Question : have you done the Homework?

Answer : Yes I have done it before today..

Is it Correct if I did my homework yesterday itself and I use present perfect answer the question? Since I can't say yesterday in present perfect, can I say before today?

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  • Correct in what way? – Lawrence May 9 '18 at 14:08
  • Can I use present perfect to answer the question since I cant use yesterday in present perfect . can I say before today instead of yesterday? @Lawrence – TheMdsami33 May 9 '18 at 14:52
  • It sounds a bit odd. Perhaps it's because that uses have as a straight verb (I have [done whatever]), as opposed to an auxiliary verb (have done). It seems to answer a question like "Have you ever done done this?" rather than the one your question poses. However, I'm not a linguist, so I'll leave it to the more technically-minded among us to present a proper answer. There may also be material already in the database. Click the present-perfect tag to get a list of those questions to look at. – Lawrence May 9 '18 at 15:25
  • What does "before today" mean? Is it yesterday? Is it last night? Is it two days ago? Maybe you meant to say "earlier today"? – Mari-Lou A May 9 '18 at 17:33
  • Probably technically "correct" from a grammar standpoint, but quite ambiguous. Should only be used if the intent is to create confusion. – Hot Licks May 9 '18 at 17:50

It seems that the main issue is that you don't know how to combine an explicit mention of yesterday with the present perfect. The standard way of doing it is by making yesterday a supplement, something not integrated into the syntactic structure of the sentence. Like this:

Q: Have you done your homework?
A: Yes I have, yesterday.


It is true that

Time adjuncts like last week, two minutes ago, etc., which refer to times wholly before now, are incompatible with the present perfect.

(CGEL, p. 143). The reson is that

The present perfect involves reference to both past and present time: it is concerned with a time-span beginning in the past and extending up to now. It is not used in contexts where the 'now' component of this is explicitly or implicitly excluded.

Nevertheless, note that such adjuncts are allowed if they appear as supplements (something that is not integrated into the syntactical structure of the sentence). Thus, we are allowed to say

A: Yes I have, yesterday.

Here are some examples of similar usage from published literature (the supplemental time adjunct is in boldface):

"Have you been there?" "Yes I have, last time he was in London." (source)
'Yes, we have, yesterday.' (source)
"Yes, they have, on that fateful day." (source)
"Yes Ivana she has, some five years ago." (source)
"Yes, she has. Last night." (source. Here the temporal adjunct appears on its own as a verbless and subjectless sentence, which could equally well appear as a supplement.)

The reason why this works is that supplements are only required to be semantically compatible with the rest of the sentence, whereas integrated parts of the sentence must be syntactically compatible as well. CGEL explains it like this (pp. 1351-1352):

[Integrated constructions require] that the complement be syntactically licensed, whereas in supplementation it is, as we said above, a matter of semantic compatibility. Compare:

[7]  i  a.  The stipulation that Harry could not touch the money until he was eighteen
               annoyed him enormously.

          b.  *The codicil that Harry could not touch the money until he was eighteen
               annoyed him enormously.

      ii  a.  This stipulation—that Harry could not touch the money until he was
               eighteen—annoyed him enormously.

          b.  The codicil in the will—that Harry could not touch the money until he was
               eighteen—annoyed him enormously.

A codicil is 'an addition or supplement that explains, modifies, or revokes a will or part of one' (see e.g. here). CGEL continues:

The examples in [i] belong to the integrated head + complement construction. Stipulation licenses a declarative complement, but codicil does not: hence the ungrammaticality of [ib]. In [ii] the content clause is a supplement, interpreted as specifying the content of its anchor NP [noun phrase; an anchor is what the supplement is related to semantically, but not syntactically]. And this time the codicil example is acceptable: the NP it heads denotes an addition to a will and hence has propositional content which can be specified by a declarative content clause.

Why the sentence you tried doesn't work

Now let's discuss why

[1] I have done it before today.

doesn't work in your case.

It is an acceptable sentence of English, but it is probably not how that conversation would actually go. In your context, it sounds awkward. To explain why, let's consider the following sentence:

[2] I have borrowed this car three times before today. (source)

This implies that the speaker borrowed the car a total of four times: three times before today, and then also today.

So [1] would make sense in the following situation: Kim and Alex have just completed some activity that lots of people find frightening although it is actually perfectly safe. It is Alex's first time doing that, and he got really scared. Kim, however, was calm, and Alex is wondering how Kim managed to stay so calm. Kim says, 'Oh, I've done it before today.'

What a native speaker would actually say

While Yes I have, yesterday is prefectly fine, other responses to Have you done your homework? are perheps even more likely:

Yes, I have.
Yes, I did it yesterday.

Note that especially in American English, the question itself could be in the preterite:

Did you do your homework?

Is this is case of ellipsis?

It has been suggested that what we have here is a case of ellipsis, i.e. that [3] i is an ellipted version of [3] ii, where the boldfaced words in ii are the ones that were ellipted, while '___'s mark the positions in i where the ellipsis occured:

[3]   i  Yes I have ___, ___ yesterday.
       ii  Yes I have done it, I did it yesterday.

An important thing to realize about ellipsis is that it should be invoked only when other kinds of analyses fail—the burden on proof is on those who claim something is an ellipsis, not those who claim it is not. This follows from principle that the elliptical construction must be grammatically 'defective': therefore, if it can be shown that a construction is not 'defective', then it is not an instance of ellipsis. There are other principles as well. ComGEL gives five such principles (pp. 884-887):

(a) The ellipted words are precisely recoverable;
(b) The elliptical construction is grammatically 'defective';
(c) The insertion of the missing words results in a grammatical
       sentence with the same meaning as the original sentence;
(d) The missing word(s) are textually recoverable, and;
(e) are present in the text in exactly the same form.

In light of these, let's compare [3] with a pradigmatic case of ellipsis:

[4]  i  A:  You had better stay at home.    B:  Yes, I'd better.
      ii                                                                  B:  Yes, I'd better stay at home.

(a) In [4], stay at home is the only realistic option for the ellipted part. Not so in [3]. Any of the following would also work:

done my homework, I did/finished it
done it, I did/finished my homework
done my homework, I did/finished my homework
done my homework, I did/finished my homework

and also

done it, I was done with it

and many others.

(b) In [4], i is indeed grammatically defective: had better requires a complement. [3] i, however, is not defective, because yesterday is a supplement (this is what I explained in the main part of my answer).

(c) This one is OK in [4]. It may be OK in [3]. The problem is that [3] ii consists of two independent clauses connected by just a comma. Normally this is not OK: independent clauses should either be explicitly coordinated by a connection (e.g. since) or else joined by a semi-colon. As it is, it looks like a comma splice. However, maybe we can say that [3] ii is an instance of asyndetic coordination.

(d) and (e) Definitiely satisfied in [4]. Maybe it is also OK in [3]. Ellipsis normally allows trivial changes to accomodate agreement for number, person, and tense. For example, consider

She hasn't written it yet, but I'm sure she soon will ___,

where the position of the ellipted part is indicated by '___'. What is ellipted (i.e. what should appear in place of '___') is write it, even though what we have in the first part is written it.

So perhaps it is not that big a deal that we have two ellipses, both of the verb *do, which is the present perfect in the first ellipsis, but in the preterite in the second. Note that in the second ellipsis, we have also ellipted the subject, I.

In the end, I would say that on ballance, the ellipsis analysis in [3] does not look more persuasive than my original suggestion that yesterday is a supplement. Properties (a) and (b) are the most important characteristics of ellipses, and they do not seem to hold for [3].

  • 1
    If someone had asked me "Have you done your homework?", I would probably have answered, "Yes, I did it yesterday." Or I might have said, "Yes, I have." In the second case, "...done my homework" is "understood". – tautophile May 9 '18 at 16:44
  • @tautophile Agreed; what you say is what a native speaker is most likely to say in this situation. I interpreted the OP's question as mostly about how to combine yesterday with the present perfect. I think that's an interesting question, given that time adjunct like yesterday are not licensed by the present perfect. And yet we do often combine the two, and I thought it would be interesting to explain how we do that. But I have included your comments in the answer (the new last section, 'What a native speaker would actually say'). Thanks! – linguisticturn May 9 '18 at 17:43
  • @linguisticturn Thank you so much .. first time i got my answer here.. I fully understood your explanation.. I doubt is cleared now. – TheMdsami33 May 10 '18 at 6:03
  • @TheMdsami33 You're welcome! (BTW, it should be My doubt is cleared now. :) ) – linguisticturn May 10 '18 at 13:03
  • @linguisticturn by mistake I typed that.. last question , A witness claimed he saw a thief or A witness claimed he had seen a thief... newspaper it was written : A witness claimed he saw a theif. I think this is Reported Speech , and A witness claimed he had seen a thief , is correct? – TheMdsami33 May 10 '18 at 14:16

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