Observation of human behavior (tense)

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lingkky

Senior Member
chinese
Hello, everyone.
Again I would like to ask for something about simple present tense.
Simple Present tense is used to talk about repeated actions and the actions will continue the next time.

Can we still use the simple present for an observation about human behavior if we feel it is uncertain that the regularly repeated action(through observation) will still continue after this?

For example, I noticed that John ride to school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today. However, I am still not sure whether he will still ride to school tomorrow and after tomorrow. It is because human behavior can change anytime unexpectedly.From the observation, the action has been repeated every day.

I would like to make a statement for my observation. By doing a statement of the observation, would it be normal if I say
"John rides to school every day."
Would people feel that the I have told a lie in case John will not ride to school tomorrow and after tomorrow because of the simple present tense "rides" there in my statement ?

Do people still use present tense to make a statement about their observation (human behavior) when they feel that it is uncertain that the pattern (has been repeated regularly via observation ) will continue to exist the next time?
 
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  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    By doing a statement of the observation, would it be normal if I say
    "John rides to school every day."
    No - you have already told us "human behavior can change anytime unexpectedly"

    I noticed that John ride takes the bus to school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today. -> "John has been taking the bus to school regularly..." This is an observation of a regular action in the past.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In the sentence “John rides to school every day”, the use of the present tense combined with the explanatory phrase “every day” makes it crystal clear that you’re talking about a regular/habitual action.

    So if you say that to someone, they’ll understand exactly what you mean. Why would it even cross their mind that you might mean something different?
     

    lingkky

    Senior Member
    chinese
    No - you have already told us "human behavior can change anytime unexpectedly"

    I noticed that John ride takes the bus to school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today. -> "John has been taking the bus to school regularly..." This is an observation of a regular action in the past.
    I am confused because people always make a statement like these.
    For example,
    1.People always say " My brother plays badminton every day " instead of "My brother has been playing badminton every day. "
    How can the speaker know what will happen tomorrow since people behaviour change unexpectedly? It is possible that his brother will not play badminton tomorrow?

    2.People also say "You always forget to lock the door. Please don't repeat it again". instead of "You have always forgeten to lock the door. Please don't do it again."
    How do they know that the listener will continue to forget to lock the door? It is possible that the pattern will no longer exists after you advise him not to do it again.

    Do people tell lies or they want people to think something different which is not exactly meant by their words?
     
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    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    takes the bus
    I think lingkky means he made the observations on these four specific days only; he didn't observe this every Monday etc, so "takes" should be "took" or "has taken". In any case, "today" doesn't fit into a habitual context.
    He is trying to extrapolate from those four observations to deduce John's habitual behaviour.
    on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and today
    But today is Friday, and you didn't see him take the bus yesterday (Thursday). That lends a certain uncertainty (ugh, start again: That lends a certain doubt (not much better). That lends some uncertainty) to your conclusion that he takes the bus "every day", even before considering tomorrow etc. Maybe that's OK. Generalisations must always admit exceptions. People won't call you a liar, they'll just think you careless for being too quick to jump to conclusions.
     

    lingkky

    Senior Member
    chinese
    I think lingkky means he made the observations on these four specific days only; he didn't observe this every Monday etc, so "takes" should be "took" or "has taken". In any case, "today" doesn't fit into a habitual context.
    He is trying to extrapolate from those four observations to deduce John's habitual behaviour.

    But today is Friday, and you didn't see him take the bus yesterday (Thursday). That lends a certain uncertainty (ugh, start again: That lends a certain doubt (not much better). That lends some uncertainty) to your conclusion that he takes the bus "every day", even before considering tomorrow etc. Maybe that's OK. Generalisations must always admit exceptions. People won't call you a liar, they'll just think you careless for being too quick to jump to conclusions.
    Thanks for replying. I still feel odd if the observation period is one year or even 10 years.
    Human behavior is not fixed and we don't know exactly what will happen tomorrow. However, people tend to use simple present tense in making conclusion about human behavior from their observation.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    owever, people tend to use simple present tense in making conclusion about human behavior from their observation.
    Well, yes, the observations lead you to conclude that there is habitual behaviour. The habitual behaviour is expressed using present tense, if you expect the habit to continue. You would not do this if you do not expect the habit to continue.
    You would use constructions like "has been playing" or "used to play" when you are reporting a past habit, or when you are only reporting the observations and not the conclusion you have drawn from the observations..
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Human behavior is not fixed and we don't know exactly what will happen tomorrow.
    If everyone felt the same way, nobody would ever use the simple present tense in its ordinary sense. Most people make the rash assumption that things tend to stay the same, especially human habits. We infer the future from the present. Disruptions come as a shock.
     
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    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You're right, we can't be certain about the future. But we all know that, and it is understood when we use the present tense to talk about habitual behaviour.

    If we didn't, we would have to qualify almost everything we say with something like "Well, up till now this has been the case."

    In your post #4, for instance, you quite naturally and correctly say "1.People always say . . . " and "2.People also say . . . ".

    Who knows, people might stop saying this tomorrow. But it would sound unnecessarily and unnaturally 'correct' to say 'People have always said . . . ' or 'People have also always said . . . '.


    Multi-crossed.
     

    lingkky

    Senior Member
    chinese
    Well, yes, the observations lead you to conclude that there is habitual behaviour. The habitual behaviour is expressed using present tense, if you expect the habit to continue. You would not do this if you do not expect the habit to continue.
    You would use constructions like "has been playing" or "used to play" when you are reporting a past habit, or when you are only reporting the observations and not the conclusion you have drawn from the observations..
    People also say "You always forget to lock the door. Please don't repeat it again". instead of "You have always forgeten to lock the door. Please don't do it again."

    I see the point. May I know why people use simple present tense "always forget" in this sentence?
    "always forget" imply that the speaker expects the listener will continue to forget to lock the door. Why doesn't the speaker expects that he won't forget again after giving him an advice ?

    It is odd that the speaker will advise the listener not to forget to lock the door if he expects that the listener will continue to forget the next time. The advise will be no use.

    Does the simple present tense"you always forget" mean something different here?
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    It is odd that the speaker will advise the listener not to forget to lock the door if he expects that the listener will continue to forget. The advise will be no use.
    The speaker views the forgetting as an ongoing present habit, and is complaining about it.
    The purpose of the advice is to try to get the other person to break the habit.
     
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