I'm a Russian native speaker. I've been struggling with "perfect tense" for a long time.

Can we say that word "have", besides it's root meaning (posession), has 2 distinct (that is we can separate those in speach) fucntions in English?

Namely: 1)Showing that a process has completed. Ex. "Did you pay or have you paid? Is the transaction over?"

2)Showing that a is still underway and has some relevance to "now" moment. Ex. "I have lived in England" (I still live here).

So looking at this list, one might say: "This is absurd! 1) says that a process HAS completed, but 2) says that it is still not completed.

And another question: What is so perfect about "perfect tense" if we easily see that the process of living is still underway? Perfect seems to be a misnomer for such a "tense".

P.S. Any articles with deep research (history, etymology, latin roots of english) of "perfect aspect" will be much appreciated. Thanks.

  • Have you done any research? There is an abundance of information on the Internet about the perfect tense, e.g. link; link – BillJ May 4 '16 at 13:34
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    Is this a question or a rant about have and the term perfect tense? – curiousdannii Jul 4 '16 at 4:23

You are correct. It's absurd. That's what comes from paying attention to official grammar sources.
You are dealing here with grammar terms inherited without thought from different languages.
As William Hazlitt put it, in his 1829 English Grammar,

"Scholars who have made and taught from English grammars were previously and systematically initiated in the Greek and Latin tongues, so that they have, without deigning to notice the difference, taken the rules of the latter and applied them indiscriminately and dogmatically to the former."

So, Present Perfect is not a tense, nor is Past Perfect or Future Perfect. English only has two tenses.
What English has instead are Constructions, which are composed of auxiliaries and other words.
For instance,

  • the Progressive construction: be followed by the -ing participle of the next verb.
    The progressive occurs only with semantically active verbs like run, not stative ones like own.

    • I'm enjoying my vacation. They're running right now. *He's owning that house.
      Any construction beginning with an inflectable auxiliary verb can occur in either tense:
    • I was enjoying my vacation. They were running yesterday. *He was owning that house.
  • the Modal construction: a modal auxiliary verb followed by the infinitive of the next verb.
    All modals can refer to past, present, or future; but will is often wrongly called "future tense".

    • I'd (I would) enjoy a vacation. They can't run tomorrow. *He'll (He will) own that house.
      In fact, modals can't be inflected for anything, and therefore aren't any tense at all.
    • *I musted go yesterday. *They are maying do that. *I want to can do that.

There are lots more constructions. Most relevantly, there is

  • the Perfect construction: have followed by the perfect participle of the next verb.
    The perfect is used in four different ways (the last is rather idiomatic), depending on context.

Constructions can be combined, of course. So we can have perfect and progressive in either past or present tense of the auxiliary, but terms like "past perfect progressive" are not single constructions, let alone tenses. There are hundreds if not thousands of English constructions, so the combinations get rather complex. Better not to think of them as being like Russian inflections.

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I had intended to write a reasonable and understandable explanation to your question. However, a quick search of this site, asking this question;

Why is 'present perfect' present if it happened in the past? And why is it 'perfect'?

yielded this:

Present Perfect is called like that because it combines the present grammatical tense (you have) and the perfect grammatical aspect (done). Compare that to Past Perfect which uses the past tense (you had + done), or the Future Perfect which uses the future "tense" (you will have + done). As to why it's perfect, the term comes from Latin perfectus, "achieved, finished, completed". Which is quite literally what you have done whenever you have done something.

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  • I have "the work done". Here "I have" certantly is in present. "work done" is in passive? and not in any tense (as I feel). – coobit May 5 '16 at 11:52
  • I once saw an article where author was arguing about etymology of "present perfect". There he said that "I have done smth" really comes from older "I have smth done". Here "I have" certantly is in present. "work done" is in passive and not in any tense (as I feel). So can we say that "perfectivity is a consequence of passive aspect" while "presentivity comes straight from verb have and means "I'm in possession of this situation at present". Can we say that a real connotation of "I have smth done" is "having an object/situation which was processed" – coobit May 5 '16 at 11:58

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