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  1. #1
    jctgf is offline Key Member
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    Default hard to understand the present perfect

    Hi,

    Cousteau said: “The more I study sharks, the less I know about them...”. I say: “The more I study English, the less I know about it...”.

    I had been feeling comfortable with English in the past, but now that I have been studying it again, I have a lot of hard-to-clarify doubts…

    I am in a terrible doubt about present perfect. The following sentences are examples of how to correctly use the present perfect, right?

    1) I've lived in Barcelona for twenty years.
    2) Where is John? He has gone.
    3) I have been to London.
    4) I have lost my watch (I still didn’t find it).


    My Murphy’s grammar says that the present perfect should be used to express something that happened in the past with an effect now. He stresses the word “now”.

    According to that rule, only sentences 2 and 4 should be right.

    Sentence 3 doesn’t transmit any idea of an effect now. I have been to London (once in my life) but I have been living in my country since I came back and…so what? I can’t see the effect now…!

    Sentence 1, which has been posted in this site by another student, is even more confusing to me. The idea is that, in the past, I lived in Barcelona and, during that time, I spent 20 years in that city. What is the effect now, as well?

    Please, could some one let me know about all the situations in which I MUST use the present perfect?

    Thanks,
    Jc




  2. #2
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    Default Re: hard to understand the present perfect

    "I have lived in Barcelona for 20 years" means that I still live there, I am living there at present.

    "I have been to London" is correct, but I can understand your frustration.

    It means that there is a continuing effect: Memories of London are part of my life, part of what I remember and think about right now. The experience of seeing London is part of my life. I learned things there, and some of my present knowledge was gained in London. I am who I am, in part because I've been to London.

    "I went to London" would be a simple mechanical fact, an action without meaning.

    You ask when you MUST use the present perfect.

    The answer is: NEVER. There is never a time when you MUST use the present perfect. Sure, use it when you know how, when it seems right to you, but you are Brazilian and you speak Portuguese. You will never speak English like a native. No one expects you too. People are interested in what you say to them, not in how accurately you use verb tenses.
    English should be a pleasure, a joyful experience, not a grim set of rules to make you miserable. Pronounce as well as you can, listen and imitate, and have fun.

    I hope I have answered your questions! [Do you see the effect in the present?]

    regards
    edward

  3. #3
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    RonBee is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: hard to understand the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by baqarah131 View Post
    "I have lived in Barcelona for 20 years" means that I still live there, I am living there at present.

    "I have been to London" is correct, but I can understand your frustration.

    It means that there is a continuing effect: Memories of London are part of my life, part of what I remember and think about right now. The experience of seeing London is part of my life. I learned things there, and some of my present knowledge was gained in London. I am who I am, in part because I've been to London.

    "I went to London" would be a simple mechanical fact, an action without meaning.

    You ask when you MUST use the present perfect.

    The answer is: NEVER. There is never a time when you MUST use the present perfect. Sure, use it when you know how, when it seems right to you, but you are Brazilian and you speak Portuguese. You will never speak English like a native. No one expects you to. People are interested in what you say to them, not in how accurately you use verb tenses.
    English should be a pleasure, a joyful experience, not a grim set of rules to make you miserable. Pronounce as well as you can, listen and imitate, and have fun.

    I hope I have answered your questions! [Do you see the effect in the present?]
    regards
    edward
    Excellent!

  4. #4
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    Default Re: hard to understand the present perfect

    Often, the result of the past action is a bit abstract -- "I have been to London" means that now I have the experience of having been there, and I can tell you a bit about London, where you can get the best fish and chips and how much an underground ticket costs (for example).

    More generally, though, the present perfect is used to link the past and the present in some way. The most common way is for a past action to have an effect in the present, but there are other ways of linking past and present.

    For example:

    "I have lived in Barcelona for 20 years" shows that your living in Barcelona connects the present and past -- you started living there 20 years ago (past), and you still live there now (present).

    If you use the past simple -- "I lived in Barcelona for 20 years" -- that means that your living in Barcelona is completely in the past; that is, you don't live there any more.

    This is one of the very rare cases where you really do need to use the present prefect if you still live in Barcelona.

    Here's another example. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

    Charlie Chaplin made many movies.
    Brad Pitt has made many movies.

    Charlie Chaplin is dead; his career as an actor is over, and has no link with the present any more.

    Brad Pitt, on the other hand, is still very much alive, and we expect him to make more movies. His acting career started in the past, and continues up to at least the present.

    Consider also the huge differences between:

    Mary went to London. (And then she came back.)
    Mary has gone to London. (And she is still there.)
    Mary has been to London. (She has the photos to prove it.)

  5. #5
    jctgf is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: hard to understand the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    "I have lived in Barcelona for 20 years" shows that your living in Barcelona connects the present and past -- you started living there 20 years ago (past), and you still live there now (present).

    hi,

    so, "I have lived in Barcelona for 20 years" and ""I have been living in Barcelona for 20 years" have the same meaning?

    thanks!
    jc

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    Default Re: hard to understand the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by jctgf View Post
    so, "I have lived in Barcelona for 20 years" and ""I have been living in Barcelona for 20 years" have the same meaning?
    Yes. This is one case where the present perfect and the present perfect progressive have the same meaning.

    That's not always the case. "I have wallpapered the living room" means that there is now wallpaper on the walls in the living room; but "I have been wallpapering the living room" means that I started wallpapering in the past and am still wallpapering now.

    As a rule of thumb (which has exceptions), if the action has a definite end result (like wallpapering), the present perfect means something different from the present perfect progressive; but if the action has no definite end result (like living), the two tenses mean almost exactly the same.

  7. #7
    jctgf is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: hard to understand the present perfect

    Hi,

    I think the mess in my mind is partly because of an answer posted on this site.

    You can find the topic by searching the word “Barcelona”.

    The answerer says that those sentences have different meanings or… I misunderstood the answer.

    I think it's clear now...

    Thanks again,
    jc

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