1

Is it possible to put an atelic activity like "browsing the internet" into the past perfect tense?

For example: I browsed the internet from 2 o'clock to 4 o'clock. At 7 o'clock I start making dinner.

Is it grammatical to say "I had browsed the internet when I began cooking"? Or do I have to use constructions like "I had stopped browsing the internet"? I know I could say I browsed the internet before cooking dinner, but I really want to know about the past perfect.

I assume browsing the internet is atelic, because there is no clear end to it, the internet is infinite, or am I wrong?

1

You can certainly use past-perfect with an atelic activity. I think the thing making your sentence seem strange in the context of your example is the use of "when," which implies that the past perfect activity is concurrent with or interrupted by the other activity, as opposed to separated by a period of several hours.

"I had browsed the internet before I began cooking dinner" is a perfectly grammatical sentence which allows for the passage of time between the two activities.

Whether it's meaningful is something of a separate question from whether it's grammatical. The past-perfect does tend to indicate that something was completed or achieved, so as a listener I might hear that sentence and say "So what? What's the relevance of you having browsed the internet to you cooking dinner?" I might expect something like "I had browsed the internet before I began cooking dinner, so I knew what temperature the chicken needed to bake at."

The simple past wouldn't raise those questions for me. "I browsed the internet, then I cooked dinner" is grammatically fine, and doesn't imply a purposeful connection between the two activities.

1

I believe it is grammatical to say "I had browsed the internet when I began cooking", but it is semantically strange without context. If you knew that "browsing the internet" was one of the things that someone wanted to get done, then it would be okay, but otherwise that lack of telicity makes it strange.

However, you don't need to add much to remove that strangeness. You just need to add some sort of quantifier or qualifier. "I had browsed the internet a bit", or "I had browsed the internet for half an hour". That renders the whole telic, and no longer strange.

Of course, one could try to read "browse the internet" as telic by taking "the internet" as a qualifier for "browse", but that would imply browsing absolutely everything on the internet.

  • what do you mean by "one of the things that someone wanted to get done". Do you mean browsing the whole of the internet? Because I think that is virtually impossible. – anouk Feb 4 at 20:20
  • 1
    I mean if someone had a plan for the evening involving, say, "browse the internet", "cook dinner", "feed the dog", "finish my homework". In that case, "browse the internet" would be an abstract activity and they might feel they had 'done' it. – SamBC Feb 4 at 20:52
  • What is an abstract activity? – anouk Mar 1 at 17:53
  • Sorry. This is the answer you gave: I mean if someone had a plan for the evening involving, say, "browse the internet", "cook dinner", "feed the dog", "finish my homework". In that case, "browse the internet" would be an abstract activity and they might feel they had 'done' it. – SamBC Feb 4 at 20:52 – anouk Mar 3 at 20:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.