In Defense of the Modal Account of the Progressive


  • Many thanks for discussion and comments to Eduardo García-Ramírez, Rich Thomason, Andy Egan, Eric Swanson, Acrisio Pires, and anonymous reviewers for Mind & Language. I also had the great fortune to present this paper at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Springs Philosophy Discussion Group. Thank you to all the participants for your comments.


When we talk about creation, we use the progressive and verbs of creation as in ‘Mary is building a house’. The modal account of the progressive says that a sentence such as ‘Mary is building a house’ is true just in case Mary eventually builds a house in all worlds in which her house-building proceeds normally. Recently, the modal account has come under fire from those who claim that it over-generates modal entailments and those who think the progressive should be treated as a predicate of events. By properly situating the modal account within a contemporary semantic framework for natural language modals, I argue that it gives the best semantic treatment of the progressive.