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I am studying present perfect, and I found the following phrase:

Susan hasn't mastered Japanese, but she can communicate.

What's the difference between this phrase and the next:

Susan don't master Japanese, but she can communicate.

If Susan can communicate right now, and present perfect gives us a sense that something happened in the past and still happening in the present, so why not Susan don't master Japanese….

I'm very confused about these things. I appreciate any help..

  • Most people will say "Susan doesn't", not "don't". Susan doesn't master is a simple present, not a present perfect. Using the present perfect is just fine, it is unclear why you bring up the simple present. Maybe you should rephrase your question for clarity and ask it at our sister site English Language Learners – oerkelens Apr 28 '14 at 21:51
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Master is a telic verb: it signifies the change of state from non-mastery (or incomplete mastery) to mastery, in the same way that learn signifies the change of state from ignorance to knowledge.

The simple present form with telic verbs ordinarily signifies habitual, repeated action. If we say of someone that He builds houses, we mean that he is a builder by profession: he spends every day working at building one house or another.

But ordinarily, master doesn't work like this: when you master a skill you enter into a more or less permanent state of being able to perform that skill. You don't master a skill over and over again. So Susan masters (or doesn't master) Japanese doesn't fit very well with the meaning of the verb.

And the present perfect doesn't signify that "something happened in the past and [is] still happening in the present"; it signifies that the past event establishes a present state. With master, specifically, if you say of someone that they have mastered a skill, that means that at sometime in the past she passed from a state of non-mastery to a state of mastery which continues into the present. Another way of expressing that state of mastery is to say that she is a master of (the skill).

By the same token, if you say that someone has not mastered a skill, that means that she is still in a state of non-mastery, or incomplete mastery. That is the case with Susan:

She is not yet a master of Japanese, but she can communicate.

  • Hi, StoneyB, I've found another situation with present perfect that i doult. What is the difference between " I'm on a tight schedule today." and "I've got a pretty tight schedule today.", On the text context both seem to be a "present" state, that person is not avaible today because he is busy. – Aitiow Apr 30 '14 at 12:57
  • What is the meaning of "I've got a pretty tight schedule today." and "I'm on a tight schedule today." – Aitiow Apr 30 '14 at 14:06
  • @Aitiow There's no real difference. The collocation have got is not a perfect but an idiom meaning have. It is AmE originally, and in most of the US the past participle of get is gotten, not got. – StoneyB Apr 30 '14 at 14:11
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"Susan hasn't mastered Japanese, but she can communicate."

means that Susan hasn't mastered Japanese yet, i.e. at that time, and that she might (or might not) master it one day.

  • On the other hand:

"Susan doesn't master Japanese, but she can communicate."

Here, we have no indication whether Susan might (or might not) master Japanese one day. It is a mere transcription of a general fact: Susan can communicate in Japanese, but she doesn't master it.

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