Basic qualities of the perfect forms

The position of the Perfect Form in the system of the English verb is a problem which has been treated in many different ways and has caused much controversy. Among the various views on the essence of the Perfect Forms in Modern English prof. Ilyish suggested (in his book) the three main trends:

1. The category of Perfect is a peculiar tense category, i.e. a category which should be classed in the same list as the categories present and past. This view was held by O. Jespersen[5].

2. The category of Perfect is a peculiar aspect category, i.e. one which should be given a place in the list comprising common aspect and continuous aspect. This view was held by a number of scholars include prof. G. Vorontsova[6]. Those hold this view had expressed different opinions about the essence of the perfect forms. It has been variously defined as retrospective, resultative, successive, etc.

3. The category of Perfect is neither one of the tense, nor one of aspect, but a specific category different from both. It should accordingly be designated by a special term and its relations to the categories of aspect and tense should be investigated. This view was expressed by Prof. A. Smirnitsky[7]. He considered the Perfect to be a means for expressing the category of time relation ( ).

The causes of this wide divergence of views fall under the following three main heads:

1. Scholars have been trying to define the basic character of this category without paying sufficient attention to the system of categories of which it is found to make a part.

2. In seeking the meaning of the category, scholars have not always been careful to distinguish between its basic meaning (the invariable) and its modification due to the influence of context.

3. In seeking the basic meaning of the category, scholars have not always drawn a clear line of distinction between the meaning of the grammatical category as such and the meanings which belong to, or are influenced by, the lexical meaning of the verb (or verbs) used in one of the perfect forms.

Lets now consider the views expressed by different scholars in the order they were mentioned above. We are to find out whether the perfect is a tense category or not. We knew for sure that present, past and future are tense categories. It is firmly established and has never been doubted by anyone. Now, if the perfect is also a tense category, the present perfect would be a union of two different tenses: the present and the perfect; the past perfect, accordingly would be a union of the past and the perfectetc, but it is quite impossible. If a form belongs to a tense category (say, the present) it cant simultaneously belong to another tense category. Hence, it follows that the category of perfect cant be a tense of category.

So, the view that the perfect is a special tense category has been disproved by Prof. B.A. Ilyish. According to him and to Prof. Smirnitsky, the perfect is neither a tense nor an aspect, it is found to be a special grammatical category, different from both tense and aspect. It is in complex harmony with the principle of distributive analysis though Prof. Smirnitsky didnt at the time, use the term distributive analysis.

The essence of the grammatical perfect category expressed differing both from tense and aspect, Prof. Smirnitsky proposed to call the category of time relation, a bit later, the other term was adopted proposed by E. Axiutina time correlation. That was decidedly the term to be preferred.

Prof. Smirnitsky proposed to denote it in the correlative terms non-perfect and perfect.

The essence of perfect forms appears to be precedence: an action expressed by a perfect form precedes some moment in time. We cannot say that it always precedes another action: the present perfect form is most commonly used in sentences which contain no mention of any other action.

On the other hand, the use of a non-perfect form does not necessarily imply that the action didnt precede some moment in time. It may, or it may not, have preceded it. To find this out, the hearer has to take into account some other feature of the context, or, possibly, the situation, that is an extralinguistic factor. Thus, the opposition between a marked and an unmarked item is the opposition between the perfect forms being marked both in meaning (denoting precedence) and in morphological structure (have+second Participle) and the non-perfect forms being unmarked both in meaning (precedence not implied) and in morphological structure (purely negative characteristic: the collocation have+second Participle is not used).

In Old English perfect forms were originally free syntactical combinations, now it turned into an analytical tense form. Such constructions, in which the doer of the action expressed by the participle was not the subject of the sentence, have still survived in Modern English as free syntactical combinations:

Eg: I have my shoes repaired

You must have it mended.

The perfect tenses are compound (analytical) tenses. They are formed by means of the auxiliary verb to have and the Past Participle of the conjugated verb.

The Present Perfect of the Common Aspect is used to connect a past action with the present time. Present Perfect Tense is used in direct speech only. The Present Perfect connects the past with the present. As a part of the language system it may be said to present an action as associated with the present (present tense) unspecified as to its character (non-continuous aspect) and prior to some situation in the present (perfect order).

Eg: I have never had a baby and Ill never even loved anyone.

The time here may be indicated by means of an adverb of indefinite time or frequency: often, seldom, rarely, never, sometimes, generally, just, already etc. In this respect B.A. Ilyish pays special attention to the speech surroundings. In certain speech surroundings it may be used to express priority to some situation in the present taken in a wider sense, as if it were, priority to the present in general.

Eg: Where you British irritate us is that you have lost the spirit of enquiry. (Galsworthy).

We occasionally may find the Present Perfect used in complex sentences both in the main and in the subordinate clauses a use which doesnt quite fit in with definition of the meaning of the form.

Eg: Ive sometimes wondered if I havent seemed a little too frank and free with you, if you might not have thought I had gone gay, considering our friendship was so far from intimate. (quoted by B. Ilyish)

The Present Perfect of the Common Aspect is used to express an action already completed before the present situation in its consequences.

Eg: Will you give me your pencil for a minute?

Im sorry but Ive just broken it.

When the Present Perfect is used, there may be no time indication in the sentence at all:

Eg: Ive done this translation.

Ive received no answer to my letter.

The action may be associated with a period of time which has not yet ended: to-day, this week, this month, this year, etc.

Eg: I know she has been to Paris this year.

A period of time which is still lasting may also be indicated by since (a preposition, an adverb or conjunction introducing a subordinate clause); since denotes: from a certain moment in the past up to now.

Eg: I havent seen him since we left Kiev (a conjunction).

I have read three books in the original since the beginning of the academic year (preposition).

She called and saw him last summer but I havent seen her since (an adverb).

The whole period of duration is usually indicated by means of the preposition for:

Eg: She has known him for three years.

The Past Perfect Tense of the Common Aspect denotes an action which took place before a given past moment and viewed back from that moment. The past moment from which the accomplished action is viewed may be indicated by: 1) means of adverbial expressions by 5 oclock, by that (the) time, by the end of the month (year, week), etc.

2) by another action ( in the past tense):

Eg: By that time he had already started school.

When I came into the room, the child had fallen asleep.

Similar to the Present Perfect, the Past Perfect may express an action begun before a given Past moment and continued into that past moment.

Eg: When we came to the University our friends had been waiting for us for an hour and a half.

When we learnt about it, she had been ill for about a week.

The Past Perfect may be a purely temporal Past Perfect, indicating merely that the action took place before a given past moment without connecting it in its results or consequences with that past moment, or the action may be connected in its results or consequences with the given past moment from which the action is viewed back.

Eg: She told me that her brother had left Moscow for Leningrad in early December.

He said he had finished his compositions.

The Present Perfect of the Continuous Aspect expresses an action begun in the past and continued into the present. It connects the past with the present through the uninterrupted progress of an action before the present moment and still continuing at that moment.

Eg: Ive been doing this work since early morning.

We have been going to pictures about twice a week even since (Maugham).

It is natural that the Present Continuous Perfect may have an inclusive meaning in speech, in which case it is, as a rule, associated with an adverbial phrase or clause showing that the action still goes on.

The Past Continuous Perfect has much in common with the Present Continuous Perfect, the main difference between them being that of tense. It presents a past action as preceding a certain situation and viewed in its development. Like the Present Continuous Perfect it may be inclusive if supported by the context or else exclusive.

Eg: By that time I had been studying English for about a year (inclusive, the action is in process).

Here I saw this man whom I had lost sight of some time for I had been traveling in the provinces.

The category of aspect is closely connected with the category of tense. Aspect is a form of the verb which shows the character of the progress of the action. The Continuous Aspect is used first of all to characterize the action as a temporary one taking place at some moments:

at the moment of speech ( Present Continuous)

Eg: Are you feeling well? You are looking pale.

at the (some) moment in the past. (Past Continuous); the moment in the past may be indicated adverbially by a subordinate clause.

Eg: At ten oclock in the morning I was writing my examination test.

When I saw him in the corridor he was speaking to the teacher.

at a given moment in the future.

Eg: At this time tomorrow Ill be flying to Vienna.

The Continuous Aspect of the present and the past tense may be also used to denote a future or a relatively future action.

Eg: We are going to the movies to-night (we mean a future action).

He was very busy as he was leaving for Rome that evening (a relatively future action is meant).

The English language has a special form of the future: the Future in the Past, to express a future action viewed from a past moment (sequence of tenses). It is formed by means of should and would with the infinitive of the main verb:

Eg: It was settled that we should study French.

He thought that we went to the library. (sequences of tenses).

The Future-in-the Past of the Continuous Aspect(I should be writing) is used to express a concrete action going on at a definite future moment (occasionally covering a whole period of time in the future when that future moment is viewed from the Past:

Eg: I told him that I should be doing my lessons at six oclock in the evening (Continuous Aspect).

The Future-in-the Past is a tense of the indefinite form. The indefinite form merely shows that the action takes place in the future or present and past. The forms of the verb gives no indication as to its duration or completion.


The Formation of the Present Indefinite.The Present Indefinite is formed from the infinitive without the particle to. In about 70 per cent of all cases it serves to denote a habitual, recurrent act, typical of a given person or thing, its more or less constant characteristics.

Eg: We never talk about it.

It is used in narration describing a chain of events in the present. The action it denotes may either coincide with the moment of speech or cover more or less lengthy period of time including the moment of speech. The Present Indefinite Tense is also used to express actions permanently characterizing the subject.

Eg: Thats where you live.

You do what you like.

It is used to express statements of a general character or universal truths.

Eg: Light travels more quickly than sound.

With a higher pressure a thing melts at a cooler temperature.

The Present Indefinite Tense is used in stage remarks where the playwright doesnt wish to stress the actions then in progress, but merely states them as directions to the actors:

Eg: Looks at her in amazement (O. Wilde). (quoted by Ganshina)

The street bell rings (B. Shaw). (quoted by Ganshina)

It is the fact itself that is important, but not the progress of the action. The following sentence clearly illustrates it.

Eg: Why do you speak so fast.

You answer much better now than you have answered at the last lesson.

Why dont you illustrate your report with examples.

The Present Indefinite Tense is used with the verbs which are not commonly used in the Continuous Aspect: to hear, to understand, to see etc. In a context shown that reference is made to the past, the Present Indefinite Tense may be used to denote past events, mostly presented as the speakers reminiscences. When employed in the function, it is often termed historic or dramatic. present. It can only be used if there is something in the context or in the situation of speech to show that the events described belong to the past.

Eg: I remember it as vividly as if it had happened yesterday. The old general shakes my hand; smiles and says: Well done, son. (G. Curme.)

There is also the so called analistic present, a variety historical present used when some well known events or public figures of the past are spoken of. No other reference to the past may then be necessary:

Eg: Then Edward the Elder wins back Essek.

The historical present functions as a stylistic device showing vividness and expressiveness to narration, bringing past events nearer to the hearer (or reader), making them unfold before the speakers eyes. When we quote an old author we feel his words have weight in the question of the hour (G.Curme).

The Present Indefinite Tense may be used to denote a future action. The usage has been handed down from old English with its two-tense system, in which a future action was regularly denoted by the present tense. It mostly occurs with verbs denoting concrete acts (such as to come, to leave, to sail, to go, to graduate). When so used, (the tense) it has a distinct modal force. It is used with the implication of the certainty of fulfillment. But it has acquired a new meaning not abserved in Old English. Quite naturally the Present Indefinite Tense used in reference to the future occurs, as a rule, in a context indicating futurity (with such adverbs as tonight, tomorrow, next week etc). Its regularly found in adverbial clauses of time and condition if the verb of the principal clause denotes future act.

Eg: Ill ring you up when I am back home.

If I receive her letter, Ill answer it immediately.

This uses have the modal tinge of the Present Indefinite Tense: the present in the subordinate clause stresses the reality of the condition or circumstances represented by the subordinate clause. But in fact, it leaves some room for doubt. Prof. Ivanova believes that the use of the present in the subordinate clauses of time and condition results from the fact that the idea of futurity is sufficiently clear from the form of the verb in the principal clause and the semantics of the conjunction. The form of the verb in the subordinate clause expresses no temporal meaning of its own.

The Past Indefinite.This Tense refers an action to the past. Therefore, it is primarily the tense of narration. Used in speech it can denote isolated acts, a succession of events, recurring action, etc.

Eg: We occasionally went into Chelsea, at least he got as far along the embankment as the Kings Arms, and more occasionally he took Adelaide to a smart King Road restaurant, because she liked that, but he never left at home over that particular boarder (Iris Murdoch Brunos Dream).

Since it denotes an action which precedes the moment of speech it is associated with a time limit. The Past Indefinite Tense is often associated with the following adverbs and adverbial expressions of past time: yesterday, a week ago, last night, last week, etc.

Eg: She saw me yesterday.

He was (visited) in Sweden last summer.

The Future Indefinite Tense. It is analytical in structure. It is built up with the help of the word-morphemes shall and will. Some grammarians, (among them O. Jespersen, G. Curme) do not recognize the existence of the pure future in English since, in their opinions, shall and will are in all cases metaphases. In Old English there was no special form for the future tense, an action in the future was generally expressed by the present tense. This usage is still serious in such a sentence as:

Eg: We return tomorrow.

Shall and will were originally notional verbs: will denoting determination, shall compulsion or obligation. But as an action which a person intends to do or is obliged to do usually refers to the future, these verbs lost their original meaning and turned into mere auxiliaries of the analytical future tense. Shall is used for the 1-st person plural and singular and the 3-d person plural, will for the 3-d person singular. But in contemporary English (especially in the USA) there is a strong tendency to use will for all persons singular and plural.

Since the Future Tense denotes an action not yet realized, but one that is to take place, that is an action planned, expected, anticipated, etc. It is natural that the future tense often acquires a modal tinge of supposition ().




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  11. Free and Bound Use of Grammar Forms

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