In their stories, originally published in the eighteenth century, the Brothers Grimm have embraced a number of themes that have never vanished from life, despite modern advances in science and technology.

I got this question right by removing the have. My reasoning was because we know the time in the past that this happened.

Since I just want to make sure, is there any other reason why the have is incorrect?


  • The stories were published in the 19th century. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 18 '15 at 19:34
  • "Have embraced" implies that they might even be alive and embracing themes today. "Embraced" is clearly in the past. – Jeremy Nottingham Jun 18 '15 at 19:34
  • @JeremyNottingham I thought the primary purpose of Present Perfect for an unknown time in the past right? Not just an action continuing up to the present. What if we had a sentence where no time reference was provided? Is it possible to use the Present Perfect then? – Asker123 Jun 18 '15 at 19:38
  • If there were no time reference, and I didn't know who the Brothers Grimm were, using present perfect would definitely sound like they are alive now. "In their stories, the Jones Sisters have embraced a number of themes..." – Jeremy Nottingham Jun 18 '15 at 19:49
  • No, when you say eighteenth century, it means the 1700s – user98990 Jun 18 '15 at 19:55

If the Brothers Grimm had first published their book just shortly before this sentence was written, the sentence could be using a "hot news perfect". However, the reference to the eighteenth century tells us that the perspective of the writer is from long after the Brothers Grimm did their work, so the first "have" sounds wrong.

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  • It's a common enough usage, pragmatically invoking immediacy / familiarity. As in the first two 'Beethoven' quotes above. Stylistically, the temporal parenthesis might be preferred as a preceding sentence, to avoid incongruity. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '15 at 9:01

The present perfect is used in more than one way (Fenn, below, gives four usages ignoring subdivisions). There is the more 'normal', 'completed (or practiced over a period) at some time in the past', usage

these themes have [not] disappeared

but there is also the 'familiar, time doesn't separate us really' role

'By modeling it upon the Eroica Variations Beethoven has demonstrated how ...'

cf 'In modeling it upon the Eroica Variations Beethoven is demonstrating how ...'

[first variant from Beethoven: The Emergence and Evolution of Beethoven's Heroic Style_Michael Broyles]

The term 'hot news perfect' is rather disingenuous, as the 'time doesn't really separate us' notion rather than 'in the last few years' is the controlling factor for this usage. [See A Semantic and Pragmatic Examination of the English Perfect_Peter Fenn, where Fenn refines McCawley's ideas. He suggests the term 'rhematic' for this usage.]

What seems to be the source of discordance here is the pairing of the different usages in the same sentence.

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"... have embraced" is the present perfect tense.

"... embraced" is the simple past tense.

Also related: https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/40284/switching-from-past-simple-to-present-perfect-in-consecutive-sentences

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The present perfect tense is not used to describe actions that took place very long time ago. We say, "Paper was invented by the Chinese." The invention of paper was thousands of years ago. So the use of the present perfect tense "has been invented" here would be incorrect

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  • 1
    This is so broad-brush as to be untrue. For instance, '... Shakespeare has described the brutal mind of Caliban in contact with the pure and original forms of nature' (www.shakespeare-online.com/...). – Edwin Ashworth Jun 19 '15 at 9:11
  • Since 1066 the English language has never been the same. (Not the best example, but illustrative I think) – Mari-Lou A Jun 19 '15 at 10:34
  • Abdrabu would be correct if he wrote "the present perfect tense is not used to describe not continuous finished actions in the past", for which past simple must be used except if it is explicit the action had been done before some other action in the past, in which case past perfect is used. – user26486 Jun 19 '15 at 21:36

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