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present perfect - reason for name of tense

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Biffo, Aug 13, 2013.

  1. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Hello

    There are literally hundreds of threads on the forum dealing with questions about the usage of the Present Perfect tense in English. However I haven't been able to find one that addresses my question.

    My grammar question

    Since the so-called Present Perfect refers only to past events, why is it referred to as Present? It just isn't a present tense. :confused: What's going on?

    Can anyone rationalise this for me?

    Thanks.
     
  2. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    Perfect tenses are perforce retrospective by dint of the action having been competed.
    The present part of the nomenclature refers, I assume, to the tense of the auxiliary. You could say much the same for the past perfect, but it breaks down when you're talking about the future perfect.
     
  3. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    As I see it, for a 'present perfect' verb form, the action is perfected (completed) in the present. Simple? :) That's not its only use, of course, but if a kid is almost finished her homework, and will be allowed to facebook her friends when it's done, then at the moment she finishes, she calls out, "I've finished my homework!"

    This is also clear--a little less so--for present perfect progressive forms--denoting an act continuing from the past, over time, being carried on (or completed) in the present. The girl has studied piano for exactly 3 years, and is presently doing so. She's asked, "Do you study piano?" "Yes."
    "How long have you studied?" "I have been studying for 3 years, exactly, as of (now) today."
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  4. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    If you are saying that "present" refers to the auxiliary verb and "perfect" refers to the past participle then that makes sense. In fact it works for the future perfect as well. :):thumbsup:
     
  5. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I'm much less convinced by this than I am by what Beryl said.

    We don't habitually report a completed action at the instant we complete it. Also any past tense refers to completed actions in the sense that they are over and done with.

    "I did my homework yesterday" also says that my homework is complete (perfected in your sense).
     
  6. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    Beryl said,
    //Perfect tenses are perforce retrospective by dint of the action having been competed.//

    True, and when it's completed in the present, it's present perfect! The present is often conceived as a small span of time, including the present moment. Hence I regard Biffo's remark as a quibble:

    Biffo ///We don't habitually report a completed action at the instant we complete it./// OK, so it's a few moments after. Maybe 5 seconds in my example. We're going to quibble over this?

    Please note that this non issue infects any attempt to speak in the present. In my example, before the kid's announcement, "I've finished," the mom inquires from the other room. "Are you studying?" "Yes, I'm studying."

    If Biffo were her dad, overhearing, he'd chime in, "You can't be studying, present time, you're talking to your mom."

    The kid's reply, "Actually, I'm talking to you. I was talking to mom. But, yes, I suppose you're correct, I should have said to her, 'Mom! I was studying, till I your question interrupted my thoughts.' " :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  7. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    The present perfect is present in form (the auxiliary verb 'have' is present). In meaning it is present not in terms of when the action was completed but because there always has to be some present relevance to the already completed action. In this way the present relevance of "I have read this book" is that you now know the story. Some present relevance is, I think, invariably present in a present-perfect-tense sentence. :)

    PS. I notice that Biffo was thinking about this at 2 a.m. :eek: I would never do this for any Bulgarian verb tense because when it comes to the grammar of my own language, I am completely and blissfully clueless :D
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  8. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I'm genuinely confused by this. It's not a quibble. Here's a scenario that doesn't fit within your 'small span of time'.

    John and Jane are in a second-hand bookshop.

    John: Let's compare which of these books we've read.
    Jane: Okay. Have you read this one?
    John: Yes I first read that ten years ago and then again two years ago.
    Jane: Okay, so that means you have read it at least twice so far.
    Jane: Have you ever read this one?
    John: No I've never read that one but I have read Wind in the Willows, right next to it.

    I cannot see anything unusual about the use of tenses in the above dialogue even if the dialogue itself is contrived. Clearly John has not finished reading all these books in the last 5 seconds.
     
  9. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    What about the present relevance of "I read this short story today."? Are you saying I don't know the story because I used Simple Past?
     
  10. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I don't think the short span of time is what matters. I'm with boozer: it's the present perfect - because it is relevant to the present.

    If you say, 'The postman's been', the main point is that there are letters now.
     
  11. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    ...and if I say "The postman came 5 seconds ago" there aren't letters? :confused:

    Of the answers given so far, there is only one that I find convincing and that is that the auxiliary verb's tense combined with the past participle motivates the name, e.g.

    I have eaten. ---> I have (Present) eaten (Perfect).

    I had eaten. ---> I had (Past) eaten (Perfect).

    I shall have eaten. ---> I shall have (Future) eaten (Perfect).

    Unless someone comes up with a more convincing explanation, I shall remain satisfied with that one.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  12. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    Singapore
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    That gives the sentence a different focus. We're thinking about the coming itself, rather than than the effect of the coming. That's why it's in the past tense.
     
  13. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Yes, Nat has explained it well - "I read this book" would focus on the act of reading the book and the exact time when the reading took place - this is a simple past tense. "I have read the book" focuses on the fact that at present you do not need to read it because you know the story already.

    It may be pointed out that in many contexts the present perfect and past simple are used interchangeably and their situational meaning (I mean the meaning in the particular situation) is virtually the same.
     
  14. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    My explanation (based on Beryl's point) covers every single tense, e.g.

    Future Perfect
    I shall have eaten. ---> I shall have (Future) eaten (Perfect). (There is no present tense here)

    Past perfect continuous

    • You had been waiting there...

    You had (Past) been (Perfect) waiting (Continuous)...

    Without enumerating every single tense, I'm convinced it will work for all of them and that this is the only rational explanation.

    I am now convinced that the name derives from a simple list of the tenses of the verbs that form part of a complex tense and has nothing to do with present relevance or indeed focus on anything.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  15. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    It is the verb form that follows the meaning and not the meaning that follows the verb form. Besides, the present form of 'have' does add to the meaning. Otherwise it would not be there. :)

    The present perfect does not necessarily refer to a past action. It may easily refer to an action taking place before another action in the general present, unattached to the moment of speaking, e.g.
    In Ruritania people who have committed the crime of adultery are hanged.
    This will cover crimes committed around the moment of speaking - both in the near past and future in what is seen as the general present.
     
  16. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    My original question did not focus on the meaning, it focused on the reasoning behind the naming convention. Do you not agree that my explanation works perfectly and requires no complex reasoning about who affected what and when? (It's a serious question. I get the feeling you have not even considered what I am saying.)

    I'm not aware that I claimed otherwise. Please can you point out where I mentioned this?

    This statement has zero effect on my argument which states that the tense is named after the sequence of tenses within it. That rule works just as well in your example as anywhere else.
     
  17. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    The naming convention, well - there are three (some linguists claim two) senses of time - present, past and future (present and future are sometimes considered as belonging together). Then there are two aspects to the verb action - perfective and progressive/continuous. A combination of those names of tenses and aspects forms the names of all verb tenses. The auxiliary verb 'have' in all its forms and the -ing form of the main verb are just the two outer expressions of those aspects.

    Your original question (post 1) was why call the tense present if it is past. I say it is not past - it falls into the general category of present tenses and agrees in form and meaning with the concept of present time. It is present time because it invariably has present relevance, never mind that the action took place in the past.

    And, Biffo, I was not fishing for an argument and you are, of course, free to interpret the English tenses and naming conventions in any way you please.
     
  18. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Well you are simply repeating an argument that has already failed to convince me. In response I can only repeat my objections. I'll concentrate on just one. All past tenses have relevance in the present as do all tenses of any kind whatever. This is simply because we as human beings exist and speak only in the present. Are you really saying that "I read the book yesterday." (Simple Past) has no relevance in the present?
     
  19. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    Well, it takes more grammar reading to get convinced, I appreciate that. It also takes some getting used to certain linguistic conventions and it is not for me to convert you, nor will I be trying. At the risk of being accused of again repeating my arguments, I am just going to quote from the grammar book that I used as a student, R. Quirk, Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, where the subject is addressed at some length, in fact, the kind of length impossible for this forum (I apologise if this exceeds the allowed quotation limits):

    p. 191 Perfective Aspect
    The overlap of meaning between tense and aspect is most problematic in English in the choice that has to be made between simple past and presentperfective:simple past: John lived in Paris for ten years.​
    present perfective: John has lived in Paris for ten years.

    Here both sentences indicate a state of affairs before the present moment, but the simple past indicates that the period of residence has come to a close,whereas the present perfective indicates that the residence has continued up to the present time (and may even continue into the future). This kind ofdifference, although by no means invariable, is often summarized in the statement that the present perfective signifies past time 'with current relevance'.​
    In ​
    order to appreciate why 'current relevance' is a common implication of the present perfective, it is as well to begin with the most general definition
    of the perfective aspect........
     
  20. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I'm not interested simply in arguing. I'm seeking knowledge. You still haven't answered my question. Do you claim that the simple past has no relevance in the present? This 'relevance to the present' seemed to be the main thrust of your explanation. We can't have a rational discussion if you simply ignore my questions.

    I'll take some time to digest what Quirk said and I'll come back on that later.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  21. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    I think Nat and Boozer have given the best explanations. I'll add some examples:

    Somebody has broken the window; this tells us that the window is broken now, in the present.
    Somebody broke the window yesterday; here we are talking about the details of the event itself, which took place in the past, not about its relevance to the present. It may or may not have been mended.

    I've never eaten lobster; this experience is missing from my life. When I finally eat it, it will be a new experience.
    I didn't eat lobster last month; this tells us about a situation limited to a time in the past.

    John Grisham has written X books; that's the present total and will change as he contrinues to write.
    Ernest Hemingway wrote Y books. That's how many books he wrote during his whole life, which has finished (it's not continuing). When did it finish, when did this event occur? It finished in 1961.
     
  22. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I'll give a counterexample just to the first to avoid the discussion becoming too sprawling. If you want me to I'm happy to talk about examples two and three once we have agreed on the following. :)

    Counterexample
    There is a vandal in the neighbourhood. Someone has broken the same window in my house every weekend for the past year.

    Is it broken right now?
    No I've repaired it as usual.


    The tenses are used correctly in the above and there is no implication of the current state of the window in the phrase "Someone has broken..."
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  23. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    First off: boozer's post is really, really, really important:
    The present is a tense, and the perfect is an aspect. They are both inflections of the verb (along active/passive voice, indicative/subjunctive/imperative mood, etc.). We have three (or two) tenses in English and en gros two different inflections of aspect. So verbs in the present can belong to four main categories: a present simple/non-continuous, a present perfect, a present continuous, and a present perfect continuous.

    Let's distinguish the notion of "present" from the notion of "perfect."
    I completely agree with you here, and that explanation "there's a present relevance" has always seemed rickety to me for the same reason - if we are talking about something now, then there must implicitly be some relevance of that thing now.

    Another, similar, explanation is that the "present perfect" expresses "a current state resulting from a past action." Verbs in the perfective aspect represent the past actions that caused other implied or explicit actions and states. So: "I had been running, so I was sweaty"; "I've read all these books already" (so I don't want to read any of them again now); and "He's broken that same window every week for the past year" (which is why I now think of him as a confirmed vandal and why I'm trying to get him arrested).

    A verb in the present perfect, then, expresses a completed action that has produced or generated an action or state in the present. A verb in the past perfect expresses a completed action that has produced or generated an action or state in the past​. etc.
     
  24. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    What it does imply is that the habit of window-breaking is continuing. This is the reference to the present state of things. My reference was to a single event, yours to a series of events. Obviously there will be a difference in the meaning conveyed by the present perfect.

    EDIT:
    The action's relevance to the present is the same however we talk about it or even if we don't talk about it at all. The definition "present perfect" doesn't tell us that this relevance exists - we know that - but tells us how we are referring to it, i.e. what importance we are giving to that relevance.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  25. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    I think I'm with booker, here. My original proposal was too simple: present perf. ==> completed in the present (or nearby). To this, it appears, should be added OR completed in the past, but (for the speaker), of some present relevance. (And the past perf means completed in the past, but of relevance to another past act that is of concern.)**

    Biffo's first counterexample, of books in the bookstore, fits this.
    His second 'counterexample' is crystal clear in support of this.

    //Counterexample
    There is a vandal in the neighbourhood. Someone has broken the same window in my house every weekend for the past year.

    Is it broken right now?
    No I've repaired it as usual.
    //

    AS the first sentence states, his situation (present tense) is that he has a vandal in the neighbood. That person 'has broken' a particular window. So the breaking--which I agree is completed--is part of a pattern of present.
    relevance. I agree with Biffo that, here, at least, one assumes the act was done, completed; there is no present broken window. There IS a present to which the broken window (now fixed), is relevance, as directly stated in his first sentence.

    I see Einstein has made a similar point.
    ===

    **ADDED. One must add, as per the above (bolded), that past and present perfect are now often used interchangeably, so the above should be taken to apply where there is any appreciable difference.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  26. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    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.

    lucas-sp - thank you for agreeing with one of my statements - it proves you've at least read what I said. :)

    I'll continue by discussing your "He's broken that same window every week for the past year" (which is why I now think of him as a confirmed vandal and why I'm trying to get him arrested)."

    Surely you're not seriously saying that the 'current state resulting from a past action' is that I think someone is a vandal? I used the window example as a direct reply to what Einstein said. Here's an example that says nothing about vandalism.

    "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? Am I currently at the shops? Am I currently walking? Have I stopped walking? The answer is you just don't know.

    If you reply that I am currently in the state of having walked to the shops in the past..., then (a) you are discussing the past and (b) you have imparted zero information that wasn't contained in the bare statement itself..
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  27. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    Hullo, everyone.

    Interesting discussion.

    Not very often do the labels of Tenses faithfully - or rationally - represent all the different Time configuations.
    In this respect, English is in a better situation than other languages - mine own native tongue, to name one.

    English has maintained the "noun" Perfect that existed in Latin: a Tense which, in the classical era, was "synthetic", ie, made up of ONE word. It was emplyed to narrate past FACTS ("HosteM cepi" = "I captured the enemy"). This far, nothing far removed from present-day English Past Tense.

    But languages evolve and so did Latin, which developed another Perfect - an analythic Perfect this time - made up of
    TWO words: the Present Tense of HABERE (have) or ESSE (be) and the Past Participle of the main verb. Example: "HosteM CaptuM habeo". (Note that also the Past Participle is in the Accusative case, to show its adjectival nature).

    This sentence was not pronounced to narrate a fact or an event, but was an announcement that the enemy was in
    my hands in the condition of "captured".

    In other words, one Perfect for Facts; another Perfect for the Present Result of Past Facts.

    The funny thing is that most Neo-latin languages after a while started to use the two Perfects interchangeably, and nowadays in Italian, French, etc. - and German for good measure - use their respective forms of a "new" pattern (Habeo captum hostem) even when they refer to a past event which has no connection with the Present (Time ).
    Only in and around Florence, Italy do they still make the distiction that English - of ALL languages - has maintained.

    All this is an oversimplification of the story, of course, and I apologize to all Language Historians.

    Best.

    GS
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  28. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    Biffo, I believe this point was addressed (boozer post #15. Further, no-one has commented on my foolproof (I believe) formula for naming the tenses independent of their meaning.

    I think there's an interplay between constructions and meaning, but your basic emphasis seems ill chosen. Of course it's foolproof. Here's a similar foolproof way of telling is something you see is a dog: Identify the owner and find out his vet's name. Go to the vet's file, and see if the label "dog" is applied, at the head of the file.
    How do you tell if a kid is a boy? Listen when his/her parent offers praise. If the parent says, "Good boy!" it's a boy. Almost completely foolproof!
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2013
  29. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    We can't say what you are doing in this instant, but this is true in general. If I say "I'm reading an interesting book", you don't know whether I'm reading it in this instant or on and off in the present period, so this is not a problem limited to the present perfect. What we can say from the above example is that this habit has continued up to the present (whether it will now continue or stop we don't know).

    Perhaps you should tell us why you choose to say "I have walked" and not "I walked".

    Please note that I've made some additions to my previous post.
     
  30. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    It implies no such thing.

    "He has broken my window every week for the past year."
    "Can no-one stop him?"
    "Yes, he was caught on camera and has been put in jail."

    I'm using tenses correctly but there is no implication that the window breaking is continuing.
     
  31. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Italian
    I feel I should add that, being "Perfect" a NOUN, we should consider "Present", "Past", etc. as adjectives describing the noun. In other words, the Present Perfect is the PERFECT which has to do with the PRESENT moment of speaking.

    Also, the Latins had two Conjugations: the INFECTUM and the PERFECTUM.
    I've been "entertaining" you on the latter.

    GS
     
  32. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I'll tell you why I said it that way. I'm a native English speaker and that's the way I talk. Can you suggest a better way to say it? Are you really suggesting that I say:

    "I walked the same route to the shops for as long as I can remember." ?

    That just sounds weird to me.

    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.
     
  33. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    I agree with your last sentence, Biffo, post # 30.

    there is no implication that the window breaking is continuing.



    But the pattern of breaking is of relevance to the speaker, who is, as you say, speaking, present tense, of a vandal in the neighborhood. The present perfect is odd, in that it's really neutral as to future continuation, though on balance, "I've studied music for 5 years" implies continuance. Yet it's possible to say to my music teacher, "I've studied with you for 5 years as of today, and today is my last day. I've outgrown you."
     
  34. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    Biffo//"I walked the same route to the shops for as long as I can remember." ?

    That just sounds weird to me. It means that I was continuously walking since time immemorial.//

    Good points, Biffo. It sounds weird. But again your own words, for the 'I have walked' case, "I can remember" speaks of a present situation of remembering the countless walks of the same route.
     
  35. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    My search intially was to find a motivation, any motivation, for what I considered to be a nonsensical name for a past tense, namely the Present Perfect. I could see no connection or rationale. Then Beryl gave me a clue by saying that the tense of the auxiliary verb was a factor. 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.

    This wasn't a trivial discovery for me - it answered my question.

    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.
     
  36. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Maybe so but that is not unique to the Past Perfect. What about this.

    "What can you remember about those years?"
    "I remember that I walked the same route many times."


    There I used the past simple "walked". That affects my current memories. What's the difference?
     
  37. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    This is not quite right.
    Well... It's not that the tense of the auxiliary verb is "perfect." Instead, it's that the aspect of the main verb is "perfect." (In fact, in "My wallet has fallen on the floor," the tense of the auxiliary verb is present; the main verb is "to fall.")

    The reason to discuss "current consequences" is to distinguish between the present perfect (present consequences of completed actions), the past perfect (past consequences of completed actions), and the future perfect (future consequences of completed actions).

    I suggest you think about why you would say "I've walked these same streets for as long as I can remember." I think you'll see that there is, in fact, an implied current consequence of an action completed in the past.
     
  38. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    Apologies for not answering your post. It's quite a lot to take in. Maybe I'll come back to it when I've finished arguing with everyone else! :D:eek:
     
  39. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    I already stated that (with examples) in my post #14

    Okay. I'll think about this. I'm doing other things for a while and I'll be back later. :)
     
  40. bennymix

    bennymix Senior Member

    Ontario, Canada. I grew up in US.
    English (American).
    I think I'd go with 'current relevance,' more than 'current consequence' IF that's meant to imply some causal impact on the present/current situation. Biffo's example, "I've walked these same streets for as long as I can remember." implies there is someone, the speaker, who for some reason is recollecting the past pattern.

    The problem with constructed, as opposed to 'natural' or 'in the wild' examples, is that they're limited. In some cases they reflect more about the ingenuity of the proposer, than about current, general patterns of usage.
     
  41. boozer Senior Member

    Bulgaria
    Bulgarian
    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.


    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: Aug 13, 2013
  42. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England

    (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: Aug 13, 2013
  43. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    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: Aug 14, 2013
  44. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    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.

    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: Aug 14, 2013
  45. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    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.
     
  46. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    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:
    What if we said, instead:
    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: Aug 14, 2013
  47. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    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.
     
  48. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    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.
     
  49. Biffo Senior Member

    England
    English - England
    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.
     
  50. berndf Moderator

    Geneva
    German (Germany)
    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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