourteen students chose begin writing and only one begin to write.

6 I wish to thank Claude Delmas for this example.

7 Fukuda cites an example given by Ross (1972: 576): “I suggested that they not shriek anymore, so they stopped/*ceased. We think that “they ceased shrieking” is OK.” This point will be taken up in Part 4.

8 A distinction is made by Levin & Rappaport-Hovav (1998: 109) between internally caused state [x <STATE>] and externally caused state [[x ACT] CAUSE [BECOME [y <STATE> ]]]. An externally-caused state implies the action of a causer that acts, and which is responsible for the change of state.

9 A “from PP” is thought to be evidence for a causative analysis, by Alexiadou & Anagnostopuolou 2003.

10 See Alexiadou &Anagnostopoulou (2003) and Levin (2009) for a discussion of whether internally caused change-of-state verbs are causative or not.

11 It does not indeed allow: *it ceased that he spoke, a construction which is possible with prototypical raising verbs, such as happen, turn out. The distinction we posit, by using the terms “control” or “raising” is not syntactic only; it is semantic. It is not the linear order alone that construes the meaning but the semantic data + the type of construction resorted to.

12 Despite their assent to the Creed of Nice in 359, they ceased to play a role in eastern theology or politics. (COCA Church history); The State Department had at that time long ceased to play any significant part in matters of wartime policy. (COCA, American Heritage 1995); it’s so much easier to run the country’s foreign affairs if we have an enemy. Well, the Russian Federation has ceased to play that role (COCA, CNN Talkback 1999).

13 I was suggested the opposition between my dishwasher ceased to work, and my colleague ceased working, which does indeed illustrate the opposition very clearly.

14 C stands for Complementizer Node, INFL for Inflection Node, and V for Verbal node.

15 We think that the adverb naturally is subject-oriented here, but this point needs explaining. We consider indeed that naturally can receive two different readings, depending on the context. In the following sentence: Although his family were ardent Catholics, he announced at the age of fourteen that he had naturally ceased believing in God, we can paraphrase naturally  by: it was natural for him to cease believing. On the contrary in: But the law insisted she remain alive to suffer until her organs naturally ceased to function, what is “natural” is the way the organs in question evolve, and it is the passing of time that will cause the necessary end of the process.

16 D node stands for Determiner node.

17 Wierzbicka had noted (1988: 82) that the construction with to implied an expectation.

18 Croft (1991) and the notion of transmission of force.

19 As we said before more data are necessary to better account for [-animate] subjects.

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Electronic reference

Geneviève Girard-Gillet, « Aspectual Verbs: a study of cease and continue », Anglophonia [Online], 22 | 2016, Online since 22 March 2017, connection on 19 June 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/anglophonia.1036

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About the author

Geneviève Girard-Gillet

Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3, USPC

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Anglophonia – French Journal of English Linguistics est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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