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May I confirm if the following rule I know so far for choosing between simple present tense and present perfect tense is correct?

If it is not specifically emphasised as a long process/ time specific process, we use simple present; or present perfect would be used. E.g.,

  • The government endeavours to tackle poverty
  • The government has endeavoured to tackle poverty since the last decade

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  • May I confirm whether (not "if"). – Les Tivers Oct 9 '18 at 18:33
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    'The government has been endeavouring to tackle poverty for the last decade' would be more idiomatic. – Kate Bunting Oct 9 '18 at 20:53
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    @LesTivers If is perfectly acceptable there. Such usage is well attested in published literature; see the multiple instances of it here. – linguisticturn Oct 10 '18 at 0:08
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You state the following 'rule' and ask for confirmation if it is correct:

If it is not specifically emphasised as a long process/ time specific process, we use simple present; or present perfect would be used.

No, this is not a particularly useful rule for choosing between the present simple and perfect aspects. The present perfect is often used for short processes or without specifying a starting time or duration. For example:

I've turned the heating off.

A better 'rule' to remember is that the present simple (or continuous) cannot be used if a starting point or duration is stated.

As Swan, in Practical English Usage (p464) states:

We use a perfect tense, not a present tense, to say how long a present action has been going on.

So the following sentences are ungrammatical:

*The government endeavours to tackle poverty since the last decade.

*The government is endeavouring to tackle poverty since the last decade.

*The government endeavours to tackle poverty for eight years now.

*The government is endeavouring to tackle poverty for eight years now.

Some languages, such as German, use the present simple in such contexts, but English requires the present perfect simple or continuous. In my opinion, the continuous form is better in both of your sentences:

The government is endeavouring to tackle poverty.

The government has been endeavouring to tackle poverty since the last decade.

  • Many thanks for your advice, Shoe! It's very helpful! May I ask one more question? In your last examples, you advise that continuous form is better - is it because there is a concern that we want to indicate that the action is still occurring? But how about the contexts in which the temporality of the subject is not important? Then it would be better to use simple tenses? Nonetheless, we should use the others, like present perfect continuous tense, etc. to indicate the temporality? – Jane Oct 10 '18 at 15:35
  • Example sentence for the former: the government endeavours to tackle poverty, which is one of its responsibilities; example sentence for the latter: The government is endeavouring to tackle poverty, so I hope the living conditions of the under-privilege would get better soon. Pls kindly advise, many thanks! – Jane Oct 10 '18 at 15:35
  • @Jane. Present simple is used (among other things) to state general facts: (Most) governments endeavour to tackle poverty. Present continuous is for processes that are ongoing: The German government is endeavouring to tackle poverty. The present perfect is used when the starting point or duration of an ongoing action is stated: The German government has been endeavouring to tackle poverty since it was re-elected. This is an extremely simplified account of a complex aspect of English grammar. – Shoe Oct 10 '18 at 15:43
  • I do not totally agree, Shoe. When we say "I've just turned on the air condition, so it's not so cool yet" In this case even the starting point or duration of the action is not stated, we still use present perfect because the temporality is important in the context - that results in "so it's not so cool" – Jane Oct 10 '18 at 15:56
  • In other words, it depends on the importance of the temporality of the action in the context: simple tenses (simple present/ past/ future) are used when temporality does not need to be presented in the contexts, e.g., when telling a fact; but when temporarily needs to be presented, then we use the others. Is it okay to say so? – Jane Oct 10 '18 at 15:59

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