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BACKGROUND

There are grammar terms such as 'present perfect' and 'past perfect' as in:

She has learned English for 10 years. [present perfect]

She had learned English when she was little. [past perfect]

I believe that these terms are fairly well established in more recent grammars as well as in the traditional grammar.

The way these terms are made is such that the first word 'present/past' represents the tense of the auxiliary 'have', and that the second word 'perfect' the structure of 'have + past participle'.

Now, I notice that the term 'perfect infinitive' is used in the traditional grammar to refer to the form 'have + past participle' where 'have' is in the form of infinitive.

For example:

She seems to have learned English when she was little. [perfect infinitive]

Similarly, the terms 'perfect participle' and 'perfect gerund' are used to refer to the form 'having + past participle' where 'having' is in the form of participle and gerund, respectively, as in:

Having learned English, she now wants to learn Chinese. [perfect participle]

They are not aware of her having learned English when she was little. [perfect gerund]

ISSUE

I don't know whether--or how well--these terms 'perfect infinitive', 'perfect participle' and 'perfect gerund' are established among more recent grammars, but they just don't make sense especially when you consider the other terms 'present perfect' and 'past perfect', where the first word represents the tense of 'have' and the second word the entire form 'have + past participle', because it's the other way around in the terms 'perfect infinitive', 'perfect participle' and 'perfect gerund', isn't it?

QUESTION

So I'd like to know first if anyone agrees with my confusion as to these terms being inconsistent, and secondly if better terms are actually in use for these latter three.

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That's interesting. I hadn't been aware of "perfect infinitive" or "perfect gerund" monikers. But thanks to your clear examples, I can see that there is no way these could be named in parallel with the former three, because the "tense" of have does not change. It seems as if "have" or "having" have no tense at all (or rather, that they can adapt to any tense)

Having learned English, she [speaks/spoke/has been speaking/could then speak] it well.

She [seems/seemed/had seemed] to have learned English when she was little.

So we could not apply tense terms to the latter three.

Clearly "participle" and "gerund" are apt. "Infinitive" seems to make sense, if only because the verb form includes "to".

So what are we left with? Just whether they are all "perfect", right? Well, do they denote that something has completed? Yes, they do.

So, despite the confusion of having so many similar names, I don't see how we could improve on these last three. They are logically named, although not "consistent" (parallel/symmetrical) in the way you seem to want them to be.

We could make the names longer, but what would we add? Shorter? That would be even more confusing! I'm afraid your stuck with these.

  • If only to make them consistent with "present perfect" or "past perfect", wouldn't it be better to call them "infinitive perfect", "gerund perfect" and "participle perfect"? – JK2 Jan 22 '15 at 22:04
  • Sounds good to me. Take it up with the powers that be. If you can find them, and convince them. Linguists might require a lot of convincing. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 23 '15 at 5:45

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