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Does “I have studied Russian language” continued by “I have learnt …” use a correct tense?

With the meaning that I studied Russian language in the past, for 3 years, but I’m not studying it anymore and continuing the complex sentence with the same tense. What tense should I use?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you are talking about an activity that is no longer going on, you want the simple past tense, also known as the preterite: I studied the Russian language for three years, and during that time I learned an astonishing number of words that start with the letters Х and Ё.

If you use the past continuous tense (I was studying the Russian language, and I was learning how to cuss), we only know that you were doing that thing in the past - not whether you finished or stopped.
You might, if you wish, include the duration in the same sentence, but in that case the sentence sounds very strange if you don't reference the duration in the second part as well - I was studying Russian for three years and I was learning to cuss the whole time. Even so, that sentence would sound better without parallelism: I studied Russian for three years, and I was learning to cuss the whole time.

You could use the present perfect (I have studied the Russian language for three years, and I have learned to cuss like a моряк on shore leave.), but there is no indication that you've stopped - in fact, the assumption will be that you're still a student.

The past perfect could work for your purposes: I had studied Russian for three years, and I had learned to describe my friends' ancestry in detail. Once again, however, we only know that (at whatever time in the past we're talking about) you had already studied for three years - NOT that you had stopped. You still might be studying today.

There are a few other options, but I think those are the most common.

To amplify @John Lawler: when referring to русский язык, you can say the Russian language or Russian interchangeably, but not "Russian language" or "the Russian". And "learnt" will be understood by Americans, but will definitely look exotic.

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I can’t argue with the correctness of your reworded example, but unless you explain the issues, wouldn’t this be a “too localized” thing? I think the poster doesn’t understand the difference in aspect between simple past and present perfect in English. –  tchrist May 10 '12 at 23:13
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@tchrist - Point taken. I'm afraid I do tend to focus too closely on answering the immediate question and not enough on general applicability for future Googlers... I'll take a crack at a more thorough answer. –  MT_Head May 10 '12 at 23:21
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@MT_Head Thank you for a quick answer, but as tchrist mentioned, I can't understand why it should be simple past, since the fact that I studied Russian language happened in the past, but still has an effect on the present, could you explain it, please. –  Saras May 10 '12 at 23:36
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@Saras - working on it... –  MT_Head May 10 '12 at 23:40
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@Saras As John Lawler has kindly pointed out, one cannot usually say “I studied Russian language”. An exception would be if it were contrasting having studied Russian literature. Otherwise it’s “I studied the Russian language”, or more likely just “I studied Russian.” –  tchrist May 10 '12 at 23:42

The use of present perfect in "I have studied Russian" effectively extends the "scope" of that past action into the present. The fact that you did it matters now.

You could continue this with another sentence like "I have learnt [something about Russian]". The present perfect's sense of "present relevance" can imply that you've relatively recently learnt something, or are still learning it. Or again, just that whatever you learnt is important right now.

But there's nothing wrong with casting the second sentence as "I learnt [something]". Just because you started with present perfect doesn't mean you have to continue with it. In fact, native speakers tend to avoid extended use of present perfect - it can end up sounding somewhat self-centered and "declamatory" - "I have been there, I have done that, I have got the t-shirt".

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Note that “I have got the t-shirt” for simple possession contrasts nicely with “I have gotten the t-shirt” for actual receipt of said garment. Those would be understood to be distinct things, at least cisatlantically. I’ve been given to understand that some Brits may have lost this useful distinction. Pity, that. Germanophobia, or what? –  tchrist May 11 '12 at 0:27
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@tchrist: I'm not aware of any distinction there apart from the fact that have gotten is increasingly popular in America, but never had any standing with Brits. Even if you say you make a distinction, I doubt most of your fellow countrymen do. –  FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 2:08
    
I am quite certain that the distinction is tantamount to universal in North America. “I have got something in my pocket” is opposed to “I have gotten something in the mail.” It is by no means just me who distinguishes got=possesion from gotten=receipt. I’m not making it up. Please read this fine posting by John Lawler about this matter. It’s very real. Americans can and do make distinctions that you are unable to. Plus per the OED2, gotten has been used by Brits (albeit w/o distinction) for centuries; best check it out. –  tchrist May 11 '12 at 2:46
    
As @JohnLawler (kind of) points out, there’s also a difference between “He’s got to play” vs “He’s gotten to play.” Every native speaker on this continent is perfectly familiar with this sort of thing, even if you are not. Ask people. Stop futzing around with Google. –  tchrist May 11 '12 at 2:53
    
@tchrist: Okay, when you put it like that I'm vaguely aware that I sometimes use gotten to emphasise acquisition, but I've gotta say that still wouldn't lead me to interpret "gotten the t-shirt" any different to "got the t-shirt." It gets even more complicated with the present tense of this somewhat versatile verb! –  FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 3:33

There are a number of issues here. MT_Head's response corrected them, and more will be posted.

In the meantime, here's a few more points.

  1. Named languages take definite articles: the Russian language, the English language, etc.
  2. The English Present Perfect has four uses; but this is not one of them. Hence the Past tense.
  3. Learnt is a specifically UK English verb form. Americans say learned.
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I'm sure I've often said that I [have] "studied English language". I wouldn't normally use a definite article, because I think that would imply a greater depth of knowledge than I actually have. Anyway, part of the purpose of specifying "language" is to distinguish it from "literature". On the other hand, I'd have no problems with "John Lawler has studied the English language all his working life". –  FumbleFingers May 10 '12 at 23:51
    
Yes, if "English language" is the name of a specific course of study, then it becomes a proper noun and doesn't take an article. In fact, just the name of the language is preferred, and then there's no article to worry about. It's only if the whole phrase is used that the article is necessary. –  John Lawler May 11 '12 at 0:00
    
I hadn't seen it like that, but of course you're right. I've only followed one "named" course. To me, including the article implies more comprehensive and extended study of a vast subject. –  FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 0:14

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