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Present perfect + expressions of finished time

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Walt Whitman, Jan 1, 2012.

  1. Walt Whitman Senior Member

    Near Venice
    Italian - Italy
    I’d like native speakers to comment on the following paragraph taken from “Practical English Usage” (Michael Swan, OUP, 2005):“Grammar usually say that the present perfect cannot be used together with expressions of finished time – we can say I have seen him or I saw him yesterday, but not I have seen him yesterday. In fact, such structures are unusual but not impossible.” And he gives some real examples from newspapers, conversations and so on.Police have arrested more than 900 suspected drugs traffickers in raids throughout the country on Friday and Saturday. A 24-year old soldier has been killed in a road accident last night. I have stocked the infirmary cupboard only yesterday. What do natives think about it?

    PS. I know that this PS. has nothing to do with this thread. I need to thank all of you, though. I teach English and I’ve been building up my very own grammar book with your great posts. I’m really fed up with useless books. I’m not going to fill up my poor students’ heads with complicated grammar rules (do you remember Dickens’s “Hard Times”, chapters 1 and 2?). They need living language. So, thank you Loob (you must be as sweet as the doll you’ve chosen as your avatar), Panjandrum (you can’t be as ugly as that horrible avatar), Thomas Tompion and JamesM (for their competence), GreenWhiteBlue (really cool and amusing), Ewie (and his nice puppy), but the list would be endless. Thank you so much, to all the posters, really.
    WW:)
     
  2. dukaine Senior Member

    madison heights, mi
    english - american
    I definitely feel that the use of the present perfect with a specified time sounds very funny to me, and if I were an instructor, I would not teach my students that it is okay to do so. The examples you gave where the present perfect is used with specific times does sound journalistic and "Hard Times" literary, not the living language that you're seeking (I love Dickens, by the way :) )

    Good luck to you with your book!! Even some of us natives could probably use it!
     
  3. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Walt! I'm a big fan of Michael Swan's Practical English Usage - I nearly always agree with what he says....

    I'll try to find the section in the book that you're talking about, and come back to you.

    In the meantime: thank you for the nice comments:) And yes, I look exactly like my avatar (no, not really!:D)
     
  4. Walt Whitman Senior Member

    Near Venice
    Italian - Italy
    Hi, Loob.

    It's Third edition, page 443.

    PS. Yes, I bet you do.
    WW
     
  5. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Hi Walt. Thank you for your kind words. It's good to know that the fun we have here trying to answer questions from intelligent non-native speakers is occasionally as helpful to them as it is enjoyable for us.

    Unlike Loob I have no pigtails, and I've never read Swan's book, but when he's quoted here I usually find he is making a good point.

    I don't like any of the examples which you cite. I don't think I could easily say or write them. What most people say is that the present perfect applies to time from some moment in the past up to the present, and here the temporal indication in each of these sentences is preventing extension from the time mentioned through to the present. That's why I don't like them.

    There's a, to me, interesting example in the BNC. It seems a minister is speaking:

    I have done my best to give as much time as possible to the debate yesterday and today, including making my answers to business questions as short as possible so that we can get on with the debate. [Hansard extracts 1991–1992]. London: HMSO, 1992

    I think this politician is using the present perfect because it seems to highlight an achievement. I would much prefer, as more natural:

    I did my best to give as much time as possible to the debate yesterday and today, including making my answers to business questions as short as possible, so that we can get on with the debate.
     
  6. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Right, I've now found the relevant section in the book - it's section 457/page 457 in my copy. What he says is "in fact, such structures are unusual but not impossible (though learners should avoid them)".

    He's saying that you will, on occasion, find examples where the present perfect is used with specific time references. But that this is unusual, and you - as a learner of English - should avoid that usage.

    I agree with him:).
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2012
  7. dukaine Senior Member

    madison heights, mi
    english - american
    Me, too!!
     
  8. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    If by "not impossible" he means "you may see this being used", then clearly he is correct. I would also agree that learners should not try to imitate the examples given, but I will go a step further: learners should avoid the usage because it is incorrect, and the examples given are errors that are the result of bad editing.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2012
  9. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    I completely agree with GWB.

    I'm not familiar with the writings of Michael Swan (who apparently writes on BE), but did he really begin that passage with the impossible "Grammar usually say . . . "?
     
  10. Walt Whitman Senior Member

    Near Venice
    Italian - Italy
    Hi, Parla.

    Of course not. It's "Grammars usually say...". It was my fault, sorry.
    WW
     
  11. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Italy
    Italian
    What about this quote from British writer C. P. Snow: 'They ask me about something I've said years ago'? For some reason there are quite a few quotes from reputable sources in which the present perfect is used with years ago, 'I've learned years ago that...' being particularly common. Does it sound completely wrong?
    There's an interesting note in A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language:
    'One quite often sees (especially in BrE) sentences in which the present perfective cooccurs with time adverbials associated with the past tense:
    A: Have you ever seen Macbeth on stage? B: Yes, I've seen it ages ago
    Examples such as this may be explained as performance errors, induced by B's copying the form of A's question. Such explanations may not, however, be so readily available in other cases, such as They asked me about something I've said years ago'
     
  12. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    For me it would be more understandable if the past perfect had already been established in the sentence. For instance They have asked me about something I've said years ago.

    Snow's sentence doesn't seem so wrong to me, because of the present context and the general nature of the enquiry. They ask me - or they are asking me - about things I may have said years ago would seem fine, and it's not a big step from that to They are asking me about things I've said years ago. I don't like it but it's not outrageous.

    What I would find really difficult to accept would be They asked me about things I have said years ago.
     
  13. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    Is the Snow quote from something written, or from the transcription of an interview? I suspect it is an interview of some kind. In speech, one might start a sentence with one tense in mind, and then inadvertently finish it in a way that makes an earlier word in the sentence incorrect -- but it is too late to go back and change it.
     
  14. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Italy
    Italian
    Thank you for your responses. GWB, the C. P. Snow quote is from a book, Strangers and Brothers. I've found several similar quotes by doing a search on Google Books: link. It's interesting that many of the quotes are from the 19th century and the early 20th century.
     
  15. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Here is quite an interesting article in French on the subject. Take comfort, even if you don't understand French: the examples are in English, together with their sources.

    Many are from the BBC and are from spoken BE.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2012
  16. Walt Whitman Senior Member

    Near Venice
    Italian - Italy
    Thank you very much for your useful remarks.
    I'll certainly add them to my living language grammar.
    WW
     

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