Please help me out, what extra words are needed to convey the incomplete nature of the actions?

A: What did you do yesterday?


  1. I read books.
  2. I wrote my book.
  3. I built the wooden ship (which you had given me).
  4. I drew a picutre.
  5. I knitted a sweater.
  6. I climbed the mountain.

None of these actions were complete. B just did them for some time but not till their end. (Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Monalisa for 4 years. On one of the days in the middle he just painted it for a while and postponed continuation for another day)

  • 1
    Do you speak a language with an imperfect tense that indicates that a past action is incomplete?
    – James K
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 16:14
  • 2
    I spent the day reading/writing/drawing/knitting. I was working on the model ship. I went climbing on [name of mountain]. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 16:21
  • 2
    BTW, we would say It took Leonardo da Vinci four years to paint the Mona Lisa or He took four years to paint it. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 16:30

1 Answer 1


English doesn't have an imperfect tense, so the incompleteness of an action must be inferred from context, or described in words.

I read my book.

From context (assuming you are an adult) I'd guess that you didn't start and finish the book on the same day. I'd assume this was incomplete, unless you told me otherwise.

It is possible to use continuous tenses to give a sense of incompleteness:

I spent the morning writing my book.

Again from context we know that books aren't normally written in one sitting.

Otherwise we have lots of words that we can use:

I carried on building the ship that you gave me.

I continued to work on my drawing.

I did another 5 rows of knitting my sweater.

I climbed on the mountain, but didn't reach the summit.

  • I speak a language that has many aspect of verbs which include many aspects of completion. It lets me express what happened in the past with great freedom. For example I can say "I read a book" changing a little the verb "read" and conveying the desired meaning. Я читал книгу - I read a book (not from beginning to end). Я прочитал книгу - I read a book (to the end). Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 17:24
  • You said, "From context (assuming you are an adult) I'd guess that you didn't start and finish the book on the same day. I'd assume this was incomplete, unless you told me otherwise." So, my sentences are correct by themselves? I would hope so, but a native told me that I had to add extra context. And I'm so confused. What is the context? I'd really feel free if I could use those sentences by themselves without extra context, but as I was told the extra context is necessary, right? Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 17:27
  • For example, Russian verbs have a perfective and imperfective form. This can indicate if an action was complete or incomplete. English doesn't have perfective and imperfective - so you have to deduce it from context (either explicit or implicit) Think how Chinese doesn't have past or present tense, but you can understand when something happened either from context or from explicit words. English has a continuous aspect and something called "present perfect" (which isn't a perfective aspect like Russian).
    – James K
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 17:35
  • Exact translation is impossible. You can't exactly capture the meaning of the perfective and imperfective aspects of a language like Russian, in English.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 17:37
  • 1
    You're still thinking about the translation in Russian. --- Well, suppose you are learning Chinese "You yesterday do what {questionmark}" "I draw picture" is the literal words that are in Chinese. How does a Chinese speaker know that "draw" refers to past time? Well you can tell from the context of the question. Similarly "I drew a picture" in English means that the drawing was an event in the past. With no further context I'd assume you'd finished it. (drawing, unlike painting, is usually quick) But English just doesn't say if something is complete or not. So don't worry!
    – James K
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 18:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .