No time expression - What tense?

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Niko Bellic

Member
Polish - Poland
Hello.
I'm doing an exercise for Present Perfect and Past Simple and I have a sentence which says "I (meet) Mr and Mrs Smith." with no time expression or clue. Is there a rule on which tense should be used in a sentence like that? I understand that a context shall be needed to fully comprehend the sentence but that's all the exercise provides.
 
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Present Perfect and Past Simple have different meanings. Both would be correct in this sentence. They just wouldn't mean the same thing.,
     

    wolfram_beta

    Senior Member
    English - American
    If forced to choose between "met" and "have met" given your minimalist sentence, I think I'd chose "I have met Mr. and Mrs. Smith." If you just say, "I met Mr. and Mrs. Smith", it begs the question of "when?".
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - US
    The sentence uses "meet" (present tense). It can mean one of two things:

    (1) I meet them for the first time.
    (2) We arrange our schedules so we meet (get together) somewhere.

    If you simply want to say that in the past (with the same two meanings), use simple past.

    If you use past perfect, the sentence means that you have done (1) with them before. You aren't strangers: you have met at least once.
     

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    That's what I thought. It seems though that the creators of the exercise had one solution in mind.
    Unfortunately, that's what happens with many grammar books. As has been said already, both the past simple and the present perfect can be used, and both are idiomatic; the choice of one verb of the other is a matter of meaning/context, not grammar, but too many grammar books miss that basic point, and only end up confusing students. Absent context, not much can be said about your exercise, which means that the whole thing is really useless.

    Still, it's worth noting that language has a way of handling such questions, and that way is the notion of markedness. To put it simply, markedness means, that when presented with two choices, languages treats one as the default choice (or "unmarked") and the other as non-default (or "marked"). What's important is that the marked choice needs special context/background to appear, while the unmarked choice doesn't. Of your two choices, the past simple is the unmarked choice (it needs no special context to appear, other than past time reference), while the present perfect is the marked choice (compound verb forms are by nature "marked"). Along these lines, therefore, the present perfect needs special context: a past event that has present consequences. Since we have no context for the present perfect, language goes with the default choice, the past simple: I met Mr. and Mrs. Smith. However, markedness is an advanced way of looking at things, and I doubt that that's what your book has in mind.
     
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