1

I'm having trouble understanding and using the so-called “perfect of recent past” aspect on the present tense. I have three related questions about this which are in bullets, two here and one at the end of my post.

  • Is recency the only reason to use the “perfect of recent past”, or should we use it strictly when giving a new or “hot” information?

  • What exactly makes us choose to use the present tense with the perfect aspect added to it instead of using the past tense without any perfect aspect? I see that the present perfect is widely used for the recent past, especially in British English.

You can find some details about the classification of the sorts of uses to which the perfect aspect is applied to the present tense in English in these two articles:

Should these six sentences following be classifed as a resultative present tense with perfect aspect or as a present tense whose perfect aspect is used for the recent past?

  1. I've found your passport. Here it is on the desk!
  2. I've attached the file (Sentence is used in the content of an e-mail)
  3. I'm looking for my pen. Have you seen it?
  4. Oh, I've dropped my coin!
  5. I've thought of something amazing! (Thought came to mind a short time ago)
  6. Your passsword has been changed.

I’m leaning more towards the so-called “resultative present perfect” with regard to the six numbered examples I've just enumerated above.

  • Could it be that there isn't even any clear-cut distinction when it comes to some contexts?

Editor’s note

To stave off potential quibbles, we should note that for convenience’ sake, instructional materials for English Language Learners regularly use the term “present perfect tense” as shorthand for the combined tense–aspect–mood construction of the verb’s present tense (where “tense” means a time-based morphological inflection of a single word, never a multiword phrase) plus the perfective aspect (which is not properly speaking a “tense” per se).

Although this is different from how the word “tense” is used in (most) materials more oriented towards linguistics studies, this shorthand does little lasting harm and avoids complicating learners’ lives while they’re focusing on learning.

  • I’ve edited your post to improve its formatting and smooth out its wording in a few places in the hope of making it easier for people to understand. But if my edit has accidentally made it say something you did not intend, or if this edit raises new questions that you did not previously have, please do not hesitate to ask about this, or to edit it again. – tchrist Dec 23 '17 at 16:11
  • Thanks thchrist, looks good! Hoping to receive some explanatory answers. – bart Dec 23 '17 at 16:28
  • 1
    If I were trying to learn English I wouldn't concern myself much with attempting to classify uses of the present perfect, which is going to do little to help me understand and produce English sentences in everyday communication; instead I'd expose myself to as much meaningful English as used in real life contexts, whether that's movies, newspapers, podcasts, and especially, conversation with native speakers, including, if possible, tutors. In so doing, I'll encounter, naturally, how & when, and how often, various uses of the perfect occur in real life. – AmE speaker Dec 23 '17 at 16:41
  • @tchrist But OP is actually asking about correct classification according to a defective analysis which must involve a definition of terms, including the term 'resultative present perfect'. I can't see how this fits with the ELU model. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '17 at 23:23
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't even know what one of those is! – tchrist Dec 23 '17 at 23:58
1

Could it be that there isn't even any clear-cut distinction when it comes to some contexts?

Absolutely.

Since both of your sources cite Huddleston and Pullum's Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) and use the same breakdown that it does, and since I have the CGEL handy, I'll quote its statement on the subject (chapter 3, § 5.3.2, page 143):

Grammars commonly distinguish four major uses of the present perfect: the continuative, the experiential (or ‘existential’) perfect, the resultative perfect, and the perfect of recent past. These can be thought of as a classification of the main ways in which the concept of a time-span up to now can be involved in the use and interpretation of the present perfect – or as different ways in which the past situation may have ‘present relevance’. The continuative has been dealt with already, and can be distinguished reasonably sharply from the non-continuative: compatibility with such expressions as ever since provides a criterion. The three categories within the non-continuative are not mutually exclusive, but they are useful nonetheless.

In other words, not every use of the perfect can be uniquely assigned to one of the four categories; you can generally separate the continuative from the other three, but those other three overlap considerably with each other.

More specifically, in its discussion of the perfect of recent past (chapter 3, § 5.3.4, pages 145–6), it notes:

It is arguable that the experiential and resultative categories are broad enough to cover all non-continuative uses, but recency adds an important component to the account. For example, [15ii] [I’ve discovered how to mend the fuse] has a continuing result interpretation: the discovery resulted in my knowing how to mend the fuse and this knowledge persists. Such knowledge can persist for a long time, so there is nothing in the idea of continuing result itself to exclude my having made the discovery years ago. But in fact the normal interpretation involves a recent discovery.

In other words, there may not actually be any cases where the perfect is exclusively the perfect of recent past — it may be that every instance of the perfect of recent past is also an instance of either the experiential perfect or the resultative perfect — but even if an event is an "experience" or has a "continuing result", a speaker is more likely to use the present perfect if the event is recent than if it's not, and the audience is likely to interpret the present perfect as implying that the event is recent (unless they're given some reason not to interpret it that way).


By the way, regarding this:

To stave off potential quibbles, we should note that for convenience’ sake, instructional materials for English Language Learners regularly use the term “present perfect tense” as shorthand for the combined tense–aspect–mood construction of the verb’s present tense (where “tense” means a time-based morphological inflection of a single word, never a multiword phrase) plus the perfective aspect (which is not properly speaking a “tense” per se).

One trouble with quibbling over grammatical terminology is that the experts do not all agree about the best terminology. For example, the CGEL classifies the distinction between the perfect the (unmarked) non-perfect as a "secondary tense system"; it uses "aspect" only for the distinction between progressive and (unmarked) non-progressive. (And anyway I think it's quite arbitrary to suggest, as you do, that "aspect" can be analytic while "tense" can only be inflectional; the defining difference between tense and aspect is meaning. When a single form has uses with both temporal and aspectual elements, as the perfect does, the analysis hinges on which of those elements is the primary/basic/essential one.)

Another trouble with quibbling over grammatical terminology is that you can run afoul of "Muphry's law": "If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written." Your post is a great example of this: you correctly used the phrase "perfect aspect" five times, until you started worrying about quibbles and "properly speaking" and so on, at which point you promptly messed up and used the phrase "perfective aspect" (which refers to something quite different).

-1

The Free Dictionary calls this the Pluperfect tense and defines it as: Of or being a verb tense used to express action completed before a specified or implied past time Example: We had a lot of people over this Christmas but we have had a lot more in the past.

  • 1
    The phrase have had is present perfect, not past perfect. This does not answer the question because the question asks about the present perfect not about the past perfect. – tchrist Dec 27 '17 at 16:22
  • I must have misunderstood the question. Thank you for pointing this out. – Aled Cymro Dec 29 '17 at 11:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.