Some musings on the Present Perfect tense

The aim of this article is to consider a variety of problems with the application of the Present Perfect Tense, perfect constructions in English, constructions that have arisen from Present Perfect and so on. The issues dealt with here are seen from the perspective of users of English as a Foreign Language.

Most of the text is made up of questions which claim to be hypothesis concerning the use of the Present Perfect.

I acknowledge that the statements made here reflect the personal, biased opinion of the author and are usually not supported by scientific facts or opinions by other experts, unless otherwise indicated.

Some pedagogical implications have also been considered.

1. Is Present Perfect tense or the constructions, formulas, idioms etc. based on the tense used statistically more frequently than the Past Simple, a tense which is by some users easily confused when compared with the Present Perfect.

Is it more common in American English, in other varieties of English such as Australian, Canadian or the international version of English?

2. Which tense is more common in written and spoken form?

The question of frequency can have possible implications for treating one tense as more important in English language teaching and as a result shifting the methodological perspectives in grammar or course books. That’s why below I argue that teaching Present Perfect before or along with Past Simple could be considered.

3. Hence, one of the complications here concerns the subject whether Present Perfect is used more frequently in everyday acts of speech which, when looked back, span a short time period, not very remote from the time of speaking (or from the mental space in which the time (or linguistic construction) has been conceived). The time usually spans only a recent day, the day which is still running or the present week. Such situations are more realistic or palpable especially for younger learners of English who are hesitant to talk about the past (especially the historical events).

The question of frequency (if it turned out that it is a more common tense in the above act of speech) would render Present Perfect a more important construction in English language teaching methodology. It could change the perspective of teachers; that is, would oblige them to give it more priority, and introduce it in the learning process before Past Simple.

4. Is Present Perfect as a form a more easier construction to master?

Using Past Participle form in statements, questions and negatives is relatively easier than the Past Simple form. The learner needs to make familiar with auxiliary verb “have” and the relatively easy formation of a sentence as compared to Past Simple where the learner has to remember the rule of using an infinitive in questions and negatives and the past form of the verb in statements.

Can the learners’ familiarity with a similar construction “Have you got” be favourable to mastering the construction and hence the application of Present Perfect.

What is the origin of the construction “have you got” ?

Have you got a pen? – Do you posses it?

Have you got a pen? – Have you acquired it?

Is the possessive use of “have” akin to the Perfect construction?

5. Can we argue for any relative merit of the two constructions? That is, is one of them more important, usable or doable for the speakers (especially native speakers) of English? Which tense has in the speakers discourse a more frequent rate of occurrence? See also point 3 and 4.

6. What would happen if we could miraculously fashion the grammatical construction of Present Perfect into a lexicalized matter, regarding the tense as a set of formulaic language, lexical construction or even idiom rather then treat it as a hard-as-rock grammar phenomenon? Do the native speakers of English with some linguistics awareness (or without it) consider the tense as a grammar rule or rather as a meaningful piece of language only to get a message across?

7. What response would be to a following linguistic provocation?

I haven’t seen Mary yesterday.

Have you worked in this factory in 2001?

In other words, what would the response of native speakers be if they encountered or happened to be using the constructions above with the adverbials of time which are usually affiliated with the Past Simple actions. The aim of such experiment would be to elicit some of the following statements:

  • the sentences in question are wrong, incorrect etc.
  • the sentences in question are wrong, but when I hear them I understand what is said.

8. What is the origin of the Past Participle form? Is it an independent, lexical category or has it been formed on the basis of the infinitive? Did it arise autonomously or has it shifted from the infinitive form?

What about the need to make new parts of speech?

For example: adjectives from verbs: do – done, e.g. The meat is well done.

Nouns from verbs, e.g. a set (eel-set, TV set, onset, tea set, on the set (=scenery in a theatre)). From ‘to set’ (to put something (down)) and etymologically from ‘to sit’

other examples:

“to take” for “a taken seat”

“to read” for “a good read”

“to order” for “a well ordered society”


9. Comparison of the possessive “I have got” with a similar construction “I have got / I have done something”

I have a broken leg.  vs. My leg is broken. vs.  I have broken my leg.

I have a written book. vs. My book has been written. vs.  I have written a book.

Although some of the above sentences may sound unnatural, what they all have in common is that they resemble a prototypical Present Perfect construction and as a result may help build a picture of what the nature of Present Perfect is.

Also, it is worth comparing a specific occurrence of Present Perfect in Polish, as illustrated below:

Source: The Changing Languages of Europe by  Heine, B. Kuteva, T. Chapter 4: The Rise of Possessive Perfects p. 159

10. Why do linguists from the so called structural or formalist traditions derive conjugated forms of verbs from the infinitive? Is it an advisable approach to introduce students to Past Participle forms as those arising from the infinitive? Is the tabulated approach in which verbs are presented in three columns: first the infinitive, second the Past Simple form and third the Past Participle a viable and natural way of verb teaching?

be was / were been
go went gone
set set set
make made made


Isn’t the label “Past Participle” a little bit confusing in the context of Present Perfect teaching?

11. Consider the following experiment. In English language teaching environment, the order of the second and third verb forms in the table is reversed. First goes the infinitive, second the Past Participle and the Past Simple gets the last place.

be been was / were
go gone went
set set set
make made made

In this example, limited to four instances of very frequent verbs only, the infinitive and the Past Participle look very similar to one another. Would such order be favourable to language learning? Would it be favourable especially in the rote memorization of verbs as it often takes place in foreign language classrooms? What about the rest, 300 or so irregular verbs? Do they also come in the similar arrangement when the Past Participle and the Past Simple have a very similar form?

12. What is the relationship of English Present Perfect to German Perfekt Tense.

  1. Es hat gestern stark geregnet.
  2. It rained heavily yesterday.
  3. * It has rained heavily yesterday.
  4. It has rained heavily today.
  5. Wczoraj padał duży deszcz.

Why is it possible to say a. in German but not c. in English? Is there any evolutionary or historical relationship between the English and German tenses?

13. How many Past Participle verbs are similar in form to the infinitive. See also point 11.

14. How many Past Simple verbs are similar in form to the infinitive? See also point 11.

15. What about the timelines used in the presentation of Present Perfect? Is it helpful to conceptualize the time span of Present Perfect? Does this practice visualize the use of the tense?

 present-perfect-diagram_1  present_perfect3e_2
1. 2.
 present-perfect_3  present_perfect-01_4
3. 4.

What can I write about today?

Today’s post is concerned with the writing topics or to put it in a question:

 What can I write about today?

Are you a beginning writer or are you one of those who are struggling with the writing block and don’t know how to counter it? Hopefully here you will find some ideas for your writing spree.

  1. First, you can write about the composition process itself; that is, to put it in my favourite language terminology, the writing metaprocess. This usually includes the issues writers face: creativity problems, writer’s block or the time when you are sucked out of inspiration.
  1. Write about the books you have read and you are planning to read. Pen a review, write recommendations for prospective readers, reflect on what you have read, what have you gained from your reading. Did it help you to expand your worldview? Are you a faster reader now? Share your knowledge with reluctant readers.
  1. Pen some words on the texts and articles you have made familiar with recently. Reading books is this big idea today, but many people neglect the importance of reading just anything. Newspaper or scholarly articles are just as well profitable. The more diverse reading sources you use the better off you are. Share your heterogeneous reading habits with your audience.
  1. Write about the books that are lingering on your bookshelves. Start with sketching the picture you have when you face your bookshelf. Is it disorderly or are the books neatly arranged in rows? Do you organize your books in categories or do you let your library be an inspirational mess? Take a picture of your library, post it to your blog and provide appropriate captions.
  1. Draw up a short resume about the breaking news that emerged in the headlines today. If you are not in the journalistic mood, pick one subject that has been skipped by web or TV news channels. Or take up a historic event that happened two hundred years ago and write an account of it.
  1. Write about the annoying TV shows you’re roommate is watching behind your back right now. Write what makes you cross: is it the volume, brainless dialogues from a soap opera or is your roommate flipping through channels without the intention to watch a programme for more than one minute?
  1. Go about your room, have a close look at the things you have ignored for a long time: your photos, dusted plates, pictures on the wall, a broken alarm clock, …..write a story about them.
  1. If you feel like telling the whole world what you are planning to do today, don’t hesitate, look through your schedule and tell everybody what you do and what people can learn from you.
  1. Have you delayed writing that important article? Why don’t you look at it from a different perspective? How about pooling new ideas, having somebody proofread the draft? Why don’t you arrange the references in order? Use a citation manager, read an article that is close to your subject. Take copious notes from it and use them in your writing.
  1. Do you take notes regularly? Pick a few random notes and write a snippet article on each. Whether it is just a new word, or a new health condition you have not known about before, elaborate on the notes, research them in an online encyclopedia or a specialist forum, and finally share with the world what you have written about them.
  1. Share with the world what your fields of interest are. Even if it is not very likely that you have found a niche nobody else is interested in, it is still worth making publicly available what hobbies you pursue. You can always be from that rare part of the world where people have a different outlook on things, where people have different insights and knowing them can benefit everybody on the planet.
  1. Make the world a stakeholder of what is of concern to you right now. Share with people what worries you and makes you happy.
  1. Act like a business insider. Browse the areas of interest that are of relevance to you and have a go at writing an expertise article on the domain that is closest to you.
  1. Browse a dictionary – write a new dictionary entry about a rare word and publish it on the web. As a language aficionado, I suggest that you study the etymology of the world, its pragmatics, examples of use and its frequency.
  1. Browse an encyclopedia – write a new entry on the subject that is missing. As a language enthusiast, I choose topics from the realm of linguistics, then research a problem that have not been covered by grammar books yet and write an article that suits my interests or can be useful for a wider audience, for example Foreign Language Learning population.
  1. Or write a new article for Wikipedia or other peer-reviewed websites. In this case it is very likely that your output will be criticized by native speakers and that’s an additional bonus you cannot overlook.
  1. Write a movie review you have watched recently. Give it a new twist and when focusing on the plot, give more attention to the stage directions. If in trouble, try to download the screenplay of the particular movie and discuss some of the scenes which have a complicated character. Focus on the movement, position, tone of an actor, the sound effects and lightning. Write a new narration of a scene that is interesting for you, comment on the camera angles that could have been directed differently. Contact the directors and tell them about your innovation. If lucky, you may get some useful feedback or praise.
  1. Criticize a movie that is a far cry from the Academy Awards. Examine the movie under the microscope and try to squeeze out of the movie’s flesh what is likely to be useful and what could have otherwise rendered it an art-house.
  1. Produce a short piece of writing on the smells you are feeling at this moment. As it is very likely that your writing process may span an entire day (and I encourage you to write as much as possible), you will perceive smells of the morning coffee, of the dew on the grass, your dinner spices, and that long forgotten smell from youth you remembered after you had looked at the photos from that period.
  1. Take a picture of what your pet is doing at the moment and complement it with a relevant caption. For a change, take more pictures and produce a series of slides or a Powerpoint presentation. If you are a computer geek, make a more advanced animated presentation, infographics or something of that sort. Remember to prepare enough textual information to enrich your graphics.
  1. Comment on what made you laugh today. Did you see an entertaining text on the back of someone’s car? Has your boss cracked a good joke today? Or have you recollected something funny from yesterday’s movie? Maybe a demotivator from Facebook made you chuckle. If you experienced at least one of the above, please share it with others in writing.
  1. Put your bookmarks in order, do a review of them or just skim through your bookmarks repository. Looking at your bookmarks in a casual way is like scanning the depths of your memory. And publishing your memoirs will certainly attract a few nosy readers :-).
  1. Spy on what other people are doing today. Be careful not to scare away the people you are watching furtively. Watch what the crew of workers is doing outside your house. Look carefully where your neighbour is walking today. Is the shop assistant in a good mood? What is she doing to do her job right today. Write a short text about it.
  1. Study something new or try a new experience, the more unconventional it will be, the better. Do something totally out of your professional scope. Keep a daily log of what you do. Write a short report and share it with your friends, colleagues or wider audience.
  1. Go for a walk, take pictures and make an album. To each picture write a short description or provide captions.
  1. Go for a walk around the city. Talk to 5 strangers, make sure that each person comes from a different walk of life, different background, age and sex. Take notes of what you got to know about the people. Write a report about the experiences and conclusions you have drawn from getting to know those people. Publish it and wait for comments.
  1. Plan writing a serious article – something you have always wanted to write about, pool your notes about it, read relevant articles, consult people with expertise on the subject, hold a brainstorming session on the article, sketch a writing plan for doing the final draft.
  1. Dig out your old notebooks from school or college, think how you can tap on the knowledge and experience from your past. Take notes, make a collage out of the notes, stick it on your wall or noticeboard. Take a picture of the whole thing, post it on the social media website and explain to your friends what you have produced.
  1. Short of ideas for your next blog post? Find out what you can find on the web. For example see this. Use an idea in your next post but please remember that the advice from this article is to write about what you have found. So make a meta analysis of the ideas you have made yourself familiar with and write  a short report on this.
  1. One of the new ideas that inspired me and which I remember at the time of typing this is that it is a good idea to change the mode of delivery of your ideas. One way of doing this is to fashion your written matter from a continuous script into a multimodal slides or multimedia presentation. See this for more stimulation.
  1. As a non-native speaker of English I find myself compelled to experiment with the language on the daily basis. That is why my suggestion for new inspirations in writing is to try out different ways of learning English and subsequently reporting on what you have learnt.
  1. Read as much as you can on the subject you are concerned with now. Note how others do it well. Write down every useful expression used by expert writers and try to imitate their style – it is no sin to steal a bit from the performance of giants in writing. As a foreign speaker of English your are entitled to imitate writing techniques. Just avoid the sinful “copy and paste” method and invent a new context for the application of the style you “have stolen”.

More on the acquisition of the foreign manners of language in a future article.

  1. Think of how you are going to sell yourself. You may write just for your own pleasure and without hope of your publication going viral, but if you come up with an idea to get a wide audience of viewers who may support you, comment on your work and eventually help you earn for your keep, then the better off you will be. Think about it and take meticulous notes of what comes to your mind on that issue.
  1. At the end of the day reflect on the writing process you have done today. What conclusions have you drawn, what do you plan to write the next day? Have you learned a new style by reading and then writing? How many new words or expressions have you mastered? Keep a reflective diary of your writing process.
  1. Write a letter to a friend and let them know what you have written today.
  1. Lastly, just let your imagination run riot and write away.

Collocations of “to combat writer’s block”

collocations of writeThe following are some of the collocations I’ve found on the internet when researching for my article on writer’s block. (The picture above shows collocations of “write” from Much Ado About Nothing, excerpted from a corpus of Shakespeare’s works)

You can

overcome, combat, get past, prevent, get over, counteract, counter, outsmart

your writer’s block.


You can get to know how to cure your writer’s block forever.

How to overcome a writer’s block or what happens when I don’t feel like writing.

In the following article I would like to expound 10 or 11 things that hamper my writing process and what I can do to combat them. Usually when I cannot overcome writing-related inhibitions this is what happens:

1. Sitting at the keyboard or getting things down in paper is prevented by an unidentified emotional problem.

Solution: You should take care of yourself. If possible talk to someone who has a similar problem. Confide with the people you trust and tell them about the setback. Compassionate friends will understand your situation and may give you a lot of useful advice. Moreover contact your writing buddy – he or she must have come through the same difficulty and may have a ready solution.

Quick advice (effectiveness not guaranteed :-)) : Think of something positive, don’t treat your writing as too personal.

2. Impossible to overcome anxiety and fear of writing comes just out of blue.

Recently I have heard of  graphophobia or scriptophobia, other sources tell of metrophobia. No matter whether these medical conditions are plausible, one thing is sure, writing process is complex and calls for a lot of emotional engagement, it requires a lot of mental effort – it is a complex enterprise which involves cognitive skills to verbalize in script what you have in your mind. This process comes in leaps and jumps, it is very discontinuous and disorderly and that’s why many beginning writers have a fear of it.

Solution: Why don’t you take a deep breath and look on the bright side of it, disconnect from writing whenever you come across an obstacle – walk out your dog. That’s what I have just done to encourage inspiration and come back to writing.

3. Is writing block activated? What is a writing block, anyway? How can I get past it?

Solution: Conduct a research on the Internet. Have a look at these websites: 7 Ways to Overcome Writer’s Bloc  or 27 Wacky Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

4. Every time I try to write something I am tricked not to write anything by the ubiquitous distractions, which coerce me to do something else e.g. make a cup of coffee, have a sandwich, browse a website, check my status on Facebook, chat up with a friend, text someone.

Solution: Remove all distractions, clean up your desktop, remove all unnecessary clutter, stick to the writing schedule, draw up a writing plan, stick to it and be consistent in what you do, find a writing buddy who will check on your progress.

5. Memory and concentration problems

Solution: Remember to have enough sleep, start writing early in the morning when your brain is in the writing mood; go for a walk; leave the writing place for a second, stand up and have a stretch, air your room

6. Dyslexic-like nature of writing inhibitions is favourable to inducing writing block.

If you have been self-diagnosed with dyslexia, don’t worry, there is an array of solutions. Meanwhile bear in mind the quick-fix medication provided below.

Solution: write in chunks, record all your ideas on your mobile phone, take notes wherever possible and then use them to write up your piece, have somebody to proofread your drafts.

7. Creativity problems or how to come about a new solution to scarcity of ideas in your writing.

Watch this inspirational video clip on the ingredients of creativity. More on creativity in future articles, I hope.

8. Exhaustion : after writing a short paragraph I feel as if I have ascended and descended Mount Everest at least twice.

People suffering from writing block and experiencing obstacles in writing discourage easily. After composing even a small piece of writing they feel as though they have accomplished an extraordinary thing and this brings about physical weariness. Things such as these may happen. Don’t worry – take a panoramic view of what you have in front of you and simply take a break.

 9. Irresistible urge to edit and rewrite every sentence again and again… might be a sign that you are being a perfectionist. If you experience a writer’s block, take an easy approach on your writing.

Quick advice: start with simple sentences – at the beginning moderation in all things is the best attitude.

10. Reluctance to motivate oneself by inspirational writers’ words of wisdom.

Well,  I have chosen only one writer’s words of wisdom and for the brevity of it I append it here.

“The only way to find out if you can write is to set aside a certain period of time every day and TRY … work every day and the pages will pile up.”

Judith Krantz

I hope this helps.

11. Last, but not least – do a lot of free voluntary reading

More on that in another article.