According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) by Geoffrey. K. Pullum and Rodney Huddlestone, there are four different uses of the present perfect tense: the continuative, the experimental (or existential) perfect, the resultative perfect, and the perfect of recent past. (2002 :143-145)

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Not so long ago, I came across a grammar book, in which the present perfect tense was explained differently. It states that – "when we can not make a present tense sentence with a similar meaning, we do not normally use the present perfect (even if we are giving " news ").

My question is – why cannot we use the present perfect tense, to be more precise, the perfect of recent past when we are giving "news"? For example:

  1. Granny hit me!

Instead, why can't we say:

  1. Granny has hit me!

Especially if the impact of the hit is visible on the body? Can we remember this as a rule of thumb? Does it sound okay to you?

  • Perhaps this should be asked at ell.stackexchange.com ?? That is where learners of English ask questions.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 0:31

2 Answers 2


The grammar book whose page you include here is Practical English Usage by Michael Swan. I don't know which edition you are quoting from, but in my (third) edition the explanation is in entry 457 (perfect or past - advanced points) on page 442. Here Swan states:

We normally use the present perfect when we are thinking about past events together with their present results.

  • I can't come to your party because I 've broken my leg.

However, we usually prefer a past tense when we identify the person, thing or circumstances responsible for a present situation (because we are thinking of a past cause, not the present result). Compare:

  • Look what John 's given me! (thinking about the gift)

  • Who gave you that? (thinking about the past action of giving)

  • Some fool has let the cat in.

  • Who let the cat in?

Other examples:

  • Why are you crying? ~ Granny hit me. (NOT...Granny has hit me.)

  • How did you get that bruise?

  • That's a nice picture. Did you paint it yourself?

So, it seems like a good rule of thumb to use the past simple when the speaker's focus is on the cause and the present perfect when the focus is on the result.

Note, however, that Swan hedges his explanation with words such as normally and usually. So there will be edge cases where either choice will sound acceptable to a native speaker. For example:

  • Why are you crying? ~ Granny's hit me again.

The again here seems to imply that the speaker's focus is on the repetition of the action rather than on its perpetrator. Hence the present perfect sounds acceptable.


The book you are referring to gives a summative assessment of Present Perfect far from the madding pedantic analysis. In the four differences you have mentioned from the authority, the recurring theme is that it has a present relevance. And exactly that's what your grammar book says. With the help of two negative sentences the writer affirms this relevance of present in present perfect. When this relationship with the present is gone, it becomes the thing of the past. Present perfect is at the threshold,— one step in the past, one step in present looking forward but no step further.

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