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March 18, 2012 / dlw43

The Present Perfect – Verb Tense and Aspect Lesson (Part 5 of 13)

Since we’ve completed the Simple Aspect, we are now ready to move on to the Present Tense of the Perfect Aspect.

If you have read the Tense and Aspect post, you know that tense and aspect are different.  (If you haven’t read that post and are not aware that tense and aspect are different, go here for a quick introduction.)

We will be examining each aspect in its present, past, and future tense. In other words, we’ll be discussing each box in the Verb Tense and Aspect Chart in separate posts. Download, print out, and follow along on the Verb Tense and Aspect Chart.

The entire Perfect Aspect (Present Perfect, Past Perfect, and Future Perfect) is used to emphasize the relationship in time of two events. The Present Perfect makes this emphasis two ways: either as an event that happened at an unspecified time before now or as an event that began at a specific point in time in the past and continues to the present moment. In the first way, the Present Perfect expresses that something began and ended at an unspecified time before now and that this past event has had an impact upon the present moment. In the second way, the Present Perfect expresses that something began at a specific point in time  the past and continues to the present moment.

By using the Present Perfect aspect, the speaker is emphasizing the order of two events in time; however, adverbs are often used to give even more emphasis on this ordering of events. Some of the adverbs that are often used with the unspecified time before now use of Present Perfect include already, just, ever, never before, and never. And, of course, adverbs are required for the use of the Present Perfect that expresses something began at a specific point in time in the past and continues to the present moment.   Since + specific point in time or for + total period of time must be used to construct this use of the Present Perfect.

Why would we want to emphasize the ordering of events? Why emphasize the relationship between something that happened in the past and the present moment? Why would we want to emphasize that something that happened in the past and continues up to the present moment?  The answers to these questions are the same: it emphasizes the impact that the past event or situation has upon the present moment. This point is key to knowing when to use the Perfect Aspect.

Okay, let’s get into the specifics of each use of the Present Perfect.

Remember that the Present Perfect has two main uses: unspecified time before now and duration from the past until now.

Unspecified Time Before Now:

In general, the entire Perfect Aspect (Present Perfect, Past Perfect, and Future Perfect) allows us to express the idea of one thing happening before another thing.  What is difficult about the first use of the Present Perfect, Unspecified Time Before Now, is that the second thing is the present moment.  To see the present moment as a second event can be a difficult concept to grasp. But we are in fact ordering two things in time: (1) the thing that happened before now and  (2) now.  We are still expressing that one thing happened before another thing; it’s just that the other thing is the present moment.

One might ask why we don’t just use the Simple Past to express something that began and ended before now. In fact, sometimes we do just that.  Using the Present Perfect, however, allows the speaker to emphasize the impact that the past activity or situation has upon the present moment. There is a subtle but important difference between saying my son graduated from college yesterday and my son has graduated from college. (We would use the Present Perfect if we want to–and most parents do want to–emphasize the impact of that past event on the present moment.)

An obvious but important thing to remember about Unspecified Time Before Now is that the time the event or situation happened must not be specified. To make it easier to understand, Unspecified Time Before Now can be broken down into five categories: Experience, Change Over Time, Accomplishments, An Uncompleted Activity You Are Expecting, and Multiple Activities at Different Times.

The five different types of Unspecified Time Before Now:

1. Experience

Using the Present Perfect in this manner is the equivalent of saying, “I have/don’t have the experience of…”.

Examples:

I have eaten at that restaurant before.

Have you met him?

I have never been to France.

I have read that book twice.

Have you seen the movie Hunger Games?

I haven’t seen a movie in six months.

2. Change Over Time

Examples:

Japanese has become one of the most popular courses at this university over the last twenty years.

Has your English improved since you moved to California?

The government hasn’t shown much interest in arts education since the last election.

Have you lost weight since you began taking yoga?

He has become a better golfer since he joined the club.

John’s time hasn’t improved since he began training for the triathlon.

3. Accomplishments

Examples: 

Doctors have cured many diseases.

We have not determined if life exists on Mars.

Has she graduated from the university yet?

Scientists have split the atom.

He has not mastered Japanese.

Has a cure for the common cold been found yet?

4. An Uncompleted Activity You Are Expecting

This topic illustrates the use of the Present Perfect to suggest that we are expecting something to happen, but it has not happened yet. The word “yet” can be used, but using it is not required because the use of the Present Perfect in this context will indicate to listeners that the speaker expects the event to happen at some point in the future.

Examples:

Bill has not arrived.

Have you finished your homework?

I have not eaten.

Has the rain stopped?

She has not left the airport.

Have you washed the car?

5. Multiple Activities at Different Times

This topic is similar to the preceding one, An Uncompleted Activity You Are Expecting. The difference is that instead of describing a single activity that has not yet been completed but that we expect to be completed in the future, we are describing several activities completed in the past. By using the Present Perfect, we are indicating that the process is not complete, that we expect more of these same activities to occur in the future.

Examples:

I have written three papers in this class since January.

There have been several complications in this case.

The stock market has risen every day this week.

He has vetoed every proposal for reform this term.

She has gotten three tickets this year.

That book has won several awards.

Sometimes we want to limit how far back into the past we want to go in the Present Perfect with situations or activities that happened either once or repeatedly. The exact time or times of the activity/activities/situation/situations happened are unspecified do not continue to the present.  Visually, it looks like this:

The vertical line represents how far back into the past we want to go.  The time of the activity (or activities or situation or situations) can be anywhere from that limit until the very edge of “before now.” The time that the event occurred remains unspecified.  We place limits by using time expressions such as in the last year, this week, so far, up to now, since the beginning of this semester, etc.  Situations that began and ended in the past are usually expressed using non-continuous verbs, and activities that began and ended in the past are expressed using action, continuous, verbs.

She has gotten a ticket this year. (one-time activity)

He has written three essays so far this semester? (repeated activity)

The stock market has risen every day this week. (repeated activity)

He has been to Paris five times in the last five years. (repeated situation)

Have you been to the library in the last month? (one-time situation)

He has supported every proposal for reform this term. (repeated activity)

.

.

Okay, so that’s the first use of the Present Perfect. Now, let’s move to the second use.

Duration from the Past until Now (Non-Continuous Verbs):

In order to proceed, you must know the difference between continuous, non-continuous, and mixed verbs.  Go here for an explanation of continuous, non-continuous, and mixed verbs.  

The Present Perfect uses non-continuous (stative) verbs and the non-continuous uses of mixed verbs with a “since” or “for” phrase to a express situation that began in the past that continues to the present. (Activities that began in the past and continue to the present take continuous verbs.) 

Normally the Present Perfect Progressive Aspect, which we will discuss in a later lesson, rather than the Present Perfect Aspect is used with continuous (action) verbs to express an activity that began in the past and continues to the present. There are, however, some exceptions to this rule.  

There are certain continuous verbs by their definitions express habitual occurence, which means that these verbs express a situation as much or more than they express an activity. These verbs, therefore, have flexibility. In the Present Perfect they express a situation, and in the Present Perfect Progressive they express an activity that is repeated.  The continuous (action) verbs that can express both situations and activities include live, work, teach, smoke, wear glasses, play chess, and go to school. There are other verbs that act in this manner as well.  

Examples:

I have wanted a car for a long time. (non-continuous verb)

I have known John for three years. (non-continuous verb)

I have not lived in Paris since 2005. (continuous verb expressing a situation)

I have taught English for a long time. (continuous verb expressing a situation)

I have worked here since December. (continuous verb expressing a situation)

I have been in school for ten years. (non-continuous verb)

.

It is important to use a “since phrase,” “since clause,” or “for phrase” if you want to express duration. A “since phrase” (or “since clause”) is followed by a specific point in time such as yesterday, July, or last year. A “for phrase” is followed by a duration of time such as one day, one month, or one year. Without a “since phrase,” “since clause,” or “for phrase,” the Present Perfect will default to its first use, an activity or situation that has began and ended at some Unspecified Time Before Now.

Examples:

I have lived in Paris. (I no longer live in Paris. The activity began and ended at some Unspecified Time Before Now.)

I have lived in Paris for five months. (I began living in Paris five months ago and I still live there now. This is the second use of the Present Perfect, Duration from the Past Until Now.)

Next: The Past Perfect

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