Habitual aspect

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The habitual aspect is an aspect that characterizes a situation as occurring regularly or habitually. Habituality is either linguistically represented by verbal expressions like used to and would or it is indirectly implied in situations “in which the adverb usually is possible in English.” (Dahl 1985: 97)

Habituality markers in English

  • be used to
  • would
  • adverbials like usually, always etc.
  • like to
  • subordinate clauses beginning with (always) when
  • the do-auxiliary (in Early Modern English)


  • My parents used to travel to Rostock at the Baltic Sea every summer.
  • A friend of my mine would swim in the ocean every day.
  • We usually play table tennis after dinner.
  • I like to go to the matches of my favourite football club.
  • When I’m hungry my husband calls the pizza service.'


The habitual aspect is a subcategory of the imperfect aspect and must be distinguished from the iterative aspect. While habituals "describe a situation which is characteristic of an extended period of time" (Comrie 1976: 27), iteratives consist of "repeadted occurrences of the same situation" (Declerck 1991: 277); e.g. giving a sequence of coughs should be understood rather as one single situation than as a characteristic feature of the person coughing.



  • Binnick, Robert I. 1991. Time and the Verb: A Guide to Tense and Aspect. Oxford: University Press. 155. ISBN 0-19-506206-X
  • Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect: An Introduction to Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University. 26-32. ISBN 0-521-21109-3 Google Book Search
  • Crystal, David. 1987. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University. 422. ISBN 0-521-26438-3
  • Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and Aspect Systems. New York: Basil Blackwell. 95-102. ISBN 0-631-14114-6 Full text
  • Declerck, Renaat. 1991. Tense in English: Its Structure and Use in Discourse. London: Routledge. 277-284. ISBN 0-415-06151-2 * Google Book Search
  • Hartmann, Reinhard Rudolf Karl, and Stork, Francis Colin. 1972. Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Applied Science. 21. ISBN 0-853-34534-1
  • Hewson, John, and Bubenick, Vit. 1997. Tense ans Aspect in Indo-European Languages: Theory, Typology, Diachrony. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 342-343. ISBN 1-556-19860-4

Other languages

German Habitualis (de)