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I know it is correct to say

He has been dead for three years.

I've learned the present perfect tense, and it's said that non-continuous verbs are allowed. Is this sentence correct as well?

He has died for three years.

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If you want to suggest that an illness or other lethal but slow agent took three years to kill the person in question (and has possibly not succeeded yet), you would say "He has been dying for three years." –  Robusto Apr 7 '12 at 13:57
    
@Robusto A good tip! –  ymfoi Apr 7 '12 at 14:18
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It does not work well because once you've died you rarely get back to life to do it again. However He has painted for three years and he has been painting for three years work –  mplungjan Apr 7 '12 at 15:51
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3 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Die is an Inchoative verb; that means it refers to a change of state.

The Present Perfect construction can be used with a Stative predicate like be dead or own a house the way you suggest. This is called the Universal sense of the Perfect.

But die is not stative; it's inchoative, and therefore punctual -- it refers only to the instant when the change took place. So, in principle, it could use the Existential sense of the Perfect, which is restricted to punctual, or at least completable, events.

He has died for three years.

which suggests that he has died several times over a time span of three years. However, dying is something that can only be done once, and therefore a sentence like this is apt to raise an eyebrow, at least.

Hint: in situations like this, remember that Stative - Inchoative - Causative predicates come in triples, and there's usually one with the right characteristics available for use in a different construction. In this case, the triple is kill - die - dead (you need a be to carry the tense with dead, but it's a stative predicate, like most but not all adjectives).

That's why He's been dead for three years is what suggests itself to a native speaker.

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Edit: The links for the two senses of the Perfect in the answer above now point to previous recent answers I posted here on this topic. They didn't before; my apologies for misdirection. –  John Lawler Apr 7 '12 at 16:18
    
How about this sentence: "He has died in the last year/ this year" (Maybe an alternative to "He died ...") ? –  ymfoi Apr 8 '12 at 1:26
    
You can do it once, and as long as it's Hot News, the Perfect is OK. He has died in the last century, however, is not OK. –  John Lawler Apr 8 '12 at 2:18
    
Do you mean that it's grammatically right, but depends on the context (maybe wrong)? –  ymfoi Apr 8 '12 at 2:34
    
Only if you're several thousand years old. –  John Lawler Apr 8 '12 at 4:24
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It would work for describing an unsuccessful stand-up comic.

"He has died for three years at the Edinburgh festival "

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well, that's interesting~ –  ymfoi Apr 7 '12 at 14:36
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Or how about someone in a play, he dies at the end of every performance, and the play runs for a long time. Then we could say: "He has died for several years." –  GEdgar Apr 7 '12 at 15:54
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Right. And this works precisely because dying in this sense is a repeatable experience, thus allowing the Existential Passive. –  John Lawler Apr 7 '12 at 16:11
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Thousands of years ago, Jesus of Nazareth died. On that day, it was His decision to die, remain dead for three days, and then come back to visit the living for a time. So the Romans nailed Him to a cross, and the Holy Grail caught His blood. Presently, the apostle said "The Messiah has died for three days. Let's all come back and see him again afterward. It'll be a grand party, with lots of booze and Holy Spirits!"

-- Written by a native speaker of English.

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That situation does not present a context where "X has died for (a stretch of time)" is meaningful (or grammatical), mainly because there is no context to do so. You die once at one time, you can't do it over a period of time (you can of course be in the continuous process of dy ing over a period, but once you actually do die, that's it. –  Mitch Apr 8 '12 at 3:18
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