Verb: Meaning of Present Perfect form

June 25th, 20124:07 pm

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Verb: Meaning of Present Perfect form

The Perfect in English is rather different from the aspects, since it tells us nothing directly about the situation in itself, but rather relates some state to a preceding situation. As a preliminary illustration of this, we may con­trast the English sentences I have lost (Perfect) my gloves and I lost (non-Perfect) my gloves. One possible difference between these two is that with the Perfect, there is an implication that the gloves are still lost, whereas with the non-Perfect there is no such implication. More generally, the Perfect in­dicates the continuing present relevance of a past situation. This difference between the Perfect and the other forms has led many linguists to doubt whether the Perfect should be considered an aspect at all. However, the tra­ditional terminology lists the Perfect as an aspect, though one should bear in mind continually that it is an aspect in a rather different sense from the other aspects treated so far.

One way in which the Perfect differs from the other aspects that we have examined is that it expresses a relation between two time-points: on the one hand, the time of the state resulting from a prior situation, and on the other, the time of that prior situation. Thus the Present Perfect, for instance, such as I have eaten, partakes of both the present and the past.

Though in English there is a clear formal distinction between the form with perfect meaning and those with non-perfect meaning, yet there is some variation within English as to the precise delimitation between Perfect and non-Perfect forms. In particular, American English overall shows a greater preference for the non-Perfect, in cases where British English would prefer or require the Perfect.

Also, we may note one diagnostic characteristic of the English Perfect. This is that, in English, the Perfect may not be used together with specifica­tion of the time, i.e. one cannot say * I have got up at five о ‘clock this morn­ing, because the specific reference to the point of time at five о ‘clock this morning is incompatible with the English Perfect. It is not specification of time as such that is excluded, since one can specify the time within which the past situation held, provided the time includes the present, e.g. I have talked to the boss today, or even I have talked to the boss this morning, pro­vided it is still morning at the time of speaking.

It should also be noted that in certain nonfinite verbal constructions the Perfect form (to have + Participle II) does not necessarily have perfect meaning. Thus some of the following sentences with participial and infini­tival constructions will be paraphrasable with finite verbs in the Perfect, others with finite verbs in the Simple Past:

Having listened to the latest news, John is well informed of the govern­ment’s actions. (As he has listened to the latest news, John is well informed of the government’s actions).

Having visited Ukraine last year, John can give you advice on accom­modation in Kiev. (As he visited Ukraine last year, John can give you advice on accommodation in Kiev).

John may have already talked to the boss. (It is possible that John has already talked to the boss).

John may have been to Ukraine last year. (It is possible that John was to Ukraine last year).

The police believe the criminal to have left the country already. (The police believe that the criminal has already left the country).

The police believe the criminal to have left the country two or three days ago. (The police believe that the criminal left the country two or three days ago).

In such examples, the use of the Perfect form is possible, since with such nonfinite verbal forms there is no other way of indicating past time, so that in such constructions the distinction between perfect meaning and relative past time reference is not made overtly (is neutralized).

So far, we have given a general definition of the Perfect as the continu­ing relevance of a previous situation. However, this meaning is liable to further subdivision. The particular types of the Perfect discussed below are the Perfect of result, the experiential Perfect, the Perfect of persistent situa­tion, and the Perfect of recent past.

Verb: Meaning of Present Perfect form – Part 2