Monday, 27 April 2015

Present Perfect – When to Use

ContentsGrammar in Dialogues → Present Perfect (When to Use)

Present Perfect Tense Explanation and Illustrative Examples from Classics

Present Perfect is used to express an accomplished action (both, a single action and an action or state of some duration) which is viewed from the moment of speaking as part of the present situation. Attention is focused on the action itself (but not on the time when it took place, nor in the circumstances – they appear unimportant).

Present Perfect is generally used:

1. when the time of the action is not indicated at all (dialogue 1);

2. when the time of the action is indicated by an adverbial modifier of time denoting a period which is not over yet (today, this morning, this week, this year, etc. [see note below]) (dialogue 2);

3. when the time of the action is indicated only vaguely, by means of adverbs of indefinite time or frequency (such as yet, already, just, lately, recently, of late, ever, never, always, etc. [see note below]) (dialogues 3-4).

4. Present Perfect may express an action which began before the moment of speaking and continues into it. This grammatical meaning is mainly expressed by the Present Perfect Continuous. However, Present Perfect is found in the following cases:
      a) with stative verbs that cannot have the Continuous form. Present Perfect is associated with certain time indications. The whole period of the duration of the action may be marked by prepositional phrases with "for", or expressions without prepositions; the starting point of the action is indicated by the adverb "since" or a clause introduced by the conjunction "since" (dialogues 5, 6, 7).
     b) Present Perfect is preferable to the Present Perfect Continuous in negative sentences, when it is the action itself that is completely negated (dialogue 8).

5. Present Perfect expresses a future action in adverbial clauses of time introduced by "when, after, before, as soon as", etc. It is used here instead of the Future Perfect to show the action of the subordinate clause will be accomplished before the action of the principal clause (dialogue 9).

Examples from Classics

1. The cooks are talking in the restaurant kitchen.

Kevin: I’ve run out of lemons!
Peter: Well, cut some more then …
Kevin: Let me borrow your cutting-board then, please.
(A. Wesker. The Kitchen)

2. The portrait is finished. It is a wonderful work of art and a wonderful likeness as well.

Lord Henry (to basil Hallward): My dear fellow, I congratulate you most warmly. Itis the finest portrait of modern times. Mr Gray, come over and look for yourself.
Dorian Gray: Is it really finished?
Basil Hallward: Quite finished. And you have sat splendidly to-day. I am awfully obliged to you.
Lord Henry: That is entirely due to me. Isn’t it, Mr Gray?
(O. Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray)

3. Dr Colin works in Belgian Congo, Africa. He receives a local old man who enquires after the health of the doctor’s mother.

Dr Colin: She has been in Switzerland, in the mountains. A holiday in the snow.
Old man: Snow?
Dr Colin: I forgot. You have never seen snow. It is frozen vapour, frozen mist. The air is so cold that it never melts and it lies on the ground white and soft…, and the lakes are covered with ice.
The old man: I know what ice is. I have seen ice in a refrigerator.
(Gr. Green. A Burn-Out Case)

4. It’s important for a Painter to know his Model well.

Evvy: Well, Miss Carter, and how are we getting on with the picture?...
Miss Carter: Heavens, I haven’t started yet. I’ve made some pencil sketches of Mr Demoyte, but I haven’t yet decided what position to paint him in, or what clothesor expression to give him. Indeed, I am still quite at a loss.
Mor: What would you say, sir, was Mr Demoyte’s most typical expression?
Evvy: I would say a sort of rather suspicious pondering.
(I. Murdoch. The Sandcastle)

5. Ames, a young man from Indianapolis, is in New York for a few days. He finds New York quite a thing to see.  Mrs Vance and Carrie try to show him around a little.

Ames: Are you a born New Yorker?
Carrrie: Oh, no; I’ve only been here for two years.
Ames: Oh, well, you’ve had time to see a great deal of it, anyhow.
Carrie: I don’t seem to have. It’s about as strange to me as when I first came here.
Ames: You’re not from the West, are you?
Carrie: Yes. I’m from Wisconsin.
Ames: Well, it does seem as if most people in this town haven’t been here so very long. I hear of lots of Indiana people in my line who are here.
Carrie: What is your line?
Ames: I’m connected with an electrical company.
(Th. Dreiser. Sister Carrie)

6. Miss Matfield talks to Evelyn, the only girl with whom she can be friendly and confidential.

Evelyn: Had any letters?
Miss Matfield: One from mother, very dull, and one from a man I’ve known off and on for years. He’s coming up to town to-morrow and wants me to spend the evening with him, seeing the sights.
Evelyn: A-ha! Is he a big brown man? Do you like him?
Miss Matfield: He’s not bad. A bit feeble. …
Evelyn: I scent a roma-a-ance. … And you have cared all these yee-ars and I never knew –
(J. B. Priestley. Angel Pavement)

7. Larry has left the USA for Paris to study literature; Isabel, his bride, comes to see his flat.

Isabel: Is this where you live?
Larry: It is. I’ve been here ever since I came to Paris.
Isabel: But why?
Larry: It is convenient. It’s near the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Sorbonne.
 (W. S. Maugham. The Razor’s Edge)

8. Valerie and Daniel are going out to celebrate an occasion.

Valerie: I haven’t worn an evening dress for ages. Come to think of it, I haven’t been out in the evening for ages.
Daniel: You shall go to-night.
(M. Dickens. Flowers on the Grass)

9. Robert Jordan is fighting against fascists in Spain on the side of republicans.

Robert: So when is the bridge to be blown?
Golz: After the attack starts. As soon as the attack has started and not before. …
Robert: And when is the attack?
Golz: I will tell you. … You must be ready for that time. You will blow the bridge after the attack has started. You see?
(E. Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls)

Note: It should be noted that the use of the Present Perfect is by no means obligatory with the adverbs or adverbial phrases such as "ever, just, already, before, never, this morning, this year", etc…. Any other tense-aspect form may be used with the above mentioned adverbs and expressions if it is required by the sense. It’s the character of the action that matters. See dialogues 10, 11 below:

10. Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering are in Higgins’  laboratory in Wimpole Street. They are giving Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl, a lesson of phonetics.

Higgins: … Say a cup of tea.
Liza: A cappəte-ee.
Higgins: Put your tongue forward until it squeezes against the top of your lower teeth. Now say cup.
Liza: C-c-c --- I cant. C-cap.
Higgins: By Jupiter, she’s done it at the first shot. Pickering, we shall make a duches of her. (To Eliza.) Now do you think you could possibly say tea? Not tə-yee, mind: if you ever say bə-yee, cə-yee, d ə-yee again you shall be dragged round the room three times by the hair of your head.
(G. B. Shaw. Pygmalion)

11. Jennie’s friend is staying with Jennie and her husband Simon. One day the couple were preparing for a cocktail-party they were gibing that night. Jennie wanted some provisions so her friend offered to fetch them. She took the car, and noticed it was almost out of petrol. So she got some on the way. When Simon came home he thought the provisions might not be enough and decided to get more.

Simon: … I’ve just remembered. The car’s almost out of petrol. I promised to drive the Rawlings’ home after the party. I nearly forgot. I’ll get some petrol too.
Jennie’s friend: Oh, I got some to-day.
(M. Spark. The Twain)