Student or Learner
In this case, which tense are we supposed to use?
Have you seen/ Did you see my new ring?! (I'm showing it)
I am not a teacher.
This is the classic case of the colloquial American simple past used where the Brits instinctively use the present perfect. An American is quite likely to say, "Did you see my new ring?!" whatever she means. That doesn't make it right, though. In formal writing, even an American will put the perfect.
Last edited by Coolfootluke; 23-Feb-2011 at 00:11. Reason: Aaaaaargh! Ta, 5.
You are catching my typophiliac disease,Coolfootluke. I assume you meant 'simple past' in the first line of your post.
Last edited by 2006; 24-Feb-2011 at 00:03.
Hunh. I wasn't prepared to defend my cockamamie opinions to a native speaker, but I'll do my best. What is wrong with "Did you see my ring?" is that it is in the wrong tense. I agree with Fowler that writing should yield its meaning on close examination, and the plain meaning of that question in the simple past is absurd. Say you had gone to an art museum, and when you got home you told me that you had seen a painting of a house, a painting I know well. I might ask, "Did you see the mongoose in the upstairs window?" That is the import of, "Did you see my ring?" The information desired is not solicited by a question in the simple past, as, conversely, the information I desire would not be solicited by, "Have you seen the mongoose in the upstairs window?"
The important thing is that the unjustified badmouthing of simple past tense and the overselling of present perfect tense is directly responsible for the cockamamie sentences, such as the examples I listed, that students come up with.
Having a student say "I have been born in Delhi." instead of the should-be-obvious 'I was born in Delhi.' illustrates a very very serious problem in the teaching of the two tenses.
Pity the poor students!
Last edited by 2006; 24-Feb-2011 at 01:18. Reason: spelling
Boy, you really hate the present perfect. I think I stated plainly what was wrong with the simple past---the meaning is absurd. Add "yet" to the end, which is really the question, and its wrongness becomes plainer: "Did you see my ring yet?" The simple past denotes an action completed in the past, but "yet" admits of a present seeing. The semantic conflict is irreparable, and it exists even without the "yet". I am not arguing a case, I'm hanging in there explaining the obvious hoping against hope that we are talking at cross purposes.
"Have you seen my ring yet?" has at least three advantages---it is idiomatic, it avails itself of the tense designed for the purpose, and it asks the right question. Your examples of fractured English have no bearing on this case. You want us to jump out of an imaginary frying pan into a real fire.
I think a more likely reason for the problem you mention is that the present perfect tense is genuinely difficult for people whose native language has no cognate. But you acknowledge that it is used (where appropriate), so students must learn it.
There is a small area of overlap in cases such as the current one in which the vast majority of English speakers used the present perfect and find the simple past a poor second choice.
You ask for grammatical reasons why the simple past shouldn't be as acceptable here as the present perfect. Perhaps there is no grammatical argument. The best argument for teaching the present perfect is that that is what is almost universally used (certain regional dialects in Canada and the US excepted).
[Fresh material starts here, 2006. You've read all the above before]
Your one-man campaign for equal rights for the simple past in this context seems to confuse many new teachers who join here. I'm not sure if I've asked you this yet, but do you know of any grammarians, linguists or pedagogues who agree with your opinion that teaching the simple past in this context will lead to fewer mistakes in the examples you've given?
Last edited by Raymott; 24-Feb-2011 at 04:44.