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    #1

    Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Hi Forum,

    I'm glad I've come across this forum and I hope you guys can help me out of my confusion. In advance I want to kindly apologize for any idiosyncracies concerning my English. I'm an university student of English at Freiburg, Germany and although I've been learning English for more than 12 years now there may still be subtle or not so subtle mistakes.

    I will have to take an exam on monday which involves translation from German into English. I'm allowed to use dictionaries, but finding the right tense choice is a thing which still troubles me from time to time. When I was at school I thought I had mastered the tenses, now at university we get way deeper looks into the tenses and it has started to confuse me a bit.

    I'd like to ask about the correct use of the Present Perfect tense vs. Present Perfect Progressive and, accordingly, Past Perfect vs Past Perfect Progressive.

    I think I roughly know how to use Present Perfect. It's used when the duration of an action doesn't matter but the result of an action. "I have cleaned the car" --> result: it is clean now.

    If I want to express duration, I'd use the Present Perfect Progressive. "I have been cleaning the car for 2 hours" (and still haven't finished cleaning).

    Well, now I had to read that also the present perfect can express duration with "since" or "for"..

    Example: I have had this car for two years...

    That kinda is a contradiction for me, because I always thought that duration is expressed with the progressive form.

    Compare: It has rained a lot. Look at the puddles (result) vs. It has been raining for 10 hours (duration).

    Moreover, I have kind of learned by heart that whenever I want to express an action that started in the past but is still ongoing today, I should use the Present Perfect Progressive.

    Thus: I have been playing the piano for 17 years. Comparing this sentence with the example from above (I have had this car for two years), what would change if I said "I have played the piano for 17 years"?

    This affects past perfect and past perfect progressive accordingly.

    I'd be so happy if I could get competent answers here!

    Thanks a lot in advance!
    Kreacher

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    #2

    Re: Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Welcome to the forum, Kreacher.

    I am afraid there is no simple answer to your question.

    The problem is that both the progressive form and perfect forms can suggest some form of duration. Some verbs, such as LIVE, also have within their meaning the idea of duration.

    So, there are times when both non-progressive and progressive forms are possible, with little practical difference in meaning.

    Some course books and elementary grammars can sometimes give the impression that only one form is possible in any give situation. This is not true.

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    #3

    Re: Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Thanks for answering!

    But, it is not possible to say "I have been having this car for 2 years" instead of "I have had this car for 2 years", right? Even to me the first one sounds wrong.

    Is there a difference in meaning between saying "I have been playing the piano for 2 years" vs "I have played it for 2 years"? Or are these interchangeable?

    I just translated a text from German into English and there was a situation where I wasn't sure about the tense choice. Now I don't know if you know any German, so I'll try to explain roughly what the text said.

    The text is about something that happened in the past... So definitely past tense is involved. But then there was a situation expressing duration in German and I wasn't sure whether to express this through past perfect or past perfect progressive.

    My translation was:

    Maria Altmann is now 90 years old and the rightful heir of the painting. For almost 8 years (duration) the american lady had been fighting for the restitution of the famous portrait and of four other paintings, which her uncle Ferdinard Bloch-Bauer bequeathed to her.

    I wasn't sure if I could have as well used past perfect: For almost 8 years she had fought for the restitution of the famous painting... But assuming that duration (for 8 years) is involved, I went for past perfect progressive.

    Present perfect progressive or present perfect is not an option here since the action is back in the past. So, no "has been fighting" or "has fought"...

    Last edited by Kreacher; 09-Feb-2013 at 16:38.

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    #4

    Re: Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Quote Originally Posted by Kreacher View Post
    But, it is not possible to say "I have been having this car for 2 years" instead of "I have had this car for 2 years", right? Even to me the first one sounds wrong.
    The first sounds unnatural, but it is nothing to do with the tense. We don't use the progressive aspect for HAVE when it has the stative meaning of 'possess'. We could say, "I have been having problems ... for two years'.
    Is there a difference in meaning between saying "I have been playing the piano for 2 years" vs "I have played it for 2 years"? Or are these interchangeable?
    The first may suggest the limited duration or the limited duration of the playing, but I don't think there is a big difference between the meanings of the two forms in this sentence.
    Maria Altmann is now 90 years old and the rightful heir of the painting. For almost 8 years (duration) the a American lady had been fighting for the restitution of the famous portrait and of four other paintings, which her uncle Ferdinard Bloch-Bauer bequeathed to her.
    Both forms are possible.If the fighting ended at or close to the time point of the utterance, the non-progressive form is more likely. If the fighting continued through the time point, the progressive form is more likely.

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    #5

    Re: Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Maria Altmann is now 90 years old and the rightful heir of the painting. For almost 8 years (duration) the aAmerican lady had been fighting for the restitution of the famous portrait and of four other paintings, which her uncle Ferdinard Bloch-Bauer bequeathed to her.


    Quote Originally Posted by 5jj View Post
    If the fighting ended at or close to the time point of the utterance, the non-progressive form is more likely. If the fighting continued through the time point, the progressive form is more likely.
    Can we say: For almost 8 years (duration) the American lady fought for... (as a finished action in the past)?
    If I were a native speaker of English, I would never shut up. :-)

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    #6

    Re: Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Quote Originally Posted by englishhobby View Post
    Can we say: For almost 8 years (duration) the American lady fought for... (as a finished action in the past)?[/B]
    I'm not entirely sure but I don't think that simple past can be used with duration like that... If anything I'd use she has/had fought or has/had been fighting for 8 years...

    I've never used simple past to express duration. But I'm not a native speaker.. I'm just thinking of "She fought for years" which doesn't sound wrong to me and still it expresses duration. Thus it confuses me even more... Oh dear!

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    #7

    Re: Tense Confusion: Present/Past Perfect vs. Present/Past Perfect Progressive

    Quote Originally Posted by englishhobby View Post
    Can we say: For almost 8 years (duration) the American lady fought for... (as a finished action in the past)?[/B]
    So much depends on the context. Here are some ideas.

    Mrs Gruntpugh died recently at the age of 90. She will be remembered for her series of court actions against her cousin, Lady Postule over the Bloch-Bauer paintings.. She fought for eight years before reaching an settlement with ...
    . ('had fought' is possible, but not necessary; 'before' makes the sequence of events clear. The past perfect progressive form is unlikely here, in my opinion; the fight ended before she died.)

    Shortly before her death in 1999, Mrs Gruntpugh finally gained possession of the B-B paintings she had fought for eight years to get back from her cousin. (The simple past is not impossible, but the past perfect is more likely. The progressive form is possible; it would emphasise the duration.)

    Mrs Gruntpugh had been fighting for eight years when she heard the news of .. (The progressive form is more likely here. It shows the continuation of the action up to the very moment when she heard the news)

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