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Present Perfect Tense usually represents Use 1: Actions which started in the past and are still continuing Use 2: Actions which happened at some unknown time in the past:

1. Let’s see the Use 1. Actions which started in the past and are still continuing. I think “Continuing” here means the action is still going on “now”. But does “now” refer to the action is still going on at the moment of speaking? Or in general, like an action happens recently. E.g. She says:" have looked for you for a long time. / I have been looking for you for a long time.” It means She looked for someone before, and she is still looking for someone at the moment of speaking OR maybe she is not looking for someone when she is speaking, but she looks for him recently, from Monday to today. Maybe she doesn’t look for him every day, but at least she doesn’t stop to find someone. It still happens.

2. Here is a problem that happenens usually in our life: Marry hasn’t been to school for a week. Today, she goes to the school. She sees her teacher. The teacher says: I haven’t seen you for a long time. Now comes to a question: I haven’t seen you for a long time. According to the Use 1, that sentence should mean I didn’t see you before, and I still don’t see you now. But in fact, the teacher sees Marry now, so she should say: I didn’t see you for a long time. This kind of problem happens all the time. But I just think it’s not right to use the present perfect tense in those cases.

3. What does “I haven’t eaten chicken” mean? It means I didn’t eat chicken before. Or I didn’t eat chicken before, and I am still not eating chicken now?



I just found it was so tricky to figure out the meaning of a sentence in present perfect tense. It’s like why this sentence means the Use 1 not Use 2 if no distinctive modifiers (like “for”, “since”) in the sentence. I really hope you can tell the method to figure out the Uses of sentences in present perfect tense. Thanks a lot.
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Comments  (Page 2) 
As my question before: Could a sentence in the present perfect tense has different meanings under different contexts? I don't really think so. Because when a person says: I have eaten a chicken. Even though you don't have context, you will think that it means he already ate it (Use 2) right away. That sentence has only this one meaning. You will not think that it means he ate it, and he is still eating it (Use 1). Then If he gives you a context, I think the context would also let you feel that it means He already ate it. If not, then you must feel so weird that this person expressed wrongly. Hope you can give me your thoughts. THanks.
Could a sentence in the present perfect tense has have different meanings under in different contexts?
Yes, but the present perfect tense should not be singled out for having this property. There are thousands and thousands of structures in every language which change meaning with a change of context.

I have lived in Baltimore.

a) I have lived in Baltimore my entire life. I will probably live here forever.
b) I have lived in Baltimore, but I live in Santa Fe now.
c) I have lived in Baltimore for two weeks. I have just moved here.
d) I have lived in Baltimore before, and I would live in Baltimore again.

I have been shot.

a) Have you been involved in any serious accidents? Well, I have been shot. It was a hunting accident. I recovered completely in a few weeks.
b) I have been shot! Call an ambulance immediately!

Judy has written a letter to the president.

a) Have you ever written a letter to a government official? No, but Judy has written a letter to the president.
b) Judy has been angry about this for months. So Judy has written a letter to the president. She's going to mail it this afternoon.

Have you had a cold?

a) Of course I've had a cold. Everybody has had a cold at some point in their lives!
b) No. I've been absent because I went on vacation.

The "experiential" use is characterized by a time period in the past when the action took place. The time period does not continue into the present. It is also usually seen with "ever (before)" or "never (before)". Have you ever ...? at any time before now is often implied.

The "just completed" use is characterized by action which has just happened a moment ago or which has just come to an end. It is often seen with "just". With actions which are short and quick, the action may have happened very recently: I have just been shot. With actions which are inherently more lengthy and slow, the action may occur over a longer period of time: I have just spoken with my boss. only a short time ago is often implied.

Note that it is nearly impossible to find an isolated, unmodified, ambiguous sentence in a real conversation. There are always other words which clarify the meaning. And there is always a topic of conversation and a context of the conversation to guide you in interpreting the meaning. (Exercises in finding several possible meanings of the same isolated sentence are of extremely limited value to students.)

CJ
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CalifJimJudy has written a letter to the president.

a) Have you ever written a letter to a government official? No, but Judy has written a letter to the president.

Have you had a cold?

a) Of course I've had a cold. Everybody has had a cold at some point in their lives!

The "experiential" use is characterized by a time period in the past when the action took place. The time period does not continue into the present. It is also usually seen with "ever (before)" or "never (before)". Have you ever ...? at any time before now is often implied.

Hi, CJ. As you said "Have you ever..." usually implied that at any time before now? So here i get an example for you: let's suppose that i am making a phone call to a person, and she asks me:" have you ever smoked", and i admit that i never smoked before, but how about i am smoking right now-- while i am making phone, i am smoking. So can i reply :YES ? But if the sentence "have you ever..." means at any time before the moment of speaking, then i have to say: NO? BTW, Does "Have you had a cold" mean "Have you ever had a cold"?

THen you said a sentence could have different meanings in the different context. I also got a question for you: Would you say: "I have never been to England." when you are now in ENgland? I think if you really think a sentence could have different meanings in different context, then you would say that. {My english teacher has the same thought as yours, so he told me you could say that when you are now in England} But however, some native speakers told me that you could say that sentence only when you are not in England now, and you didn't go to England in the past,either. So you need to say :"I have never been to England BEFORE." when you are now in England. {I still think there are several TYPICAL sentences having only one meaning in many native speakers' minds: e.g. I have eaten chicken. (Most people agree that it means I ate chicken. But in your opinion that a sentence can have different meanings in different context, then if you can't add any modifier in it, could you still let this sentence has another meaning by changing the context or whatever you want?)}

Thanks.
MIA6Does "Have you had a cold" mean "Have you ever had a cold"?
No, IMO.

Say you're saying:
Have you just/recently had a cold?
means in the immediate time leading to now/today, in the preceding days.

Qualifiers such as just, ever, etc, are very important in timing the sequence of events and clarifying the context.

BTW,
Have you had a cold?
isn't clear enough to my taste, and if I understand it correctly, CJ's not liking it either.

Hi,

Have you had a cold?

This is perfectly normal English. CJ's point is that different meanings arise from different contexts.

My colleague is away from work for three days, and then returns. I say 'Hi, Fred, nice to see you back. Have you had a cold?'

Fred is not likely to reply, 'Well, I had one last year, and another one three years ago.'

Best wishes, Clive
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You are splitting hairs.

If you are asked Have you ever smoked? while you are having the first cigarette of your life, you would not probably answer "Yes" or "No". The most likely answer in this most unlikely situation is Not until now. I'm having my first cigarette as we speak!. If you interpret have smoked as have finished at least one cigarette, then you may truthfully say "No". If you interpret have smoked as have inhaled some smoke from at least one cigarette, then you may truthfully say "Yes". In either case, you are just being coy.
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No. Have you had a cold? does not mean Have you ever had a cold? In the right context, albeit rare, the version without ever can imply ever, but the two don't, strictly speaking, mean the same thing.
A better example might have been Have you had measles? My point was that such a sentence can mean one thing in a health-care setting where a medical assistant is taking down the history of your health (ever had), and it can mean something else in a work setting where you have been absent for a week and return with a few spots remaining on your face (just recently had). It was an attempt to find an example of a sentence with a present perfect tense which has two different interpretations -- exactly the challenge you laid down, if I understood you correctly.
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I would not say I have never been to England if I were in England at the time for the first time. I could say it, but I wouldn't. Part of the unspoken agreement in conversation is to communicate clearly, and not to put the burden of disambiguation on your conversation partner. I try not to say ambiguous, confusing things if possible. I would say I have never been to England before or This is my first trip to England.
What native speakers are telling you already takes into account this conversation bargain, so they are not answering exactly the question of whether I have never been to England could be said and be understood in that situation; they are answering the question of whether that sentence could be said with maximum efficiency and clarity of communication within that context. In that way, they are completely correct. It does not say all it could in that context. It leaves your conversation partner to work out exactly what you mean, i.e., never before.

CJ