Past simple over present perfect.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by M56, Jan 9, 2006.

  1. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    Borrowed from another forum (permission given) :
    As a BrEng speaker, I couldn't give a good answer to the above questions. Could you AmEng speakers enlighten us? What logic allows the AmEng speaker to use the past simple in place of the present perfect in such as the above? It has always puzzled me.
     
  2. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    I contend AE speakers don't use the past emphatic for ongoing events. I've not met one.

    Z.
     
  3. Lizziewoo Junior Member

    London
    England/English
    I would say: "Have you been to the Monet exhibition?" whilst ongoing and "Did you go to the Monet exhibition" if the exhibition has terminated.
     
  4. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Let's imagine a specific situation.

    Yesterday, A said to B "Tomorrow I'll go to the Monet exhibition".
    This evening, B comes back home, finds A and asks her "Did you go to the Monet exhibition?"

    Wouldn't the past tense be acceptable (and even desirable) in that peculiar situation, even though the exhibition is still running? (in BE as well as in AE).
     
  5. Lizziewoo Junior Member

    London
    England/English
    In this specific case, yes, the past tense works because it was discussed that A was going to go to the exhibition, so when asking 'Did you go to the Monet exhibition?' it is correct. If it has been discussed in the past tense that A was going to go (i.e. Tomorrow I am going to go to the Monet exhbition), then B would ask in the past tense also thus enquiring had A been to the exhibition.

    You could also say, 'Did you manage to see the Monet exhibition?' (for interest).
    Does that help?
     
  6. MrPedantic Senior Member

    UK, English
    Yes, it would be fine. There would be a different intonation, however:

    1. Did you go ^ to the | Monet exhibition?

    As opposed to a simple enquiry, as in the original context:

    2. ^Did you go to the | Monet exhibition^?

    ^ denotes highest pitch
    | denotes lowest pitch

    MrP
     
  7. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    You're right, Jean-Michel, and of course it would be so in either country.

    I believe M56 is asking a question that presupposes Americans use the past emphatic when the present perfect is appropriate by asking when AE speakers began doing this and why they do it. My statement was offered in opposition with the presupposition, and thus I disagree with the foundation of the question. Americans don't use the past emphatic when they should use the present perfect. They use the present perfect.

    Z.
     
  8. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    Isotta has said it so eloquently. I'll just hammer on it with a large boulder.

    The following statement does hold for AE speakers.


    It's a bogus question, based on a falsehood.
     
  9. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    Yes, so would I, but there are AE speakers who say that both are correct in AE - even when the exhibition is still on.
     
  10. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    Yes, we BE speakers would reserve the past simple for such as that.
     
  11. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    I agree, but why do AE speakers allow both the present perfect "have you seen..." and "did you see..." when it is still possible to see the event named?

    For example, is this possible in AE?

    A: Did you see the Monet exhibition?

    B: No, unfortunately I missed it. Was it good?

    A: It is good. You can still catch it. It's on till the end of the month.
     
  12. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    So if a new film/movie is on release, an AE speaker who has seen the film would never say to a friend "Hey, did you see xxx xxx? It's really great!".
     
  13. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    I'm going to assume that you refer to an ongoing exibition (exhibition in AE)...

    The example implies that "B" thinks it has ended. This muddles things. It could explain "A"'s use of the present, only to clarify to B that the exhibit has not yet ended.

    If both A and B share an assumption that the exhibition is ongoing, then the following is more likely to be heard (of course exceptions may occur)--

    A: Have you seen the Monet exibition?

    B: No, unfortunately I haven't. Is it good?

    A: It is good. You can still catch it. It's on till the end of the month.
     
  14. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    I see. So, AE upholds the use of the present perfect in cases where presupposition is apparent. That's good to know.

    So if the speaker presupposes that the listener would want to see the exhibit, he/she would never use "Did you see...".
     
  15. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    "Never" is a dangerous term here. Let's just say that it's far more common to use the present perfect. I'm sure both you and I could come up with realistic examples that would break the pattern.

    Here is one such example:

    Henry is asking Jeb if the latter has gone to a store, which is known by both to be operating normally:

    Henry: Jeb, did you go to Dam Hard? (Have you visited the Damariscotta Hardware Store?)

    This would refer to a specific event within a specified time period. If, on the other hand, Henry wanted to know if Jeb has ever been to the new ice cream emporium, he would phrase the question:

    Henry: Jeb, been to Round Top? (Have you been to the Round Top ice cream place?)
     
  16. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    OK. So we AE and BE use present perfect and past simple in the same way.

    Why do AE speakers keep telling me that we don't?

    For example:

    And:


     
  17. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    If I may be so bold...

    They either don't know what they are talking about, or they are exaggerating. The past simple is used at times, but it is less common than our shared BE/AE use of the present perfect.

    or........

    I need to get out more, and spend time looking for people with very large foreheads, receeding chins, and callouses on their knuckles.

    ----------
     
  18. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    LOL! The search goes on. I've never come across such a messy area as this in AE usage. There seems to be very little agreement among speakers.

    Thanks for your two penny/cents worth though..
     
  19. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    USA
    English (American)
    Until reading this thread, I would not have thought there was anything wrong with saying "I lost my key" especially if I have little hope of ever finding it again. Interesting...

    Elisabetta
     
  20. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    There is nothing wrong with it. I was only talking about
    the specific instance M56 raised, of participation in an ongoing event.

    We have a simple past tense for a reason, I suppose.

    M56: What did you just do?
    Cuchu: I opened the door to let the hippo out.


    M56: Have you seen the hippo this afternoon?
    Cuchu: I saw him (not "have seen him") earlier.


    but...

    M56: Have you been mucking about in the forums today?
    Cuchu: I've been popping in and out, looking for knuckle draggers. Seems they are all in the moderators' lounge.
     
  21. TrentinaNE Senior Member

    USA
    English (American)
    Very funny, cuchu! :) Did you edit your earlier message to add the blue explanations, or did I just miss them the first time around? If the latter, my apologies!

    Elisabetta

     
  22. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Simple. Because America, like every other place on the planet, is chock full of semi informed, ill informed, or just plain misinformed people who nevertheless, like to think they are the ultimate authority on any subject about which they may have any shred of information.

    I think it was Mark Twain who said: Believe none of what you hear, and half of what you read.

    In Today's world of democratized, politicized communication, I'd say we have to cut wayyyyy back on that "half".
     
  23. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    Guess you just missed it. No need for apologies. I misunderstand more than half of what I read.
    This thread has been fun, if not particularly useful.
    One or two academics or self-proclaimed 'experts' led
    M56 to try to understand a seemingly common AE phenomenon which, inconveniently, doesn't exist! We have spent a lot of time debunking the initial claim.

    Is there a term in rhetoric for arguing against an asseveration based on a falsehood? If so, you may hang it on my neck.
     
  24. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    :D The future looks bleak for students of English as a foreign or other language.
     
  25. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
     
  26. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    I would say that, lacking any examples of said "greatly increased constraint" in AE usage, I'm not terribly interested in building an argument either for or against the statement.

    Perhaps the erudite teacher would care to provide some concrete examples, in which we would have a basis for a practical discussion of the matter.



    It helps to remember, of course, that many speakers, myself included, don't always choose the best exact nuance when speaking. You may hear things being said that contradict themselves, and beg the question [for clarification].

    A: Did you go to the Monet exhibit?
    B: What? It closed?
    A: No, it runs through next weekend.
    B: Oh good. I was planning take the kids this Saturday.

    Speech by its very nature is much less precise than writing, as the give an take format itself allows context to be omitted/implied/assumed much more easily, since it can questioned and provided as needed rather than requiring it all be analyzed to death up front.

    The fact that people sometimes INCORRECTLY say something should not be mistaken as the fact that they CORRECTLY do so.
     
  27. television New Member

    York
    English - US
    Not to fiendishly contradict so many strong voices on this thread, but I believe there is some truth to the assertion that AE speakers use the past tense in places where BE speakers would use present perfect.

    In informal (i.e. most) speech, a man might ask a friend, "Did you see King Kong?"

    As has been asserted, this question may not use technically correct grammar, but, nevertheless, it does occur. I've heard people asking this question everywhere I've lived in the States: Texas, Vermont, Massachusetts.

    However, as has become evident from the examples already given in this thread, grammar must be considered within context. If Joe poses this question to Jane at work on Monday morning, then it is likely he is asking whether she saw the film during the course of the weekend, a time period which has ended and may therefore be referred to in the perfect tense.

    This explanation also applies when Joe asks Jane whether she has seen a particular television program. "Did you see The Simpsons?" means "Did you see the episode of The Simpsons which aired between 7 and 8 last night?" Whereas Joe would ask "Have you seen The Simpsons?" only if he meant "Have you ever seen The Simpsons?"

    But I think a lot of AE speakers form questions with the simple past in situations other than Monday morning at work or asking about a specific TV show. I suggest that the grammar used is not merely incorrect or mistaken, but actually reflects different logical concepts.

    If I am correct, then Joe considers the idea of Jane having seen the film as a unique, hypothetical and completed event -- i.e. at any time during the past a discrete event, attending the cinema for two hours, may or may not have taken place. The film's exhibition may be ongoing but the act of seeing it is not. That specific, discrete hypothetical event or its non-existence occurs in the past.

    "Did you see King Kong?"
    "Yeah I saw it."
    "Did you like it?"
    "No I did not."

    "Did you see King Kong?"
    "No I did not see it."
    "Then see it."
    "I will see it."

    (italics are unspoken implied)

    In these examples the speakers conceive of a specific hypothetical event which either did or did not occur in the past. The present perfect cannot be used because it implies that the event, which is unique and discrete, could happen in an ongoing manner. It cannot. The film is showing in an ongoing manner but each viewing of it is a discrete event occurring in the past, present or future.

    If this is how your mind works, then only the possibility of seeing the film may be referred to as ongoing, which I suppose is how BE conceives the question.

    "Have you seen King Kong?"
    "No, I haven't yet."
    "Do."

    I can't speak for BE really, so I'll just leave it at a suggestion that perhaps BE considers the possibility and not the event itself. In AE the conversation may go this way:

    "Did you see King Kong?"
    "No I haven't seen it yet."
    "Go see it, it's good."
    "Yeah I ought to."

    In this case the speakers have made a transition from speaking about a discrete hypothetical event which, it turns out, did not occur in the past, to speaking about a hypothetical event for which the possibility of occurrence is ongoing.

    Similar cases use similar structures. "Have you seen my keys? I lost them." The event of losing the keys occurred in the past, whereas the possibility of seeing them is ongoing. Jane, if she utters these words, is implying the ongoing nature of the implied search for the keys and asking Joe to play a part in it. "Have you seen my keys?" means both "Did you find them?" and "Keep your eyes peeled." Similarly, a search would almost always take place in the present perfect. "Have you seen my keys? I've looked everywhere for them."

    Now I'm not saying that there aren't AE speakers who use the present perfect in most of the above cases -- I'm sure some do. But in my experience the past really is used in situations like the ones I've laid out. My gut feeling is that most AE speakers do not use the present perfect to the degree that most BE speakers do.

    The technical incorrectness is neither here nor there, at least as far as I am concerned. The important point is that there is logic and consistency in the usage. You can't just write it off as ignorance or stupidity. And AE speakers shouldn't deny its existence simply because we're afraid to seem uneducated or unintelligent. Or moreover because it is wrong -- wrong doesn't mean it doesn't happen. The English language and its grammar are so successful all over the world precisely because they are flexible. You can do just about anything to English and it won't break. It will always adapt and it will always communicate. Flexibility is the source of its beauty and its greatest asset. If you want rules, speak Hungarian.
     
  28. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    I agree with most of what you say there, but where can a student find trustworthy guidance on the use of the past simple and present perfect in AE?
     
  29. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
     
  30. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    Not falling into that trap which is oeuffe-topique... Television's examples surprised me--I've not met those people. Who are they? Such a misplaced construction would lead to confusion in the region where I spent the chief good and market of my time. So I suppose at least in that American region, ESL students need not worry.

    You would only ask "did you see 'King Kong'" if you were inquiring whether the person had seen it in the cinema, where it is no longer showing.

    Z.
     
  31. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    Basically, in your original post:

    "As McCawley (1971) noted long ago, the present perfect conveys
    a sense of current possibility. If the Monet exhibit is still running, one utters (5a) rather than (5b), for example.

    (5) a. Have you been to the Monet exhibit?
    b. Did you go to the Monet exhibit?

    Once the exhibit has closed for good, however, (5a) is no longer felicitous."
     
  32. Isotta

    Isotta Senior Member

    France
    English, Hodgepodge
    Wot's this? I'm going to have put my Wellies on soon. No, it's not a new viewpoint--it refers to something that has ended. And that's a stretch at best and a lapse of concentration at worst. I can imagine a friend, BE or AE, asking if I had seen it [during its tenure at the cinema]. Besides the exception Jean-Michel mentioned, the only other natural interpretation would be that "King Kong" had followed Disney's "Song of the South" and is no longer circulating. Otherwise it's careless, like my inadvertant addition of an "e" at the end of "both" today.

    Though you are most apt to have detected a personal bias, which includes the fact that "King Kong" would not be a likely personal film choice at the cinema, which I visit rarely.

    Here is a likely situation: an American, Canadian or English friend asks me, "Have you (ever) seen 'Trois couleurs : Bleu?'" to which I respond, "Yes, I saw it ages ago, but I'd like to see it again."

    Z.
     
  33. Proudy Junior Member

    Daytona Beach, Florida
    USA, English
    Well put, Chuchu. And I would agree that emotional state also has a part in the response. If my frustration level were high, I would not take the time to say "I have lost my key," but would go straight to "I lost my key." and probably supply several very colorful modifiers for the word key, and possibly even the verb lost. English can be very flexible!

    But then, I have been told I have a bit of a temper ... at times. ;-)
     
  34. boonognog Senior Member

    Charlotte, NC
    English (U.S.)
    M56, I think the bottom line is that whatever reference indicated that in AE there is a usage difference in this case was incorrect. I certainly would not use the past tense in such a situation.

    However, "correct" usage and "common" usage aside, I'm sure you would find speakers anywhere on the globe who might use the past tense when the present perfect should be used.
     
  35. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    And yet other AE speakers disagree with that.
     
  36. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    So things are much the same in AE and BE - regarding this issue - no matter what others may say, right?
     
  37. television New Member

    York
    English - US
    M56,

    As far as the rules go, to my knowledge, and it seems most people on this list agree, the proper usage is the same in BE and AE.

    My previous post was aimed at exploring the reasons behind the common, admittedly incorrect AE usage of simple past. I was making an argument for its usage based on a rationale, not simply ignorance.

    I think there was some early confusion as to whether it was common or correct. But I think that has been cleared up now: it is common but it is not correct.

    EDIT:

    I did mean "simple past" when I said "perfect". And "good rules" do come from logic and consistency, but fail when the logic behind them no longer applies and their consistency in usage declines. As I believe is the case in this situation, though that assertion may horrify most.
     
  38. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    Ok. Thanks for clearing that up. The conclusion, I suppose, would be to not teach the incorrect form to ESL students, right?

    Mind you, the AE teachers seem not to be doing too well in communicating the use of the present perfect. I get posts like this every day:

    <<"I broke my leg in a riding accident."

    The action discribed was a single point in time, is finished and has no direct relationship to the present, except that it is now being discussed.
    British and American English differ here a little. For the Brits, the present perfect can be used to discribe actions that were RECENTLY concluded, recently is, of course, subjective. The Amis do not use this extended version of the present perfect.

    Hope this (has) helped.>>

    German student of English.
     
  39. MrPedantic Senior Member

    UK, English
    I often bump up against the "missing present perfect", in conversation with US natives.

    For instance, it took me a long time to realize that this kind of sentence, with a strangely unstressed trailing "already", was the equivalent of a BrE present perfect:

    1. Did you [do X] already?
    (BrE: "have you done X?")

    Similarly, where BrE would say "I've just [done X]" (though this is rapidly changing, presumably because of US influence):

    2. I just [did X].

    But it's difficult to explain the difference in usage, because "have you done X?" and "I've just done X" are also used in AmE. Thus an AmE-speaker can always say, "But we say that too!"

    To my mind, it's a nuance of context; and mostly of contexts that arise mostly in the spoken language.

    MrP
     
  40. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    What would that nuance be, IYO?
     
  41. nycphotography

    nycphotography Senior Member

    I do be learnin stuff
    John-Paul Miller, NYC
    I believe the question is asked with the expectation that the listener, being socially aware and "with it" would have already seen it.

    Therefore, what is really being asked is:

    Did you see Kong Kong [yet]?

    Does that help?
     
  42. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    That's the difference between AE and BE use. That "yet" at the end of a past simple question that begins with "do". Very odd.
     
  43. RobertL2 Junior Member

    Davis, California
    English USA
    There's nothing in the quoted discussion of McCawley's observation that precludes use of the simple past in respect of events that are still ongoing. The quoted text merely notes that use of the past perfect in respect of events that are already concluded is "no longer felicitous." No one in this thread, on either side of the Pond, appears to disagree with that.
     
  44. M56 Senior Member

    Madrid
    Britain. English.
    Do use the past simple in respect of events that are ongoing at the time of speaking?
     

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