The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Page 141) has this section: enter image description here

Here, Tr is the time referred to (by the verb or verb group, e.g., have told, have been, told, was), and To is the time of orientation, which equates to the time of utterance in this question.

Now, my question is about the distinction made in the quoted portion of CGEL between the continuative and non-continuative readings of the perfect. If I understand it correctly, CGEL is making the distiction that the perfect locates Tr "before and up to To" and "wholly before To" in the continuative and non-continuative reading, respectively.

The following perfect in bold I think has the continuative reading:

(1) She has been writing the book since she was in her twenties and at last it's finished.

But here, Tr, the time referred to by the verb group has been writing, doesn't seem to extend up to the time of utterance (To), because at the time of uttrance, she's not longer writing the book.

Am I misunderstanding CGEL or is CGEL's distinction between the continuative and non-continuative reading of the perfect doesn't really apply to example (1)?


Here's some evidence supporting CGEL's claim that the continuative reading's Tr includes To:

A 2002 linguistics paper titled "Event Structure and the Perfect - Stanford University" by Paul Kiparsky (page 5) quotes another paper (Mittwoch 1988) to say this:

The universal reading requires an adverb specifying a duration (such as always, since 1960 or for two years)...

[T]he boundaries that define the duration are understood in an exclusive way in the existential reading but in an inclusive way in the universal reading (Mittwoch 1988). The sentence

[10] I have been in Hyderabad since 1977.

is false on the existential reading if I last was in Hyderabad in 1977 or if I have just landed on my first visit there; it is the intervening time that counts (exclusive boundaries). For the universal reading of [10] to be true I must have been there in 1977 and I must be there now (inclusive boundaries).

(Boldface mine.) (Here, the existential reading refers to the experiential reading, whereas the universal reading refers to the continuative reading.)

So what this paper is saying is that the continuative reading must include the boundaries that define the duration specified by an adverb (e.g., since 1977).

Since this 2002 paper by a reputable linguist quotes a 1988 paper to make this point, I highly doubt that this specific claim made by this paper is questionable. Moreover, this paper's claim is in line with CGEL' explanation that the continuative reading's Tr includes To.

  • 1
    Looks to me as though you are ignoring their definition of continuative / non-continutative, which does not say that a continuous / progressive perfect has to have the continuative reading. If you think that, in your sentence, Tr includes the time of utterance, why call it continuative?
    – user339660
    Jul 30, 2019 at 9:39
  • @Minty You're right. They didn't say that a progressive perfect has to have the continuative reading. But I didn't say they did, either. I think of (1)'s has been writing as the continuative perfect, not merely because it's the progressive perfect, but because it does have the continuative reading as I know it. (Please let me know if you think (1)'s has been writing is the non-continuative perfect.) And I'm sure that CGEL's distinction between the two readings is supposed to apply to the progressive perfect as well as the non-progressive perfect.
    – JK2
    Jul 30, 2019 at 11:27
  • It seems to me that careful around the woodwork, I’ve been painting is fine, but careful around the woodwork, I’ve been painting since 5 am is questionable. If that’s right, I think the explanation is that since forces the continuative meaning, which would mean that (1) is continuative, as you say. OTOH what makes the second sentence sound odd could be that my early start has no bearing on the warning I am giving.
    – user339660
    Jul 31, 2019 at 1:05
  • Is there a difference between those neighbours have been annoying me for 5 years, and at last they’re gone and those annoying people have been there for 5 years, and at last they’re gone, or is it just me? If there is a difference, I think it has a bearing on how (1) should be accounted for.
    – user339660
    Jul 31, 2019 at 1:05
  • 3
    @JK2: Are you asking: "can the continuative perfect extend to immediately before the time of speaking, but not actually include it?" I think the answer is "yes' and the CGEL is being careless in its explanation, although maybe they mean to define continuative so the answer is "no". But if that's what you're asking, it would be good to be more explicit; it took me a while to figure out your question. Aug 1, 2019 at 16:17

2 Answers 2


The time of the utterance is confined to the clause in which the tense is used. "and now it's finished" or "and at last..." establishes a new time-reference in a separate clause.


I've been looking forward to this birthday dinner all week. It's delicious.

After the meal is over, you wouldn't use the present perfect:

That was delicious. I'd been looking forward to it all week.


In this instance if we talk about the example you are giving, this could be interpreted as a non-continuative action

She has been writing the book since she was in her twenties

This sounds to my ear more the exception than the rule. I would never have thought of this example, had you not have brought it up.

Your point is well-taken. This excerpt from Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) has not taken into account times when the present perfect progressive could express an action that is not continuative, ie. Tr wholly before To.

  • Okay, then. Could you just forget example (1) for the moment and consider a context where she has just finished writing the book? In that context, consider example (1') She has been writing the book since she was in her twenties. This example is "an independent clause," but it can be uttered even after the book is finished. I see no difference between (1) and (1') as long as both are uttered after the book's finished.
    – JK2
    Aug 3, 2019 at 4:15
  • You might be right. But the problem is, all the grammars and linguistic papers that I know of classify example (1) as an instance of the continuative/universal reading of the perfect.
    – JK2
    Aug 7, 2019 at 4:38
  • So you're also looking for a reference to justify or not justify your reading?
    – Karlomanio
    Aug 7, 2019 at 14:07
  • Of course, I'd need some evidence, if I were to treat (1) as the non-continuative perfect.
    – JK2
    Aug 7, 2019 at 14:21
  • What kind of evidence were you looking for? I understand the need for evidence, but what if the source of evidence is incorrect? What if someone needs to write a new thesis paper to justify that this is so?
    – Karlomanio
    Aug 7, 2019 at 15:31

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