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    Tense and Aspect: 5. The Retrospective Aspect. Part 1

    Tense and Aspect: 5. The Retrospective Aspect. Part One

    5.1. Traditional 'Rules'.

    This form, traditionally known as the perfect, may be unmarked, I have worked, or marked, I had worked. Typical lists in grammars of the uses of the forms include:

    unmarked


    1. An action begun in the past and continuing through the present: My boss has lived there since 1998.
    2. An action begun in the past continuing up to the present, but not beyond: Hello, Neil. I haven’t seen you for ages.
    3. A past action occurring within a time period considered still to be continuing: Peter has called me four times today.
    4. An action occurring at an unspecified past time that has current relevance: I’ve already eaten.
    5. Actions occurring in the very recent past (often with just): The Bensons have just arrived.
    6. Future time and conditional clauses: We can leave when Paul has finished.


    marked


    1. An action begun in the past and continuing through later past time: Tom had lived in Prague for five years before he began to speak Czech.
    2. An action begun in the past continuing up to a later past time, but not beyond: Howard was pleased to bump into Neil. They hadn’t seen each other for ages.
    3. A past action occurring within a time period still continuing at a later past time: I was getting angry. Peter had called me four times that day.
    4. An action occurring at some past time that had relevance at a later past time: Mary wanted me to go with her, but I’d already seen the film.
    5. Actions occurring in the very recent prior past (often with just): The Principal looked up. His secretary had just come through the door.
    6. Past counterfactual hypothetical situations: I wish I hadn’t dropped out of university.


    Some uses appear connected, but learners might be forgiven for wondering how they could know which was meant. Fortunately, as with other tenses and aspects, there is a simpler explanation.

    5.2. The Retrospective ‘Rule’.

    The connection between all constructions described by utterances using a ‘perfect’ form is that the speaker is looking back on the situation from a later point in time. The situation is viewed retrospectively[i]. A simple 'rule' that covers all uses of this aspect is:

    We use the retrospective aspect when we look back from one point in time to a situation that began at a previous time and is connected in some way to the time from which we are looking back.

    Once again, we can add what we know from other tenses and aspects:

    We use the marked form when we wish to distance the situation, in vividness, reality or directness.
    ,
    We can see the application of this in the examples given above:

    5.2.1. unmarked


    1. My flatmate has lived in Prague since 1998.
    2. Hello, Neil. I haven’t seen you for ages.
    3. Peter has called me four times today.
    4. I’ve already eaten.


    In these examples we clearly have situations, living, not-seeing, calling, eating that began before the time of retrospection - the present moment. It is equally clear that the situations are connected to the time of retrospection. In [1] – [3], the time period extends from the past to that time. In [4], the connection is that the speaker, at the present time of retrospection, is not hungry, a result of past-time eating. This, or similar present consequences of a past situation, and whether the situation continues up to, or through, the time of retrospection, will be clear from the context.



    1. The Bensons have just arrived.


    In [5] the situation is, in the speaker’s mind, so close to the present that this closeness/vividness is the connection. However, the fact is that the situation however recent, actualised in the past, and speakers can choose to distance it in time:

    5a. The Bensons just arrived.

    Speakers of BrE tend to view such recent past situations retrospectively [5]; AmE speakers tend to distance them [5a]. The same is true when already, yet, recently are used.



    1. We will leave when Paul has finished.


    The time of retrospection, the time of leaving, is future and the actualisation of the finishing looked back on is before that time. Depending on the situations foreseen, there may be little difference in the length of time between the finishing and the leaving in [6] and [6a]:

    6a. We will leave when Paul finishes.

    However, in [6], the speaker has chosen to see the leaving as actualising at the end of a time period, however short, after the finishing. In [6a], the situation could be seen as actualising at the same time.

    5.2.2 marked


    1. Tom had lived in Prague for 5 years before he began to learn Czech.
    2. Howard was pleased to bump into Neil. They hadn’t seen each other for ages.
    3. I was getting angry. Peter had called me four times that day.
    4. Mary wanted me to go with her, but I’d already seen the film.
    5. The Principal looked up. His secretary had just come through the door.


    These five examples are very similar to [1] – [5] above, except that now the time of retrospection has been distanced in time; it occurred in the past. The action looked back on occurred before that past time of retrospection.

    Note that when the sequence of events is made clear by such words as before and after, speakers may choose to present the situation simply as a string of past events, as in

    7a. Tom lived in Prague for 5 years before he began to learn Czech.



    1. I wish I hadn’t dropped out of university.


    Here the speaker is looking back from the present time on a past situation, the dropping out. This is already distanced in time (The speaker did drop out). The speaker uses the marked retrospective form to show additional distancing in reality (the hypothetical non-actualisation of the not dropping out ). This form is very common in counterfactual conditionals, which we consider in later threads.


    Continued here: https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/t...67#post1698667



    [i] The situation is viewed retrospectively.

    Jespersen (1924.269) feels that the present perfect represents the present state as the outcome of past events, and may therefore be called a retrospective variety of the present.

    In discussing the use of the ‘present perfect’ with reference to past-time situations, Lewis (1986.76) writes Past time is, of course, time before the point Now. English verb forms, however, make an important difference between “past time” and “before Now” time. The first, expressed through the use of the second form [i.e. the ‘past simple’ – 5jj] expresses a fact remote in time. It is, so to speak, a “pure past”. Forms made with (have) + third form look back at the past from the point NOW. These forms look back in time. The best descriptive name for them is probably retrospective forms.

    Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999. 115) say that the three perfect-aspect forms are used retrospectively and offer a retrospective point of view.

    For Yule (1998.65-69) the retrospective view of a situation is the reason for selecting the perfect aspect.

    While most writers in the past few decades appear to have considered the ‘present’ tense of auxiliary HAVE and the association of the situated denoted in present time as sufficient grounds for labelling a HAVE + past participle the present perfect aspect/tense, Huddleston [2002.116], considering that the situation referred to is located in past time, categorises this form as a (secondary (analytic)) past tense.

    While not many writers speak of retrospection, many refer to such things as:

    Aarts (2011. 255): A situation that happened or began in past time and has relevance at the present moment. This is called current relevance.

    Christophersen and Sandved (1969.220): The perfect links up a past event with the present.

    Greenbaum (1996:270): Essentially it [the present perfect]refers to a past time that is referred to from the perspective of present time.

    Leech ([1971] 2004): ... the present Perfect means ‘past-time-related-to-present-time’.
    .
    Carter and McCarthy (2006.613): Present perfect forms are used to refer to events taking place in a past time-frame that connects with the present
    Last edited by 5jj; 04-May-2021 at 10:30.

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    Re: Tense and Aspect: 5. The Retrospective Aspect. Part 1

    Explained brilliantly.

    This all matches my own understanding exactly.

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    Re: Tense and Aspect: 5. The Retrospective Aspect. Part 1

    It's possible that these threads may turn into articles in this section of the site Below is my attempt at the retrospective aspect threads. Any suggestions for improvement, cutting, etc, will be most welcome.


    Tense and Aspect: 5. The Retrospective/Perfect Aspect. Part One


    5.1. Traditional 'Rules'.

    This retrospective form, traditionally known as the perfect, may be unmarked, I have worked, or marked, I had worked. Typical lists in grammars of the uses of the forms include:

    unmarked


    1. An action begun in the past and continuing through the present: My boss has lived there since 1998.
    2. An action begun in the past continuing up to the present, but not beyond: Hello, Neil. I havenít seen you for ages.
    3. A past action occurring within a time period considered still to be continuing: Peter has called me four times today.
    4. An action occurring at an unspecified past time that has current relevance:ve already eaten.
    5. Actions occurring in the very recent past (often with just): The Bensons have just arrived.
    6. Future time and conditional clauses: We can leave when Paul has finished.


    marked

    7. An action begun in the past and continuing through later past time: Tom had lived in Prague for five years before he began to speak Czech.
    8. An action begun in the past continuing up to a later past time, but not beyond: Howard was pleased to bump into Neil. They hadnít seen each other for ages.
    9. A past action occurring within a time period still continuing at a later past time: I was getting angry. Peter had called me four times that day.
    10. An action occurring at some past time that had relevance at a later past time: Mary wanted me to go with her, but Iíd already seen the film.
    11. Actions occurring in the very recent prior past (often with just): The Principal looked up. His secretary had just come through the door.
    12. Past counterfactual hypothetical situations: I wish I hadnít dropped out of university.
    Some uses appear connected, but learners might be forgiven for wondering how they could know which was meant. Fortunately, as with other tenses and aspects, there is a simpler explanation.

    5.2. The Retrospective ĎRuleí.

    The connection between all constructions described by utterances using a Ďperfectí form is that the speaker is looking back on the situation from a later point in time. The situation is viewed retrospectively. A simple 'rule' that covers all uses of this aspect is:

    We use the retrospective aspect when we look back from one point in time to a situation that began at a previous time and is connected in some way to the time from which we are looking back.

    Once again, we can add what we know from other tenses and aspects:

    We use the marked form when we wish to distance the situation, in vividness, reality or directness.
    ,
    We can see the application of this in the examples given above:

    5.2.1. unmarked


    1. My flatmate has lived in Prague since 1998.
    2. Hello, Neil. I havenít seen you for ages.
    3. Peter has called me four times today.
    4. ve already eaten.


    In these examples we clearly have situations, living, not-seeing, calling, eating that began before the time of retrospection - the present moment. It is equally clear that the situations are connected to the time of retrospection. In [1] Ė [3], the time period extends from the past to that time. In [4], the connection is that the speaker, at the present time of retrospection, is not hungry, a result of past-time eating. This, or similar present consequences of a past situation, and whether the situation continues up to, or through, the time of retrospection, will be clear from the context.

    5. The Bensons have just arrived.

    In [5] the situation is, in the speakerís mind, so close to the present that this closeness/vividness is the connection. However, the fact is that the situation however recent, actualised in the past, and speakers can choose to distance it in time:

    5a. The Bensons just arrived.

    Speakers of BrE tend to view such recent past situations retrospectively [5]; AmE speakers tend to distance them [5a]. The same is true when already, yet, recently are used.

    6. We will leave when Paul has finished.

    The time of retrospection, the time of leaving, is future and the actualisation of the finishing looked back on is before that time. Depending on the situations foreseen, there may be little difference in the length of time between the finishing and the leaving in [6] and [6a]:

    6a. We will leave when Paul finishes.

    However, in [6], the speaker has chosen to see the leaving as actualising at the end of a time period, however short, after the finishing. In [6a], the situation could be seen as actualising at the same time.

    5.2.2 marked

    7. Tom had lived in Prague for 5 years before he began to learn Czech.
    8. Howard was pleased to bump into Neil. They hadnít seen each other for ages.
    9. I was getting angry. Peter had called me four times that day.
    10 Mary wanted me to go with her, but Iíd already seen the film.
    11. The Principal looked up. His secretary had just come through the door.
    These five examples are very similar to [1] Ė [5] above, except that now the time of retrospection has been distanced in time; it occurred in the past. The action looked back on occurred before that past time of retrospection.

    Note that when the sequence of events is made clear by such words as before and after, speakers may choose to present the situation simply as a string of past events, as in

    7a. Tom lived in Prague for 5 years before he began to learn Czech.


    12. I wish I hadnít dropped out of university.

    Here the speaker is looking back from the present time on a past situation, the dropping out. This is already distanced in time (The speaker did drop out). The speaker uses the marked retrospective form to show additional distancing in reality (the hypothetical non-actualisation of the not dropping out ). This form is very common in counterfactual conditionals, which we consider in later threads.

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