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Thread: present perfect - reason for name of tense

  1. #41
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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    ... You still haven't answered my question. Do you claim that the simple past has no relevance in the present? ...
    Yes, the past simple tense also has some relevance in the present depending on context and situation, but that is neither its defining characteristic, nor its main focus.


    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    What I am arguing about now is different. Others on this thread want to justify the use of the words 'present' and 'perfect' by talking about current consequences. I see this as unnecessary as well as erroneous and confusing.
    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    I generalised and realised that simply by listing the simple tenses of the auxiliary verbs making up the 'perfect' verbs, one could derive the name correctly.
    Of course, it is possible to arrive at the correct name of the tense by analysing the separate components of the verb phrase. It is also possible to infer that there is an elephant hidden in the woods by catching a glimpse of its trunk. The naming conventions of verb tenses are surely linked to the form (the outer expressions - have and -ing). However, the names really represent the nature of verb tenses, not the form which this nature takes - they stand for time sense (present/past/future) and aspects (perfective/progressive) that actually modify the meaning carried by the main verb.

    As regards current consequences/relevance, etc. being a red herring, I think the issue has been more than adequately addressed by Benny, Lucas and Einstein.

    And finally, Biffo, I really see no reason to dismiss 'received knowledge' with contempt just because it is 'received knowledge'. Linguistics would be nowhere if everyone had relied exclusively on their own trial/error methodology and analytical skills. Also R. Quirk is one of the greatest English linguists and grammarians, if not the greatest, and is anything but a prescriptivist. Every single word of his Comprehensive Grammar is, to me, an accurate description that includes not only usages largely accepted as correct, but ones looked down upon, even stigmatised.

    I hope you were not complaining about the level of this discussion because I joined in. If you think I was imposing I will erase all my posts.
    Last edited by boozer; 13th August 2013 at 9:07 PM.

  2. #42
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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by boozer View Post
    (a) Yes, the past simple tense also has some relevance in the present depending on context and situation, but that is neither its defining characteristic, nor its main focus.
    (b) Of course, it is possible to arrive at the correct name of the tense by analysing the separate components of the verb phrase.
    (c) It is also possible to infer that there is an elephant hidden in the woods by catching a glimpse of its trunk. The naming conventions of verb tenses are surely linked to the form (the outer expressions - have and -ing). However, the names really represent the nature of verb tenses, not the form which this nature takes - they stand for time sense (present/past/future) and aspects (perfective/progressive) that actually modify the meaning carried by the main verb.


    (d) As regards current consequences/relevance, etc. being a red herring, I think the issue has been more than adequately addressed by Benny, Lucas and Einstein.


    (e) And finally, Biffo, I really see no reason to dismiss 'received knowledge' with contempt just because it is 'received knowledge'. Linguistics would be nowhere if everyone had relied exclusively on their own trial/error methodology and analytical skills. Also R. Quirk is one of the greatest English linguists and grammarians, if not the greatest, and is anything but a prescriptivist. Every single word of his Comprehensive Grammar is, to me, an accurate description that includes not only usages largely accepted as correct, but ones looked down upon, even stigmatised.


    (f) I hope you were not complaining about the level of this discussion because I joined in. If you think I was imposing I will erase all my posts.

    (a) I continue to maintain that all tenses relate and have relevance to the present. That is the defining characteristic of any tense and is its main focus. Tenses have no meaning at all except in relation to the 'present', i.e. the time at which they are uttered.
    (b) There is no 'of course' about it. It just happens to work in English. There are other languages whose tenses cannot be analysed in that way. It works for us precisely because we use auxiliary verbs. I now strongly suspect that this correspondence was the sole motivation for the names of such tenses in the first place. Research will confirm or discount this.
    (c) That is a facile and inaccurate comparison. The elephant is in clear sight and I recognise it, not by its DNA but by its outer form.
    (d) That's the precise point of my disagreement. I'm not going to be persuaded by its mere repetition.
    (e) I wasn't aware of any contempt. That is your subjective impression. If rules work for me I respect them, if they don't then I reserve the right to challenge them. Most human progress is made by challenging current wisdom. So far I haven't challenged Quirk's doctrine directly at all. I've only challenged other people's interpretation of his work. When I've read Quirk myself I'll be in a position to comment.
    (f) I'm frankly amazed by that accusation. I have argued against you and some other contributors to this thread (bennymix, lucas-sp and einstein) with equal conviction and equal attention to detail. What makes you think I have singled you out in any way?
    Last edited by Biffo; 13th August 2013 at 11:53 PM.
    If you think that, you have another think coming!

  3. #43
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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    I have been doing a little reading. Here's a paragraph I found interesting:

    The English perfect has developed from originally resultative sentences with be (John is gone) and have (I have the enemy bound). Such resultative sentences express states and/or possession over states. The change from resultative meaning to perfect meaning comes about due to a semantic change “as a result of which the responsibility for the action leading to the state is ascribed to the subject” (König 1995: 164). In other languages (though not in English), the perfect is also used as a narrative tense, thus gradually replacing (and presumably eventually eliminating) the past tense (preterite).
    http://www.glottopedia.org/index.php/Tenses_of_English

    I like this evolutionary view of tenses. Once my intial question was answered (in post #2), this absence of the resultative meaning is what I was trying to explore in this thread without knowing the terminology.

    It seems to me that others on this thread have been arguing from a purely resultative view of the 'perfect'. I see this as an outdated or at least insufficient point of view.
    Last edited by Biffo; 14th August 2013 at 1:37 AM.
    If you think that, you have another think coming!

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Biffo,

    Bennymix, natkretep and boozer are right: The verb form is called called present perfect because its tense is present and its aspect is perfect. Perfect aspect means that the verb form describes an action that has been completed at the time of the tense of the verb form or a state caused by such an action that persists at the time. Therefore,
    Present perfect means that the action has been completed presently.
    Past perfect
    means that the action had been completed in the past.
    Future perfect means that the action will have been completed in the future.

    Past tense, aka preterite, is a verb form that is perfective in aspect and past in tense. The perfective aspect describes an action viewed as a single event in time. As the preterite is past in tense, it describes an single action in the past.

    The continuous form expresses the imperfective aspect. The imperfective aspect describes an event as ongoing at the time the tense expresses. I.e., past continuous describes an ongoing action in the past.

    As you can see, the meanings of verb forms of the indicative is defined by aspect and tense. The past tense may have relevance for the present but this is not what the verb form expresses while the present perfect expresses (not implies) that the completed action has relevance for the present.

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    It seems to me that others on this thread have been arguing from a purely resultative view of the 'perfect'. I see this as an outdated or at least insufficient point of view.
    The resultative is a special case of the perfect aspect. To repeat what I said above: "Perfect aspect means that the verb form describes an action that has been completed at the time of the tense of the verb form or a state caused by such an action that persists at the time."
    Last edited by berndf; 14th August 2013 at 2:02 AM.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    Biffo,

    Bennymix, natkretep and boozer are right: The verb form is called called present perfect because its tense is present and its aspect is perfect. Perfect aspect means that the verb form describes an action that has been completed at the time of the tense of the verb form or a stated caused by such an action that persists at the time. Therefore,
    Present perfect means that the action has been completed presently.
    Present perfect
    means that the action had been completed in the past.
    Future perfect means that the action will have been completed in the future.

    Past tense, aka preterite, is a verb form that is perfective in aspect and past in tense. The perfective aspect describes an action viewed as a single event in time. As the preterite is past in tense, it describes an single action in the past.

    The continuous form expresses the imperfective aspect. The imperfective aspect describes an event as ongoing at the time the tense expresses. I.e., past continuous describes an ongoing action in the past.

    As you can see, the meanings of verb forms of the indicative is defined by aspect and tense. The past tense may have relevance for the present but this is not what the verb form expresses while the present perfect expresses (not implies) that the completed action has relevance for the present.
    You made a typo - I've highlighted it.
    What you have just said is not at issue as far as I am concerned. However I'm interested that you support the others. It was their broader claims that made me uneasy, i.e that the Present Perfect had something to say about the present state of affairs. I have provided counterexamples to show that this is not universally the case.

    I maintain that, regardless of the naming of the tense, it is still a past tense as used in present day English. This is due to a semantic shift of "to have" from a resultative towards a narrative sense. Historically things may have been different.
    If you think that, you have another think coming!

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Personally, I very much sympathize with Biffo on the question of "present relevance" (or "past relevance," in the case of the past perfect, etc.). I immediately want to point out that, well, we wouldn't be saying anything right now if we didn't think it was somehow relevant to our act of speaking - although I do wonder if that's really true, given that people (myself included) say a lot of irrelevant things. And then I want to know what exactly makes the relevance of the present perfect different from this generalized field of "relevance."

    So I would suggest, just to pacify my own inner whiner, one little revision to berndf's statement:
    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    "Perfect aspect means that the verb form describes an action that has been completed at the time of the tense of the verb form or a state caused by such an action that persists at the time."
    What if we said, instead:
    "Perfect aspect emphasizes that the verb form describes an action that has been completed at the time of the tense of the verb form, but that has had some causal effect on a state, on a condition, or on an action that persists at the time of the verb."
    It's not that the present perfect is the only way to describe completed actions that are relevant to the present, but instead that, by using the present perfect, a speaker emphasizes to his/her interlocutor that a completed action has a particular (explicit or implicit) relevance to the present that the speaker expects his/her interlocutor to understand. (We can generalize this to the past perfect, the future perfect, etc.: those forms emphasize that a completed action has a particular (explicit or implicit) relevance to the past/future/etc.)

    This allows us both to understand the reason why the present perfect is a present tense verb (and not a past tense verb), and by describing the present perfect rhetorically we allow for a lot of flexibility in terms of choosing, identifying, describing, and evaluating "relevance."

    EDIT: And, in so doing, we side-step the issue of whether or not a completed action "really is/was" "relevant," since instead of relying on what looks like an epistemological criterion of "relevance" we instead introduce the speaker's own notion of "relevance" and desire to emphasize that "relevance," to put more weight on the possible present relevance of a completed action.
    Last edited by lucas-sp; 14th August 2013 at 2:15 AM. Reason: esprit d'escalier

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    What you have just said is not at issue as far as I am concerned.
    The topic of this thread is that you wanted to know why the present perfect is called present perfect. As others did before, I described why it is called present perfect.

    As a moderator, I have to ask you to stick to the question you asked when you opened the thread. If you want to discuss a different topic, please open a new thread. Thank you.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by lucas-sp View Post
    It's not that the present perfect is the only way to describe completed actions that are relevant to the present..
    We have no disagreement. The past tense may or may not describe past actions which are relevant for the present. The present perfect describes the action explicitly as relevant for the present.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    The topic of this thread is that you wanted to know why the present perfect is called present perfect. As others did before, I described why it is called present perfect.

    As a moderator, I have to ask you to stick to the question you asked when you opened the thread. If you want to discuss a different topic, please open a new thread. Thank you.
    If as a moderator you decide that I am straying off-topic then of course I accept your authority.

    However I didn't say that your answer was irrelevant, I said (or intended to say) that I had no issue with it. In other words I accept what you say as a plausible explanation.

    However my argument stems from what some of the others are arguing is a motivation for the tense's name, namely its implication for the present. That I do have an issue with.

    ________________________________________________
    EDIT
    I see that lucas-sp is addressing this very issue so I will read his latest post very carefully before replying.
    If you think that, you have another think coming!

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    However my argument stems from what some of the others the others are arguing is a motivation for the tense's name, namely its implication for the present. That I do have an issue with.
    There I agree with you. It is not the implication for the present that matters but what the verb form expresses about the present; or, as Lucas put it, emphasizes.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by berndf View Post
    There I agree with you. It is not the implication for the present that matters but what the verb form expresses about the present; or, as Lucas put it, emphasizes.
    This may be off-topic, but I just want to give one other example of how taking a rhetorical view of the matter helps avoid these apparently philosophico-epistemological impasses... at least for me.

    I feel the same way about the subjunctive. It irks me when the subjunctive is described as "the mood used to describe states of unreality," as if we couldn't use any other mood to describe unreal things, or as if sometimes people don't say things that they think are real that are actually unreal or vice-versa. If instead we describe the subjunctive as "a mood used by a speaker to emphasize his/her conception of the unreality of certain actions or states to his/her interlocutor," then we solve the problem without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We don't have to eliminate "unreality," but instead we can frame it as a choice made (consciously or unconsciously) by a speaker.

    It's obvious (to me at least) that we can't eliminate the present tense from the present perfect; otherwise we'd have no way of distinguishing it from the past perfect and future perfect. So describing it as a "past tense" is unhelpful to me (and apparently to most linguists and grammarians, although not to all language teachers who might find that strategy pedagogically productive in certain situations). But we can find a way to describe the aspect​ of the perfect that works in all tenses without eliminating their key distinctions of past/present/future.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by lucas-sp View Post
    It irks me when the subjunctive is described as "the mood used to describe states of unreality," as if we couldn't use any other mood to describe unreal things, or as if sometimes people don't say things that they think are real that are actually unreal or vice-versa. If instead we describe the subjunctive as "a mood used by a speaker to emphasize his/her conception of the unreality of certain actions or states to his/her interlocutor," then we solve the problem without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We don't have to eliminate "unreality," but instead we can frame it as a choice made (consciously or unconsciously) by a speaker.
    Please be careful to keep in mind the logical difference between describing unreal things (=things that happen to be unreal) and describing unreality (=expressing the irreality of something).

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    That's what I'm trying to do... But you get explanations about the subjunctive all the time that boil down to "it's a contrary-to-fact situation," using the copula "is" to gloss over the notion of expression that is so key. Blablabla off topic blablabla. Anyway, it does seem to me like the notion of expression, or even of "states of relevance," neatly and productively solves the problem that is coming up here in relation to the perfect aspect.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    "I have walked the same route to the shops for as long as I can remember."

    Can you tell even the slightest thing about my current state from that statement?
    Sure. It's the state of your mind: you're recalling that you did that. What the focus of your sentence is is not that you walked the same route many times, but that now you're in the situation to tell that you walked the same route. So, I think, the meaning of perfect clauses is that they describe situations (namely the kind of situations that happen because of something having happened earlier), while simple clauses describe events, i.e., they go to tell what actions happen.

    Talking of 'implications' or 'relevance' is indeed wrong: if you say that you killed a butterfly yesterday, implying that an earthquake will happen fifty years later, this does not make your clause a future tense. But the meaning of the present perfect is that it talks both of the current situation and of the earlier events.
    Last edited by Ёж!; 14th August 2013 at 5:46 AM.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    The present perfect is often interchangeable with the simple past.
    But are there differences? We've focussed too much upon the
    first person. Let's look at third person. Two variations I've
    written.

    1. He walked along the road. He realized that the village was far away and
    knew it would be many hours before he got there. He shivered.
    He has forgotten his coat. Nonetheless, he did not slow down,
    but forged ahead.


    2. He walks along the road. He realizes that the village was far away and
    knows it will be many hours before he gets there. He shivers.
    [He realizes] He has forgotten his coat. Nonetheless, he does not slow down,
    but forges ahead.


    In 1. the present perfect stands out like a sore thumb [ADDED:and is a defect]. The simple past
    would be preferable, in my opinion.

    In 2, the present tense, it fits. Why? In *his* present time he's shivering.
    Then the narrator tells why, and the present perfect allows that
    NOT to stand out uncomfortably.

    In the variation [brackets], he himself realizes why. Indeed,
    he may well say to himself, "I've forgotten my jacket!" although "I forgot
    my jacket" would do.

    This is an attempt to illustrate present consequence, present relevance,
    etc. But of course the 'present' is in the past, at the time he shivered.
    Last edited by bennymix; 14th August 2013 at 9:38 AM.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by bennymix View Post
    This is an attempt to illustrate present consequence, present relevance,
    etc. But of course the 'present' is in the past, at the time he shivered.
    This is because you use historic present as a narrative tense. The tense of the verb form present perfect is present, not the time. Tense is a grammatical category not an actual point in time.

    Here is an example where a past action bears consequence on the present and this consequence is essential for what you're trying to say, yet the present perfect is not used in English while it would be perfectly ok in French or German:
    Ten years go, he *has bought a new house in which he still lives.
    This is so because the aspect is perfective and not perfect (see my #44 for a definition or here and here), a distinction that is observed in English but which has faded in French and German.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    (e) I wasn't aware of any contempt. That is your subjective impression...
    Indeed, it is my subjective impression - see, internet communication is a distorted kind of communication and I may even have said this before. My subjective impression is corroborated by comments like:
    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    I have to admit I'm a little disappointed with the standard of debate on this thread. Mostly I have been battered with a simple repetition of received knowledge. It is the received knowledge that I'm challenging. Further, no-one has commented on my foolproof (I believe) formula for naming the tenses independent of their meaning.
    and the implication, well the subjective implication, that people repeating received knowledge are possibly in an inferior position because of being unable to digest, analyse or challenge this received knowledge even when its falsity stares them in the face.

    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    So far I haven't challenged Quirk's doctrine directly at all. I've only challenged other people's interpretation of his work. When I've read Quirk myself I'll be in a position to comment.

    No, you did not challenge him directly, you only said:
    Quote Originally Posted by Biffo View Post
    Maybe we are discovering the difference between those who teach and rely on prescriptive grammar rules and those who (like me) believe that descriptive grammar is more useful.
    It is really immaterial whether this was a reference directly to Quirk or the one that quoted him, i.e. me. The interpretation of Quirk's doctrine, as you phrase it, means little, if anything at all - he has been quoted saying precisely what almost everyone else said. There is no interpretation in that. It all boils down to your willingness to lack thereof to accept that, consciously or not, when you use the present perfect tense, you somehow see this as relevant (or, unlike the simple past, relevant in a special, emphatic way, as Lucas has suggested) to the present time/situation/context. I respect your unwilligness to accept this doctrine because you either do not understand it or you understand it but do not believe in it. However, you should also respect the fact that others have adopted it as their own not because they are unable to challenge its falsity or because they cannot come up with anything better, but because they truly understand it and believe in it.

    All examples and counterexamples given by you and other contributors lead to one thing only, as far as I am concerned - complete confirmation of the doctrine.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    I also want to point out, briefly, that saying "The present perfect is used to describe a completed action that has continued relevance in the present" is, by itself, not a priori descriptivist or prescriptivist. In fact, stated in that form, it looks much more descriptivist than prescriptivist to me.

    (A prescriptivist phrasing might be "Use the present perfect when describing completed actions in the past that have continued relevance in the present.")

    I don't think accusing people of descriptivism was a particularly charitable move in this argument, and I don't think it gets us anywhere to dwell on it too much.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Berndf: Yes, I'm aware that 'perfective' and 'perfect' differ. I wonder if you'd comment on my analysis of the two stories; why the pres perf. works nicely in one, and not the other (in my opinion).

    Thanks.

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    Re: present perfect - reason for name of tense

    Quote Originally Posted by bennymix View Post
    I wonder if you'd comment on my analysis of the two stories; why the pres perf. works nicely in one, and not the other (in my opinion).
    Well, to be honest, there need to be three stories.
    1. He walked along the road. He realized that the village was far away and knew it would be many hours before he got there. He shivered. [He realized] He has forgotten his coat. Nonetheless, he did not slow down, but forged ahead.

    2. He walks along the road. He realizes that the village was far away and knows it will be many hours before he gets there. He shivers. [He realizes] He has forgotten his coat. Nonetheless, he does not slow down, but forges ahead.

    3. He walked along the road. He realized that the village was far away and knew it would be many hours before he got there. He shivered. [He realized] He had forgotten his coat. Nonetheless, he did not slow down, but forged ahead.
    When the narration is in the present, you need to use a present perfect. When the narration is in the past, you need to use a past perfect.

    This is a good demonstration of why the present perfect is actually a present verb tense and not a past verb tense (although it does refer to actions that were completed before the present).

    EDIT: Of course, in narration you can occasionally flash into the historic present. So another option is possible:
    4. He walked along the road. He realized that the village was far away and knew it would be many hours before he got there. He shivers. [He realizes] He has forgotten his coat. Nonetheless, he does not slow down, but forges ahead.
    If we slip into a historic present sometime in the passage for vividness, we can use a historic present perfect as well.

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