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  1. #11
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    Hi,
    There seems to be a difference:
    1.- last week -finished time: if it were Wednesday today, 'last week' would refer to the whole seven-day period that went from two Sundays (Mondays) ago to last Sunday (Monday) -> 'Usually' past simple.
    2.- the last week- time up to now- the period of seven days leading up to now (i.e. in this case, from last Thursday to today (we made it Wednesday in the example). --> Present perfect.

    The problem is that we don't have this difference in our language. I do agree with you, and I think we'd better say 'for a week' (rather than 'the last week', even if they are both correct). Personally, I do sympathise with my teacher (her blue, blue eyes, those dimples when she smiles...no, just kidding!!). I think she has come to realise that this 'last' here is the cause of all the confusion regarding the use of the present perfect so she must have concluded something like 'let's get rid of LAST and everything will be fine'. We are also told that combinations 'since...ago' are unacceptable, which I have also found to be untrue but, to my mind these 'white lies' make the descriptive and prescriptive grammar easier for us learners to understand, even if only to find out how inaccurate rules can be. And this is the point I wanted to make here. When you 'native speakers' discuss about grammar tend to highlight all the exceptions and flaws in rules and the discrepancies between rules and real usage. I must admit I really enjoy reading those discussions and think they are great. However, for us -learners-, grammar must be something solid, strict, consistent, with clear cut or hard and fast rules always applying -but for the odd fixed expression and idioms-... At least, this is what I read between the lines in Swan's advice. Maybe descriptive grammar fails to explain how a language really works but it is the only grammar non-native speakers can rely on and must turn to when in doubt. Incidentally, teachers seem to have decided that, in spite of everything, it is the best way to deal with a gang of fussy students like those in my class.
    Regards and please, go on reflecting upon language, discussing and teaching us.

  2. #12
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by Wuisi View Post
    Maybe descriptive grammar fails to explain how a language really works but it is the only grammar non-native speakers can rely on and must turn to when in doubt. Incidentally, teachers seem to have decided that, in spite of everything, it is the best way to deal with a gang of fussy students like those in my class.
    Did you mean "prescriptive" here? Descriptive grammar certainly does explain how a language really works: that's its job. Your request for strict, clear-cut hard-and-fast rules sounds more like a request for prescriptive grammar.

    I think that, at this point, what riverkid and I disagree on is the abstract matter of why native speakers use finished adverbs with the present perfect: he formulates a rule and calls it an "override", while I'm suggesting that native speakers modify their utterances in mid-speech and so produce non-standard structures. On a real practical level, though, it boils down to the same thing: native speakers prefer not to use finished adverbs with the present perfect, but sometimes they do.

    I am a little surprised, though, that your teacher says the structure "since ... ago" is not allowed. It's extremely common and not that difficult to explain.

  3. #13
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    Hi,
    Your guessing is right; I meant prescriptive grammar, thanks.
    As for your discussion on native speakers' modifying their utterances in mid-speech and giving rise to non-standard structures or overriding the rule at will, on particular occasions and for particular purposes, I think I understand both sides because I think it all comes down to much the same thing, communication rules over grammar. My point is that for native speakers it is just a question of communication in situation -disregarding the grammar in it- whereas for non-native speakers(-to-be) it becomes a problem of both communication and grammar -in as much as identifying and using these adverbial expressions seems to be crucial to the mastering of the use of the present perfect-. It is in this respect that I think that for us 'learners' things could be made much easier simply by trying to avoid some of them which are likely to cause confusion and this is what I think my teacher does by keeping 'last' and 'since...ago' out of harm's way when it comes to using the present perfect if there are students who will it difficult to make fit and who will end up with the feeling that adverbials and tenses don't click together. It is not 'descriptive' but 'prescriptive', it is not 'real' but 'useful' and 'more convenient'. I'm glad I now know these combinations are perfectly ok but most of my classmates don't know about it and I think their English is not any worse than mine or that they will fail to speak up their minds.
    Maybe the central point to all this is that English and English as a second language or for communication purposes are not exactly the same thing and 'the more international English grows, the greater the gap is'.
    Regards.

  4. #14
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    I don't understand the difficulty with "since...ago". "Five years ago" is as much a definite point in time in the past as "February 2003" is (at the time of writing, they both refer to the same point in time); and you can use "since" to indicate a period starting at that point and continuing up to the present.

  5. #15
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    I don't understand the difficulty with "since...ago". "Five years ago" is as much a definite point in time in the past as "February 2003" is (at the time of writing, they both refer to the same point in time); and you can use "since" to indicate a period starting at that point and continuing up to the present.
    Ok; of course, I totally agree on that. The difficulty I refer to is the one arising from combining 'since' and 'ago' in the same adverbial, i.e. 'since five years ago' instead of 'for five years', for instance. This is the combination we are told to try to avoid. I've found expressions like this are quite common and perfectly normal but ... Whenever a fellow student makes use of it, the teacher rephases it to 'for five years' right away. The reason behind that correction is what I can't fully understand; hence all my guessing here. I'd ask her but, not being a native speaker herself I'm afraid she might think I'm trying to catch her out or something like that and that is what refrains me from doing so. Personally, I don't think these expressions are difficult to understand; I don't even think the time reference is blurred or not clear enough, however, I've grown accustomed to doing without them and I can't help feeling there's something 'fishy' about them. If I hear a native speaker using them then everything is ok but when it is me that has to speak I will make do with the more conventional 'for' and 'since'.
    Regards.

  6. #16
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    That was exactly the kind of phrase I was talking about. "Five years ago" is a definite point in the past, and we can add "since" to it to indicate a period starting them and continuing to the present: since five years ago.

  7. #17
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    To my mind, her reasoning might have to do with the close-knit connection we are taught to establish between 'ago' and 'past time'; or to avoid transferring Spanish structures into English. That's all I can conclude after giving it a lot of thinking.
    In Spanish we have a similar tense, and we use it in quite a similar way; basically to break news (i.e. 'Mary has had another baby) (non-finished time adverbials or, occasionally, finished ones) and to talk about personal experience (i.e. I have been to China twice) (no time reference) and present result of a past action (i.e.I've broken the vase). However, to refer to states, events or actions from the past up to the present moment we prefer using a periphrasis with 'Hace/Llevo (which are present simple forms) + time expression (duration) + -ing form (our gerund)' (equivalent to your 'I have worked here since I was eighteen'), or also just 'present simple (our present simple -quite similar to yours- + desde (equivalent to your 'since') + time expression (time-when, starting point). If things get mixed-up we are likely to end up producing sentences such as 'I work here since I was twelve' instead of 'I have worked...'. Very few Spanish speakers will use our present perfect to connect present and past -(which, on the other hand would be perfectly ok but rather ambiguous as for the time reference -present or past, rarely expanding from the past into the present); actually, most people will say that in Spanish it refers to past time when used like this. That's the contrast between the two languages and surely that's the reason behind my teacher's attitude. By the way, it is not just my teacher's; I've been carrying out a kind of survey among the people I know -apart from those in my classroom- and they all consider 'since five years ago' incorrect. So, I told you, there's something 'fishy' about it over here.
    By the way, isn't there an institution that watches over English?. We have RAE -Real Academia de la Lengua Española. Its motto is something like 'to polish, fix and make it shine'. It publishes a dictionary and if a word or expression is not in it then it is slang or jargon. It publishes all kinds of books concerning language and what is not included it is not correct. It is not so bad as long as they agree to update their publications on a regular basis.
    Regards.

  8. #18
    riverkid is offline Banned
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    Did you mean "prescriptive" here? Descriptive grammar certainly does explain how a language really works: that's its job. Your request for strict, clear-cut hard-and-fast rules sounds more like a request for prescriptive grammar.
    "... how a language really works". Where does that leave prescriptive grammar? It explains how language doesn't actually work.

    Many prescriptive rules are neither hard and fast nor clear cut. They are simply false. Descriptive grammar provides all that's needed for any student to understand how language works. Think about it; prescription doesn't describe how language works; of what use is something like that?


    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    I think that, at this point, what riverkid and I disagree on is the abstract matter of why native speakers use finished adverbs with the present perfect: he formulates a rule and calls it an "override", while I'm suggesting that native speakers modify their utterances in mid-speech and so produce non-standard structures.
    Rewboss, you're making the unwarranted assumption that just because prescriptive grammar failed to note this difference in language use that it's nonstandard. It's a standard gambit for speech. In both examples I gave, there was no midstream change. Both people, Tdol and T Blair rolled right thru with no pause whatsoever.

    You also make the unwarranted assumption that this is a cast in stone rule when you really have no idea as to how long this particular use has been in use.

    Actually that's the hallmark of prescriptive grammar. In their zeal to provide "rules" there was not enough thought given to how language really works. The result was/is a sorry collection of guidelines; the may/can rule; the restrictive/nonrestrictive nonsense; the you must use the subjunctive form 'were' with if; the sequence of tenses mixup; the dismal analysis of reported speech; ...



    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    On a real practical level, though, it boils down to the same thing: native speakers prefer not to use finished adverbs with the present perfect, but sometimes they do.
    It's not really a preference as much as a language/grammatical issue. Native speakers use contractions as a matter of course. Overrides come when they wish to be more strident, serious, when they wish to show anger.

    This isn't/is not something that they decide midstream, it's a naturally occurring language gambit. So too with the past time adverb override with the present perfect. The present perfect has its roles but sometimes these can be overridden to express a different nuance.
    Last edited by riverkid; 12-Feb-2008 at 18:58.

  9. #19
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    riverkid, please climb down from your soapbox long enough to recognise that I wasn't making even half the points you argue against in your last post. I'm not going to bother discussing the rest because you make meaningful discussion quite impossible.

  10. #20
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    Default Re: Finished adverbs with the present perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by Wuisi View Post
    By the way, isn't there an institution that watches over English?
    No.

    There have been self-appointed grammarians who have inflicted much damage on the English language by trying to make English grammar more like Latin grammar, but otherwise there are independent scholars and linguists who argue amongst themselves about certain grammar rules and other conventions and are loosely termed "the authorities", even though they technically have none.

    On the face of it, this would appear to be a recipe for chaos, but of course language can't be tied down by regulatory authorities, as the Académie Française have found to their dismay: languages evolve and develop. And a good thing too -- if they didn't, we'd all be talking on a "Me Tarzan, you Jane" level.

    Dictionaries provide spelling rules, but at the same time dictionaries try to record actual usage. Many of the spelling rules were invented by Samuel Johnson, but he didn't always have his mind on the job, which is one reason for our strange spelling system. So people consult dictionaries for guidance, while dictionaries chart how spelling rules change over time (within my brief lifetime, for example, the apostrophe has been dropped from words like 'phone and 'flu, but this was done without any official anouncement or spelling reform).

    The result? Strangely enough, English dictionaries are more likely to keep in step with actual language development without inflicting sudden major spelling reforms once every 50 years. On the flip side, though, dictionaries (and other "authorities") can give conflicting advice, which is often confusing.

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