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Found here an explanation why the 'present perfect' is called like that and why it's 'perfect'. For the record: "As to why it's perfect, the term comes from Latin perfectus, "achieved, finished, completed". Which is quite literally what you have done whenever you have done something." But, I'm still confused, because of this example:

She has lived in this city for ten years.

The action is not finished. She is still living. Why then link the word 'perfect' to Latin perfectus that means finished, completed?

  • Sounds like she has now accomplished something: she has completed a ten-year period in the city. There is no comment on her life today or tomorrow. – Yosef Baskin Apr 21 at 23:38
  • @Yosef Baskin maybe for an native English speaker it sounds like she has completed 10 year period, but, as we see from this example :"Use of the present perfect in this sentence indicates that she still lives in this city", and the action is pending in time. For completing an action should we use 'past simple' instead? "She lived in this city for ten years." - She lived in this city in the past, but no longer does. Here the action is completed, but the tense is not perfect. For a non native speaker, the problem is in this definition perfect=completed – Alexis Apr 21 at 23:54
  • I just wanted to understand if this rule is always true, if perfect=completed. After a few hours of thinking about, for this example, we don't need to think about the whole life, but only about living 10 years in this city. Is this period finished? Yes, is finished. – Alexis Apr 22 at 10:20
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The present perfect is simply the term given to the have + past participle construction in English.

It is true that in many contexts the present perfect refers to what has been 'achieved, finished, completed' (with present relevance). For example:

I've read the book you lent me.

In this context read can be classified (in Quirk's terminology) as conclusive/accomplishment.

However, the present perfect can also be used with verbs that can be classified in their context as nonconclusive/activity, such as live.

She has lived in this city for ten years.

The fact that the Latin word perfectus translates as finished or completed does not mean that the present perfect construction, in modern English, can refer only to contexts where an action has been completed.


Reference: Quirk et al. A Comprehensive Grammar Of The English Language (p201)

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  • Does She has lived in this city for ten years entail that she is still living in the city? – JK2 Apr 22 at 10:05
  • @JK2, I'm always reluctant to make definitive statements about decontextualised sentences. But nevertheless here goes. By far the most likely interpretation is that she still lives there. But a context in which this is not true can be imagined. Namely, that you are talking in Paris about your sister, who has lived in several big cities, and say for example: She has lived in this city for ten years and in New York for five years, so she knows all about big city life. – Shoe Apr 22 at 10:22
  • How about a context of talking about a girl who is moving or even just moved out of the city? – JK2 Apr 22 at 13:41
  • @JK2. Both of those seem acceptable. For example, She's lived in this city for ten years, but last month she decided to move back to the village where she was born. This seems to lay more focus on the fact of having lived in the city. Whereas She lived in this city for ten years seems to lay more focus on the amount of time. But essentially this is one of those issues where people will disagree about the degree of acceptability. – Shoe Apr 23 at 6:15
  • Although some might prefer one verb form over the other, I think that no one would dare to brand either form as unacceptable. Don't you think? – JK2 Apr 23 at 6:19
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Another take on the question would be: language is basically arbitrary. Etymologies, past usage, similarities, logic (sic!) do not mean much for contemporary applications.

(As far as I know, in contemporary AmE, it is accepted to use PresPerf ONLY for cases in which an activity is not complete. BE: I've lost my keys and I've lived here forever / AmE: I lost my keys but I've lived here forever.)

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