Revisiting Present Perfect

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jwschang

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Did some checking up.
It would appear that "forbidding" the use of the Present Perfect with "past time expressions" is NOT the case, with "past time expressions" generalized wrongly and thus misunderstood.

1. We use the Simple Past for specific times in the past.
(a) I saw Simon yesterday.
(b) I ate lunch in the afternoon.
(c) I visited Dalian in July.

2. We use the Present Perfect where the exact time in the past is unimportant, not known, or cannot be recalled, but NOT with a specific past time.
(a) I have seen Simon before. (OK)
I have seen Simon yesterday. (Not OK)
(b) Have you eaten lunch? I have eaten already. (OK)
I have eaten lunch in the afternoon. (Not OK)
I have eaten lunch at three. (Not OK)
(c) I have visited Dalian several times since I first arrived. (OK)
I have visited Dalian in July. (Not OK)

That's what I understand to be the case. Any views?
 

Casiopea

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Agreed :D

1. We use the Simple Past for specific times in the past.
2. We use the Present Perfect for non-specific times in the past.

Something happened at some time between then and now:

I have eaten.

Something happened at a specific time in the past:

I ate.

===========Also==================
Time is inherent:

I ate. (Specific time need not be stated always because it can be deduced from the context)

Example:

The following conversation is taking place right now, at lunch time.

Pat: Did you eat yet?
Sam: Yup. I ate.

Pat asks, "Did you eat yet?", meaning "Did you eat lunch yet?" Lunch is eaten in the afternoon, so Sam deduces that 'Did you eat yet?' refers specifically to lunch time as opposed to dinner time or breakfast.

Specific time is inherent in Simple Past verbs so a speaker doesn't have to state it, unless, that is, it's necessary:

The following conversation takes place between two people who have been stranded on an island for two days without food.

Pat: Did you eat yet?
Sam: Yup. I ate yesterday afternoon before I knew you were stranded too. If I'd have known you were here, too, I would've saved some food for you. Sorry.

'yesterday afternoon' is a specific time. It's different from 'this morning'. If Sam would have said, "Yup. I ate this morning when you were out hunting for food", Pat would've probably eaten Sam :shock:

And, just because specific time is inherent in Simple Past verbs, doesn't mean that they cannot be modified by non-specific times, such as:

I ate some time ago. (ok)


Time as a modification:

I have eaten today. (at some unknown time today).

'today' is a specific day, but it is also made up of hours, making it span of time. When "You ate" within that span is unknown/undefinited and hence why 'today' is compatible with Present Perfect verbs.

Note, 'today' is a 'past time adverbial': it refers to that part of today which is over. 'today' is also compatible with both Simple Past and Present Perfect. The reasons being, it refers to (a) a specific day and (b) a non-specific time within the day.

One more thing. The Present Perfect is generally, if not always, used to take focus off the time frame and onto the the event itself. Notice that the Simple events go hand in hand with a , meaning one, specific time frame,

walks = event 'walk', time 'Present'
walked = event 'walk', time 'Past'


whereas Perfect verbs lack a specific time frame. They refer to two:

have walked: Present 'have' & Past 'walked'
had walked before I ran: Past (begining) 'had walked' & Past (end) 'ran'

Speakers use the Present Perfect to place heavy focus on an event. That may be the reason why the phrase 'time is unimportant' tends to be adopted in definitions for the Present Perfect.

Have you eaten lunch?
(I'm asking about the event. Time is not the focus/topic here)

Did you eat lunch?
(I'm asking about the event and the time. The event and the time go hand in hand).

Cas :D
 
J

jwschang

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Casiopea said:
Speakers use the Present Perfect to place heavy focus on an event. That may be the reason why the phrase 'time is unimportant' tends to be adopted in definitions for the Present Perfect.

Have you eaten lunch?
(I'm asking about the event. Time is not the focus/topic here)

Did you eat lunch?
(I'm asking about the event and the time. The event and the time go hand in hand).

Cas :D

Your explanation is very useful.
In fact, my example was not a good one: I have visted Dalian several times since I arrived; because we can say "...since July 17, 2002" which makes the past time specific.
The "variation" to the "rule" is allowed by the use of the conjunction "since". I think the "rule" of specific past time being disallowed applies only WITHIN the same clause.
Must do more checking. :idea:
 

RonBee

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A: Have you eaten lunch in the afternoon?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch in the afternoon.

A: Have you eaten lunch at three?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch at three.

A: Have you visited Dalian in July?
B: Yes, I have visited Dalian in July.

;-)
 
J

jwschang

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RonBee said:
A: Have you eaten lunch in the afternoon?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch in the afternoon.

A: Have you eaten lunch at three?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch at three.

A: Have you visited Dalian in July?
B: Yes, I have visited Dalian in July.

;-)

Yes. We have been using it so. Trouble is, there ARE linguists and teachers who are teaching that we should say in answer:
B. Yes, I ate lunch in the afternoon.
B. Yes, I ate lunch at three.
B. Yes, I visited Dalian in July.

1. This is the matter that has got some people upset (never mind mentioning whoever), because it is or can be confusing.
2. The "rule" is not my view. I did some checking and found that that's what is being taught by SOME. I don't know if it's a majority or minority who subscribe to the "rule", or it's at the climatic state of a toss-up!!!!!
3. It seems the language has gone through "refinements" (for whatever reasons???). Without sounding disparaging, it appears that such refinements are the labour of love of purists.
4. I guess you and I grew up speaking quite a bit of unsound grammar in pure blissful ignorance!!!!
5. I'm more concerned with the practical side of things: With such differing views, what should we teach learners? And it could lead to a lot of angst in the poor serious-type of kid (not to mention even some adults). :roll:
 

Tdol

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Casiopea said:
I ate. (Specific time need not be stated always because it can be deduced from the context)

Example:

The following conversation is taking place right now, at lunch time.

Pat: Did you eat yet?
Sam: Yup. I ate.



Cas :D

In BE, most would use the perfect here- the past simple with 'yet' is not very common. I, personally, wouldn't use this, but some would. ;-)
 
J

jwschang

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tdol said:
Casiopea said:
I ate. (Specific time need not be stated always because it can be deduced from the context)Example:
The following conversation is taking place right now, at lunch time.
Pat: Did you eat yet?
Sam: Yup. I ate.
Cas :D
In BE, most would use the perfect here- the past simple with 'yet' is not very common. I, personally, wouldn't use this, but some would. ;-)

1. Re Ron's examples, some would say the Present Perfect is NOT ok for both Q & A: Did you eat lunch in the afternoon/at three? Did you visit Dalian in July? and not: Have you eaten lunch in the afternoon?....etc

2. ON THE OTHER HAND, there can be a real meaningful difference between the Simple Past and the Present Perfect, depending on the intended message or context.
Mother to son:
Did you do your homework?
Son:I did (Give me a five! She didn't ask and I didn't say I'd finished it!)
Mum: Have you done your homework? (Completed it?)
Son: Um... (start minor defensive tactics) the neighbour's cat was having kittens and I'd to get the vet but Uncle Ron took my mobile (new age kid) to ask aunt Julia over for dinner but Mary said she couldn't....(then major diversionary tactics) aunt Mary'd been kind of mean to Liz (Uncle Ron's wife) 'cause I'd heard her say last Thanksgiving that Liz's turkey was from the Thanksgiving before that (mum's eyes open wide)...and yeah mum (easing into counter-attacking mode), you still owe me that dollar for doing up my homework last week... (with betrayed but forgiving glance) I've to run, mum, the neighbour's cat's still having......

3. In Singapore, kids (on the streets, in the malls) struggle with the Present Perfect, choosing (subconsciously) to use it randomly in place of the Simple Past, because (I think) they gravitate to this unfathomable city slicker to know it better, compared to plain country cousin the Simple Past.

4. Also, I think adults tend to ask questions to kids in the PP (as wives do to husbands) and the knee-jerk reply is also in the PP, because the message is "have you done it", not a straight-forward "did you do it". The latter allows an escape route because it doesn't address COMPLETION.

5. My conclusion (IMHO) is that there are contexts where there is no, or hardly any, difference between the two tenses, and others where the difference is intentional (conscious or otherwise).

Trying to be light-hearted in our exchanges, like Ron. :roll:
 

Tdol

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There is definitely a grey area- in the example I gave, it sounds a bit uncomfortable to my ears, but I wouldn't call it wrong. The two uses are acceptable. I think the general tendency is to use the PP less. ;-)
 
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jwschang

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tdol said:
Casiopea said:
I ate. (Specific time need not be stated always because it can be deduced from the context)Example:The following conversation is taking place right now, at lunch time.
Pat: Did you eat yet?
Sam: Yup. I ate.
Cas :D

In BE, most would use the perfect here- the past simple with 'yet' is not very common. I, personally, wouldn't use this, but some would. ;-)

That's how I tend to use the PP, without any "past time expression", and not the Simple Past for: Have you eaten? Yup, I have eaten.
 
J

jwschang

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RonBee said:
A: Have you visited Dalian in July?
B: Yes, I have visited Dalian in July.
;-)

Another thought. The above example seems more fitting for regular expected visits than for a once-off visit. Boss to salesman responsible for Dalian:
Have you visited Dalian in July? (Have you done your visit to Dalian for July?)
I have visited Dalian in July.

What I can glean from all the examples and discussion is that the "rule" that the Present Perfect cannot be used with "a SPECIFIC time in the past" is wrongly understood to apply across the board. I think it applies only in certain contexts, depending on the intended message, where the Simple Past should be the preferred or only correct form.

I shouldn't have opened this can of worms!! :roll:
 

RonBee

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jwschang said:
RonBee said:
A: Have you eaten lunch in the afternoon?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch in the afternoon.

A: Have you eaten lunch at three?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch at three.

A: Have you visited Dalian in July?
B: Yes, I have visited Dalian in July.

;-)

Yes. We have been using it so. Trouble is, there ARE linguists and teachers who are teaching that we should say in answer:
B. Yes, I ate lunch in the afternoon.
B. Yes, I ate lunch at three.
B. Yes, I visited Dalian in July.

1. This is the matter that has got some people upset (never mind mentioning whoever), because it is or can be confusing.
2. The "rule" is not my view. I did some checking and found that that's what is being taught by SOME. I don't know if it's a majority or minority who subscribe to the "rule", or it's at the climatic state of a toss-up!!!!!
3. It seems the language has gone through "refinements" (for whatever reasons???). Without sounding disparaging, it appears that such refinements are the labour of love of purists.
4. I guess you and I grew up speaking quite a bit of unsound grammar in pure blissful ignorance!!!!
5. I'm more concerned with the practical side of things: With such differing views, what should we teach learners? And it could lead to a lot of angst in the poor serious-type of kid (not to mention even some adults). :roll:

I am afraid I might have already waded into water too deep for me. :wink:

It is true that sometimes the simple past and the past perfect can mean the same thing.

  • A: Have you eaten lunch today?
    B: Yes, I ate.

Or:

  • A: Have you eaten lunch today?
    B: Yes, I have eaten lunch.

I think few would argue that there is a real difference between the two.

As for those example sentences I posted, I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate that those "impossible" sentences are quite possible given the right circumstances. As someone once said, it is context that makes a sentence meaningful.


Let's briefly look at the questions and the revised answers.

A: Have you eaten lunch in the afternoon? (Any afternoon)
B: B. Yes, I ate lunch in the afternoon. (A particular afternoon--that day)

A: Have you eaten lunch at three? (Any day)
B. Yes, I ate lunch at three. (A particular day--that day)

A: Have you visited Dalian in July? (Any July)
B. Yes, I visited Dalian in July. (The most recent July)

Every answer is, in a sense, a response to a different question than was asked. It's kind of like when you ask a person, "How long have you been waiting here?" and he responds with "Since three o'clock." You are then left with trying to figure out what the answer to your question is. If you say to somebody, "Have you visited Paris in the springtime?" the expected response would be something like, "Yes. I visited Paris last spring as a matter of fact." If the person instead says, "I visited Paris in the spring" that is likely to put you a little off-balance, simply because it is so unexpected.

(I am now going to have to ponder for a while on whether that made any sense.)

;-)
 
J

jwschang

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RonBee said:
]

I am afraid I might have already waded into water too deep for me. :wink:

It is true that sometimes the simple past and the past perfect can mean the same thing. I think few would argue that there is a real difference between the two. As for those example sentences I posted, I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate that those "impossible" sentences are quite possible given the right circumstances. As someone once said, it is context that makes a sentence meaningful.
;-)

The comforting thing (for our own sanity, not for proving anything) arising out of all this is that we (you, me, cas, tdol, etc) ARE agreed that there is interchangeability and there are differences in the usage of the two tenses.

Deep and murky waters are not for us weekend bathers!!! :wink:
 
J

jwschang

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RonBee said:
As for those example sentences I posted, I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate that those "impossible" sentences are quite possible given the right circumstances. As someone once said, it is context that makes a sentence meaningful.

Let's briefly look at the questions and the revised answers.

A: Have you eaten lunch in the afternoon? (Any afternoon)
B: B. Yes, I ate lunch in the afternoon. (A particular afternoon--that day)

A: Have you eaten lunch at three? (Any day)
B. Yes, I ate lunch at three. (A particular day--that day)

A: Have you visited Dalian in July? (Any July)
B. Yes, I visited Dalian in July. (The most recent July)

(I am now going to have to ponder for a while on whether that made any sense.)
;-)

The sentences above are all correct grammar, but all the questions by A do not contain a "specific time in the past" expression. It is this "rule" that is being questioned. :(
 

RonBee

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The sentences above are all correct grammar, but all the questions by A do not contain a "specific time in the past" expression. It is this "rule" that is being questioned.

We often use such expressions with perfect confidence that they will be understood. Examples:

  • Have you ever been to Europe?
    Have you ever flown on a plane?
    Have you ever met so and so?

The possibilities are endless. I think it is appropriate that you put rule in quote marks. I am not at all sure such a rule exists. In any case, I have never bothered to learn it.

I for one am not involved in a vast conspiracy to keep ESL learners from learning English the right way. In fact, I keep telling them that my way is the right way.

:wink:
 

Casiopea

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A: Have you eaten lunch at three?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch at three.

Ooh. Cool, sneaky one, dude. Ambiguity!

Within the context of the given conversation, 'at three' offers two meanings:

(1) at specifically 3 o'clock
(2) at some unknown 3 o'clock in the past

If (1), then 'at three' is incompatible with 'have eaten' and the sentence is ungrammatical:

:( Have you eaten at (specifically) 3 o'clock?

If (2), then 'at three' is compatible with 'have eaten' and the sentence is grammatical:

:D Have you eaten at 3 o'clock (before)?

In short, 'at three' can refer to a specific time on an unspecified day (2), or a specific time on a specific day (1).

Cas :D
 

RonBee

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Casiopea said:
A: Have you eaten lunch at three?
B: Yes, I have eaten lunch at three.

Ooh. Cool, sneaky one, dude. Ambiguity!

Within the context of the given conversation, 'at three' offers two meanings:

(1) at specifically 3 o'clock
(2) at some unknown 3 o'clock in the past

If (1), then 'at three' is incompatible with 'have eaten' and the sentence is ungrammatical:

:( Have you eaten at (specifically) 3 o'clock?

If (2), then 'at three' is compatible with 'have eaten' and the sentence is grammatical:

:D Have you eaten at 3 o'clock (before)?

In short, 'at three' can refer to a specific time on an unspecified day (2), or a specific time on a specific day (1).

Cas :D

Actually, I didn't mean for it to be ambiguous. "Have you eaten lunch at three?" is an improbable question if the speaker means at three o'clock on any day at all. However, if the speaker means at three o'clock today then we are talking about something else entirely, because such an utterance is never spoken. In such a case we would invariably say Did you eat lunch at three?

:)
 

Casiopea

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Cas' English:
Pat: Did you eat yet?
Sam: Yup. I ate.

todl's English:
In BE, most would use the perfect here- the past simple with 'yet' is not very common. I, personally, wouldn't use this, but some would. ;-)

Jws' BE English:
That's how I tend to use the PP, without any "past time expression", and not the Simple Past for: Have you eaten? Yup, I have eaten.

That a very good point :D

In North American English (Ahem, Canada & the US), the Simple Past and the Present Perfect are slowly merging, and the reason why some speakers, actually more than some, tend to use "Did..yet?". It's a sign of language in change.

In terms of its grammaticality, well, descriptivists might consider it grammatical because it follows a consistent pattern; whereas prescriptivists will definitely see it as ungrammatical because it deviates from the traditional pattern.

In terms of acceptability, some people might think it's okay because it doesn't drastically change the meaning expressed by the Simple Past, whereas other people may think it's not okay because it makes one sound as if they don't know the rules of the language.

However that may be, "Did...yet?" does in fact adhere to a rule, albeit a rule in flux. Prescriptivists of which I have met none on this board aren't much for language in change. They'd prefer that language stay put and not move around so much. (On a humorous note, prescript in prescriptivist means, before writing. Are prescriptivists troglodytes? :shock:)

I teach learners the traditional form "Have..yet?" first, then add in "Did..yet?", along with the whos, the whys, and the whens.

Knowledge is power.

Cas :D
 

Casiopea

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Ronbee:
"Have you eaten lunch at three?" is an improbable question if the speaker means at three o'clock on any day at all.

I see what you mean, but, to me, there's a difference in meaning between 'any day' and 'an unspecified day'; ICHO 'any day' means, one specific day within many choices of days, whereas 'an unspecified day' means, whenever. That is, it doesn't express a choice of day at all. It's in that way, that I believe 'at 3 o'c'ock' can express both specific time (one 3 o'clock) or unspecified time (3 o'clock whenever ~ before).

(little) cas :D
 

Casiopea

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5. My conclusion (IMHO) is that there are contexts where there is no, or hardly any, difference between the two tenses, and others where the difference is intentional (conscious or otherwise).

Oh, I agree. It, also, describes the Simple Past (SP) and the Present Perfect (PP) as merging in certain contexts in Singapore English as well. Nice.

Cas :D
 

Tdol

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The other thing that is spreading in BE is the omission of the auxialiry verb 'have'. This is spreading outside dialect areas into wider circles, although it would still be regarded as an error in exams. ;-)
 
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