forget as a stative verb

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forget as a stative verb

Post by navi » Sun Aug 17, 2014 7:16 am

Which of the following are correct with the given meanings:

1-I forget his name.
Meaning: I cannot recall his name. I do not remember his name.

2-He forgets that man's name.
Meaning: He cannot recall his name.

3-I forgot his name when he came in through the door.
Meaning: When he came in through the door, I could not recall his name. His name had escaped my memory.

4-He forgot at that moment that he was the leader of a large enterprise.
Meaning: He had forgotten at the moment that he was the leader of a large enterprise.

5-She forgot just then that she had told a lie which contradicted what she was saying.
Meaning: She had forgotten just then that she had told a lie which contradicted what she was saying.

'Forget' could be a dynamic verb. '1' could mean 'I keep forgetting his name.' That is not the usage I have in mind. I want to see if these sentences would work if the stative meaning of 'forget' (be unable to recall) was intended.


Re: forget as a stative verb

Post by Phil White » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:15 pm

Only the first one really works in the way you intend (see below).

The easiest way to overlay stative meaning on non-stative verbs is to use them with perfective aspect, which has a stative element in the timeframe indicated by the tense name:

I have forgotten his name.
The present perfect here implies a couple of things:
  1. At some time in the past, I forgot his name.
  2. At the time of speaking, I still cannot recall his name.
The second element here, which is usually implied by the perfective aspect, implies that the state of not knowing his name that arose from the dynamic action of forgetting it is still ongoing.

If you use the present perfect in your sentences 1 and 2, and the past perfect in sentences 3, 4 and 5, as you do in your notes to sentences 4 and 5, the meanings are pretty well what you intend.

You have already used another alternative: "be unable to recall", which is stative in nature.

There are all sorts of problems with the lists of "stative verbs" you will find in many so-called grammars of English. Usually, the lists are intended to indicate verbs that are not used in the progressive, and most are indeed stative. But not all verbs in such lists are never used in the progressive, and not all are stative.

"Forget" is a complex case.
Usually it indicates an instantaneous transition between knowing something and no longer knowing it that has no duration and is therefore generally incompatible with the progressive aspect.

As far as I can see, there is one exception to this, namely the use of the verb in the simple present and in the first person only, as in your sentence 1. Only under these conditions is the verb stative in meaning. As such, it is also incompatible with the progressive aspect.

Just to confuse things, there are occasions when "forget" can be used with the progressive aspect, namely when forgetfulness is becoming a habit:
  • I am worried about my mother. She is forgetting things. (She regularly forgets things.)
or when the normally instantaneous transition is drawn out over a period of time:
  • Sally is slowly forgetting the pain of losing her husband.
although it could be argued that this second example is an entirely different meaning of "forget".
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

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