You know what it's like. You wake up early, the sun is shining, there's not a cloud in the sky. And you announce to everyone that this is the perfect day for a picnic. Sandwiches are cut, drinks are prepared and appropriate eating implements and crockery are all packed up. You can't wait to get out there, sit down and tuck into a wholesome meal in the open air. In due course you see the ideal spot looming into view, park the car, get out and find a field that's nice and flat, spread out the rug and sit down. You relish the natural setting, you enjoy the smells of the countryside. The time has now arrived to eat.
After all that was the whole point, wasn't it of trekking out all this way to enjoy your food surrounded by nature instead of the usual four walls? The first bite is good and likewise the second bite. Then you hear a noise that you dismiss from your mind because you don't really want to recognise it. But you know what it is. It's the sound of a wasp sensing there's food about. This is the wasp sent out on reconnaissance. And soon others join the lone wasp. Members of your picnic party start flapping their arms about. Others try to act relaxed and advise keeping still. But it's no good. The magic has gone. What was, what could have been, what should be, what really ought to be perfect, now never will be.
And talking of 'perfect' that's what I want to direct your attention to in a grammatical way. Of course I am talking about the perfect tense or to give it its full honours, the present perfect simple. The question is how can 'perfect' and 'present' sit happily together? Let's look at it like this - what is perfect is finished, but then we don't know when it finished because if we did, we would go back to the past simple which I discussed in my previous news letter, About Time
Remember that this sort of 'perfect' is often recent, not attached to any particular time and when we use it, it mostly refers to what we are talking about now. When I ask a question and I could very well ask it now: Have you understood? I am putting the question to you at the moment and at the same time I am referring back to something I said and tried to explain a short while ago. The tense also has a strong relationship with two prepositions, 'for' and 'since', both of which are concerned with periods of time. This again connects the past to the present. We say: I have lived in the same house for 10 years or: I have lived in the same house since 2000. To repeat the point I made in the other newsletter, the present perfect simple is just not interested in exactly when something happened, which is the job of the past simple, but solely with what has happened and always wants us to stay related to and rooted in the present. The other partner in this tense relationship is the continuous form -the present perfect continuous. This tense is without question awe inspiring as it covers and conveys so much.
My nickname for it is the 'umbrella' tense for the simple reason that it points in several directions at the same time. It is fundamentally about what is happening now but not content with that it stretches back into the past and hints at what is going to happen next in the future. No doubt you have been asked (that by the way is the passive of the present perfect simple and you'll note that I am not referring to any particular time when this question has been put to you) - How long have you been learning English? Someone asking that knows you are learning English at the moment and also is aware that you started learning some time ago and furthermore assumes that you are going to continue learning. Your answer is going to contain those two prepositions again 'for' or since' and your perfect (and here I'm using 'perfect' in the ideal picnic scenario) answer could be: I have been learning English for five years now/since 2005.
I could go on to talk about the past perfect simple but enough is enough and I think you'll agree I've said sufficient for now, haven't I?
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