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What kind of time descriptor can be regarded as an "unspecified time"? (So it can be used along with the perfect tense)

For example, it's correct to say:

I have seen that movie six times in the last month.

Can I say "I have seen that movie six times in May" instead?

There's a quiz on the English exam paper:

In 1492, Columbus _ on one of the Bahama Islands, but he mistook it for an island off India.

A. lands B. landed C. has landed D. had landed

I felt that it's little weird to choose C, so I chose B. But I wonder if C is also grammatically right.

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In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.... (Pretty sure not in 1942!) –  JLG Apr 15 '12 at 4:17

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The unspoken assumption in "I have seen that movie six times in the last month" is that you are likely to see it again soon (or at least to have the opportunity to do so); hence the present-perfect for an activity that began a while ago but is still ongoing.

You can't really say "I have seen that movie six times in May" because May is a discrete chunk of time that is presumably over, so your view count will never increase. You would have to say "I saw it six times in May" instead. Even if it's still May, you'd almost certainly say "I've seen it six times this month" rather than calling this month May. (You might also add "so far" or "already" if you want to emphasize that seeing it again is very likely: "I've seen it six times already this month.")

As to your exam question, you made the right choice for two reasons. One is, as above, that the landing is not an ongoing activity; its start and end are both in the past. The second is that the verb tense in the first phrase should match the one in the second, where "mistook" is clearly the simple past.

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+1 - I'm pretty sure Columbus is no longer in the Bahamas... –  Amos M. Carpenter Apr 15 '12 at 3:44
    
"discrete chunk" good explanation! –  ymfoi Apr 15 '12 at 10:20

Have/had denotes possessing {an entity}.

I have {seen the movie six times}. I will never see it again. Unfortunately, I will not be able to erase my having {seen the movie six times} from the history of my life.

I am seeing Helen. I have {been seeing Helen} for two weeks now.

I have an ulcer. I have {been having an ulcer} for two weeks now.

I had an ulcer, which was removed last year. I have {had an ulcer which had been removed} for two years now. I have {had an ulcer} for two years now. I am glad it is gone.

Last month is May:

  • I had {been seeing Helen} in May.
  • I had {been seeing that movie for six times} in May.
  • I had {seen that movie six times} in May.
  • I had {shot six bears} in May.

I had {had seen that movie ten times} in May. In May alone, I had {seen that movie six times}. By next January, I would have {had seen that movie fifteen times}. Prior to May, I had {already seen that movie four times}.

1492 vs 1942

First, the tenses are misaligned in the following.

In 1492, Columbus had {landed in Bahamas}, but he mistook it for an island off India.

You should say,

In 1942, Columbus had {landed in Bahamas}, but he had {mistaken it for an island off India}

Past perfect denotes completion:

In 1493, Columbus was depressed because in 1942, Columbus had {landed in Bahamas}, but he had {mistaken it for an island off India}.

Let's presume the trial of a murder was taking place in 1500.

Magistrate: Why was Columbus depressed in 1493?
Witness: He had a mistake in 1492.
Magistrate: What mistake had he made?
Witness: In 1942, Columbus had {landed in Bahamas}, but he had {mistaken it for an island off India}

The trial places the narrative at 1493, requiring any events in 1492 to be placed in a completed state.

You can still say,

Magistrate: What mistake did he make yesterday?
Witness: In 1492, Columbus had landed in Bahamas. (Yesterday,) He mistook it for an island off India.

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thanks for so many examples.. –  ymfoi Apr 15 '12 at 10:19

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