reading passage:

Ten Taiwanese film directors, producers and screenwriters have been invited to participate in a two-day workshop in Paris next week, to seek co-production opportunities with their counterparts in France.
A total of five Taiwanese film projects have been selected to join the workshop, which will take place at CNC from Jan. 15-16.

My questions:

  1. Why was the present perfect tense used? Why not just the past simple tense?

  2. What does the present perfect imply? Does it imply the state of something already being done?

Thank you very much!

  • What research have you done? This looks like a completely ordinary use of the perfect construction. Jan 14, 2015 at 7:08
  • Thank you for your comment. In fact I did several google search to clarify it. A present perfect tense which points to future rather than now? Or it is both acceptable to choose present or present perfect tense? It indeed is something new to me.
    – Superuser
    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:06
  • What points to the future? The selecting and inviting both happened in the past. Jan 14, 2015 at 8:11

4 Answers 4


The simple past tense (when referring to the past) means the action takes place in the past, and that this necessarily excludes the present. It is over before the moment of speaking. "I read your question 2 minutes ago." With the simple past, I am not connecting the past event of my reading to the moment of me writing that sentence.

The present perfect refers to an event or action that took place sometime in the past (before the time of speaking) that has psychological relevance at the time of speaking. It connects the past event to the present. The event or action may or may not still be happening at the moment of speaking. This largely depends on the verb.

I have read you question, and now I am going to answer it. To my mind, my reading of your question still has psychological relevance to me at the moment of writing that sentence.

The question is always: Why use the present perfect instead of the simple past?

The action of the present perfect tense verb may extend all the way to the moment of speaking:

I've studied these instructions for 2 hours and I still don't understand how to program this DVD player. I quit.

I've stood in line for three hours and I haven't received any help.

It can refer to a past action that has some relevance to the speaker at the moment of speaking:

I've finished my homework. Now can I go out and play?

I haven't seen John today (and its important to me that I see him because he owes me $100).

I've been to London, it was a glorious experience.

If there is no continuing relevance, just use the simple past:

I finished my homework.
I didn't see John today.
I went to London and came back.

The present perfect can refer to repeated or habitual past activities that have relevance at the moment of speaking:

I've tried six times to meet the mayor and I'm trying again today.

I've taught English for ten years. (And I'm still teaching it.)

Now consider:

Ten Taiwanese film directors, producers and screenwriters have been invited to participate in a two-day workshop in Paris next week,

The present perfect means the past action has relevance at the moment of speaking. Here, one could have used the past tense: were invited in the same clause. The past tense just reports on a past event. It does not indicate continuing relevance.

A total of five Taiwanese film projects have been selected to join the workshop, which will take place at CNC from Jan. 15-16.

Again the simple past could have been used in this same clause: was selected.

Both verbs have been selected and have been invited are in the present perfect passive. With actions such as select and invite the action is over when the speaker says the sentence, but the action has continuing relevance.

What that relevance is is not always easy to define. As I said, both actions could have been reported with the simple past.

In British English, the present perfect tense is used more often than in American English. This suggests that speakers of British see continuing relevance more often, at least in certain contexts. See these three resources that discuss this: a blog post written by a linguist, the Cambridge Dictionary, the TOEFL website.

If a kid is coming to the table to eat supper, in AmE it can be usual to state:

Did you wash your hands? (simple past)

In BrE, so I have read, it would almost always be

Have you washed your hands?

(The relevance obviously is ascertaining if that the kid is prepared to eat supper.)

So, "Ten film directors have been invited..." it really is the speaker or writer who sees the past action (invite) as having continuing relevance at the moment of writing.

And, "five projects have been selected..." works the same way.

The relevance may simply be to state that although they were invited / selected in the past, this is still true at the moment of speaking.

It does not necessarily have to do anything with the future; I have shown that, in American English, at least, the simple past could have easily been used in those same two sentences.

However, just like the kid having washed his hands, so he is now 'eligible' to eat..so the directors have been invited and they are now 'eligible' to attend. (They may, after all, decline the invitation.)

This is why I said the question is always why choose the present perfect instead of the simple past? Sometimes only the speaker knows, or sometimes it is just because that is the normal way to express the situation (British English).

Edit: Having seen the comment by John Lawler, I see that the present perfect is used to report "hot" or "fresh" news. A reason to do this is to imply that the news has some continuing relevance to the listener.

Have you read the news? It's "vitally important" that you do so

Did you read the news? does not have this same implication.

  • +1 @CarSmack - thanks, that was clear and concise. As to terms, simple past is intelligible (it seems); but why, Present Perfect? How were the terms arrived at? I there a present imperfect?
    – user98990
    Jan 14, 2015 at 5:11
  • British speakers use present perfect tense more? Really? (See Ngram.) There's not much difference. Jan 14, 2015 at 6:02
  • Thank you very much for your high-quality answer. It really clarifies an ambiguous concept of present perfect tense.
    – Superuser
    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:02
  • There are contexts in which BrE "insists" upon the present perfect whereas AmE does not. This results in a higher overall usage of the present perfect in BrE. See, for example. See also this note in the Cambridge Dictionary (The present perfect is less common in AmE than BrE...). This is also discussed on TOEFL website.
    – pazzo
    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:11
  • @PeterShor My previous comment states the issue less generally. I had previously not been aware of the exact contexts in which BrE uses the present perfect while AmE can go either way. I (have) edited my answer.
    – pazzo
    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:25

The present perfect tense is used here because although the action (the invitation) happened in the past, it "points toward" the future (the workshop is only next week).

After the workshop, you could write

Ten Taiwanese film directors, producers and screenwriters were invited to participate in a two-day workshop in Paris the week after

  • 2
    Yes, technically this is the Stative/Resultative sense of the present Perfect construction. It is used for past events with current relevance. Jan 13, 2015 at 19:34

Meaning is how the statements should be interpreted. enter image description here @Superuser As per the example, the activity or its effect must be present at the moment. That is the function of Present Perfect tense.

  • Action - ...(Guests) have been invited...
  • Effect - ...(Guests) are still in the state of "invited to (place)"...
  • Meaning - ...Invitees (Guests) are invited and expected (your place) as of this moment...

The phrase "next week" lends the idea that Guests were invited in the past and are expected in the future. The reporting happens to be somewhere in the middle of the timeline.

At a later time, in a case when you are reporting it, Simple Past is a better choice. (Guests) were invited (implicit- Guests are not present anymore).

@Little Eva Imperfect tense in English is equivalent to Past Continuous/progressive tense. Noted here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperfect (Sorry, don't have sufficient reputation to comment directly)

Source: Chicago Manual of Style - The present perfect tense is formed by using have or has with the principal verb's past participle {have walked} {has drunk}. It denotes an act, state, or condition that is now completed or continues up to the present {I have put away the clothes} {it has been a long day}. The present perfect is distinguished from the past tense because it refers to (1) a time in the indefinite past {I have played golf there before} or (2) a past action that comes up to and touches the present {I have played cards for the last eighteen hours}. The past tense, by contrast, indicates a more specific or a more remote time in the past.

*Edits: Formatting, Image

  • So, imperfect for action not completed (at the time), perfect for action completed. "perfect" seems to be used in the sense of "complete" ---right? (That never dawned on me before; please correct me if I'm off base here) Jan 14, 2015 at 7:43
  • Thank you very much for your answer. It is very helpful for me. ^^
    – Superuser
    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:08
  • @BrianHitchcock Yes, that's right. In fact the 'present participle' (which really has nothing to do with tense) used to be called the imperfect participle. This is because the action is seen as being 'in progress' (i.e., incomplete) at the moment of the speaker's statement. Whereas the 'past participle' used to called the perfect participle, since the the action is seen as completed (perfected) at the moment of the speaker's statement. This nomenclature makes more sense to me.
    – pazzo
    Jan 14, 2015 at 8:54

The Perfect tense here expresses the fact that it is up-to-date news for the readers. Past tense would imply that it happened some time in the past with no relation to now.

Perfect can be used for news (about things that recently happened), for facts with importance to now ( when it was in the past is irrelevant) anf for ongoing actions up to now (the action can go on or not according to context).

I would say in your examples you have perfect for news.

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