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Present perfect
Posted: 01 February 2017 08:22 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Does the present perfect strongly imply facts that the simple past tense does not?

If I say “John’s performed well” rather than “John performed well”, does this imply strongly that I’m talking about a recent performance? That the performance is ongoing? That John is still alive?

In an address for Black History Month, the President of the United States today said “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Several commentators took this to imply that the President believes that Douglass is still alive and on the job today, and possibly that he has no idea who he is. Is this a fair assessment, or might a native English speaker choose the present perfect when discussing acts by a person who died a long time ago?

EDIT: It appears Sean Spicer has doubled down on the present perfect revolution. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iwdv54w7Ag

[ Edited: 01 February 2017 08:43 PM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 01 February 2017 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The present perfect tense deals with an action that began in the past and continues up to the present time.

“John’s performed well” is an action that has occurred continuously or repeatedly from some time in the past right up to the present moment. (It can also continue into the future)

I think that the President should have used the simple past tense or the past perfect tense.

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Posted: 02 February 2017 05:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, technically, someone “who’s done an amazing job” is continuing to do that job right up to the present. But this grammatical sliver isn’t compelling evidence for what Trump actually believes. In speech, people make slips like this all the time.

Trump had prepared remarks/notes in front of him as he spoke, but as far as I know, the White House has not published these. They’ve only published a transcript and video of what was said. So we don’t know to what degree Trump deviated from what was prepared. If his prepared remarks said “who’s done,” that would be incompetent speechwriting at the very least.

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Posted: 02 February 2017 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Yes, technically, someone “who’s done an amazing job” is continuing to do that job right up to the present.

I don’t know what you mean by “technically”; this isn’t some invented grammatical “rule” that pedants draw ridiculous conclusions from, it is a basic feature of English.  No native speaker of English would use the “has” form for something that cannot possibly be ongoing, e.g. for the actions of someone dead.  It is clear as crystal that whoever wrote the sentence has no idea who Douglass was, and I’m not sure why that would be a surprise to anyone.

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Posted: 02 February 2017 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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No native speaker of English would use the “has” form for something that cannot possibly be ongoing, e.g. for the actions of someone dead.

You obviously haven’t read many freshman composition essays.

It is clear as crystal that whoever wrote the sentence has no idea who Douglass was, and I’m not sure why that would be a surprise to anyone.

It’s not clear that this sentence was written. We don’t have have Trump’s prepared remarks, only what he said, which may deviate significantly from what was on the sheet of paper in front of him. My point was that a slip like this in oral discourse is not unusual, especially for someone like Trump who does not exercise care in choosing his words.

I’m not disagreeing with the fact that it is a fundamental error of English grammar. Nor would I be the least bit surprised if Trump indeed has no clue who Douglass was. All I am saying is that this grammatical error, on its own, is not particularly compelling evidence of that ignorance. (It is compelling evidence that he does not have the verbal chops to execute the duties of his office.)

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Posted: 02 February 2017 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The world may never know whether President Trump just got a little sloppy with his
verb tenses on Wednesday morning or simply had no idea that the famous black abolitionist
Frederick Douglass was, in fact, dead.

source: Washington Post supports Mr. Wilton’s post

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Posted: 02 February 2017 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I would interpret it to mean that he thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive, and is doing an “amazing job”, and furthermore that he has no idea who Frederick Douglass was or anything about what he did that was so “amazing”.

Edit: wrote “tremendous” rather than “amazing”.  The man only has a handful of adjectives in his vocabulary, they’re all non-specific, and it’s easy to mix them up.

[ Edited: 02 February 2017 12:36 PM by donkeyhotay ]
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Posted: 02 February 2017 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I’m surprised that Dave encounters the solecism so often in his students’ work, I wouldn’t have thought it an error that many native speakers of English would make. That’s interesting. As for Douglass I strongly suspect if someone were to ask Trump just what Douglass did he’d be hard put to answer. Mind you, I’m embarrassed to say that I’d have a hard job too but then I’m not an American.

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Posted: 02 February 2017 02:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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You obviously haven’t read many freshman composition essays.

Touché!  (Actually, I did read a fair number during my brief and inglorious stint as a teacher of English, but that was at a Taiwanese college and English was not the students’ first language.)

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Posted: 02 February 2017 02:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Trump’s venial grammatical gaffe—if indeed it’s grammatical—is not an anomaly.  I hear the misuse of verb tenses almost every day, in conversation, from the media, from news journalists, news anchors, university graduates, politicians, including other Presidents. 

The more common mistakes: I could’ve went there, I had ran for the bus, I could’ve came yesterday, ad infinitum…

As D.Wilton said: “In speech, people make slips like this all the time.” I agree, but I wonder how many are actually slips.

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Posted: 02 February 2017 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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You will note when you look more closely that it isn’t the commentators who do this. Commentators are not usually allowed into the half-time discussions anyway. The people who do it are the pundits. And many of them were raised in the school of hard knocks where such verbal style is on regular display.
“He’s only gone and blanked the landlord and the landlord’s only gone and barred him.”
“And then he’s told the copper to *** off and the copper’s whistled up a van load of his mates and they’ve given him a right seeing to.” For such as El Tel, Sir Bobby and Big Ron this is Queen’s (Park Rangers) English. The more literate, like Gaz Lineker, often join in for fun. “And then Greg ‘s had to resign and they’ve only asked Mikey Grade to step in and he’s gone ‘I should cocoa ...”

John Dean
Oxford

Above from this site, comments.

Known mostly as the “footballer’s tense” these days in Rightpondia.

This blog post draft also gives an American in Europe’s perspective, interesting but goes wandering here and there imho. Is a draft mind. And he’s only gone and published it.

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Posted: 03 February 2017 02:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Yes, technically, someone “who’s done an amazing job” is continuing to do that job right up to the present.

Perhaps that could be expanded a bit to ‘retains the potential to do that job’. If you were considering candidates for a task, for example, you might say that ‘X has performed well’ or ‘Y has done an amazing job’ previously, and therefore might be expected to do so again.

The ‘historic present perfect’ is rife in British television documentaries. Perfectly respectable academics feel obliged to say things like ‘King John has lost the support of his barons and has imported thousands of mercenaries from Flanders’, believing that this will make the narrative immediate and interesting to the audience.

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Posted: 03 February 2017 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The ‘historic present perfect’ is rife in British television documentaries. Perfectly respectable academics feel obliged to say things like ‘King John has lost the support of his barons and has imported thousands of mercenaries from Flanders’, believing that this will make the narrative immediate and interesting to the audience.

The “literary present” is also the norm in academic discussions of texts. When I taught Douglass’s autobiography a few years ago, I probably, at some point, said something along the lines of “Douglass has written a powerful book.”

But neither the historical nor literary present applies to Trump’s situation. People outside of academia don’t talk like that.

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Posted: 03 February 2017 05:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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The more common mistakes: I could’ve went there, I had ran for the bus, I could’ve came yesterday, ad infinitum…

These have nothing to do with Trump’s error, which is one of comprehension, not grammar.  Furthermore, they are not “mistakes” except from the point of view of standard grammar; they are perfectly grammatical in the dialects to which they are native.  You cannot make something a mistake by fiat.

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Posted: 03 February 2017 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’m not sure that mistakes in freshman essays are germane to the discussion.  I do grade college freshmen’s work, and my observation is that in academic settings many of them suffer a loss of higher brain functions, which may include mastery of their native language and other basic mental skills.

For example, in freshman science classes we spent a fair amount of time on unit conversions.  A few years ago I began to wonder how much of a role unfamiliarity with the units involved played in the difficulties they had, so I began asking this question:

A few years ago, a man in Illinois had to repay $150000 to an insurance company after a court ruling. In protest, he paid the sum in quarters (25¢ coins). Assume the amount of the repayment was exactly $150,000.00.  How many quarters did he pay?

Typically 1/4 to 1/3 of the class gets it wrong.  Many divide 150000 by 4 rather than multiplying.  Now, I don’t think most of those students would fall for a “You got $4 for a quarter?” scam on the street, but in an academic setting their brains freeze up.  Therefore, I don’t think mistakes in freshman essays provide a valid comparison.

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Posted: 03 February 2017 10:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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errare humanum est. It wasn’t my election (thank goodness) --- but I don’t recall grammatical (or historical) expertise ever having being touted as part of Mr. Trump’s eligibility for the job of Most Powerful Man in the World. What percentage of American voters, I wonder, could coherently describe the use of the present perfect tense, or give an off-the cuff account of Frederick Douglass’ life and work, or even identify the man as an historical figure? Wordorigins.org is a select, elite group where language is concerned, and I must say I’m disappointed at seeing so many of its members joining the chorus of silly journalists going on and on about this mistake of Trump’s*.  As for journalists, I can understand their grabbing at any trifling opportunity to show how erudite they are, compared to Donald Trump (save the mark!). But posters here don’t need to prove anything. I like this forum best when it deals with word origins.

Disclaimer: this post is not in any way intended to denigrate American voters. One of the main streets in Tel Aviv is named after Field Marshal Edmund Allenby. When an enterprising radio announcer once walked up and down Allenby Street, asking passers-by who Allenby was, the number of people who had the faintest idea was underwhelming. 

*Would a group of Mongol intellectuals spend a lot of time discussing a grammatical error in a speech by Genghis Khan, I wonder?  :roll:

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