In news reports, we often read or hear events introduced with the present perfect, and then the past simple like this:

The film star Jim Cooper has died of cancer. He was 68 and lived in Texas.

What's wrong if we use both first and second sentence in past simple?

The film star Jim Cooper died of cancer. He was 68 and lived in Texas.

  • 4
    See related question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/63256/… – JLG May 29 '12 at 16:17
  • Doesn't Martin Hewings explain it in his "Advanced English Grammar"? It seems your examples are taken from his book. – Alex B. May 30 '12 at 15:41
  • In newspapers and also in normal conversation recent events that are new to reader or person spoken to are presented in perfect tense. You could call this perfect use "perfect for news". – rogermue Sep 23 '15 at 6:18

This is a specific usage, in its original context and native habitat, of what is technically called the Hot News sense of the English Perfect construction. There are four senses in all (cf. McCawley 1971):

(a) The Universal sense of the Perfect, used to indicate that a state of affairs prevailed throughout some interval stretching from the past into the present

  • I've known Max since 1960.

(b) The Existential sense of the Perfect, used to indicate the existence of past events

  • I have read Principia Mathematica five times.

(c) The Stative/Resultative sense of the Perfect, used to indicate that the direct effect of a past event still continues

  • I can't come to your party tonight - I've caught the flu.

(d) The Hot News sense of the Perfect, used to report hot news

  • Malcolm X has just been assassinated.

This sense frequently occurs with the intensive temporal adverb just, as in this example.

  • 1
    No one could have put it more succinctly. – WS2 Nov 29 '15 at 12:46

Present perfect is used to say that the past event has current consequences or happened recently. So it's telling us that this is a recent occurrence (in this case, that would seem to be the meaning), or that it might be of current importance (for example, that you might want to attend his funeral).

  • What, if you combine the sentences: "The film star Jim Cooper died of cancer at the age of 68." Is it still possible to use present perfect when this incident was of late? – Em1 May 29 '12 at 15:42

I haven't noticed that pattern particularly. However, when addressing the death of an individual, the usage of the present perfect might seem befitting, in that it can often allude to the act of completion. A speaker might feel that death, a very finalizing action, is best combined with the present perfect grammar structure.

  • 2
    -1 it's nothing to do with the seriousness or "finality" of death. Per @Jeff's answer, present perfect is normal in OP's context because it's a news report (i.e. - the event being written of has only just happened recently). – FumbleFingers May 29 '12 at 16:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.