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"SIMPLE PRESENT EXPRESSES HABIT"

In the beginning of learning English tense, we students in young days had to accept the injudicious process to fill in the 'right' tense:
Ex: Tommy (go) to school every day.
== Even on internet, today one can easily find many such exercises to help children to understand the first step of English tense.
In school, teacher will help students a bit, I am sure. "Do you see the meaning of a habit here? Yes? Good. So we fill in Simple Present, because Simple Present expresses habit." And students will do it accordingly. They usually don't ask much.

But I don't know about Adult Education about English. I estimate an adult would have enough common sense to ask, “if from the sentence I have already seen the meaning of habit, why shall we redundantly use Simple Present to say it again?”

The adult is right in hitting the point. It is redundant to use Simple Present to repeat what has been already implied by the sentence. As most learners don't know, this is the first step to error. To be worse, after the adult has to accept the idea of using Simple Present to express habit, in later days she or he will totally forget that, at the very first, we have understood Habit based on the sentence, rather than on the tense. In all discussions over internet, people completely ignore the role of sentence, as we discuss the tense. I have always pointed out and proven that, as we think we talk about the meaning of a tense, we are actually discussing the meaning of the sentence.

TS
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Comments  (Page 3) 
There are candid teachers who have admitted tenses are difficult to explain.

Before internet, I had to ask about tenses in letters. I didn't trust English grammars anymore after I had recognized that they all had hidden away past time adverbials for Present Perfect, and then concluded the tense doesn't stay with past time adverbials. I had to ask EFL professors, as I thought they must have known something about the tense. Perhaps in a way of answering my questions, they posted me an old issue of ELT Journal, published by Oxford University Press in association with The British Council, October 1984. In the Journal there is a comment in which P.S. Tregidgo asked to people "How far have we got with the Present Perfect?" He challenged both the conventional and advanced theories of explanation. Actually, for course, there is no only one tense he was talking about. Then it reinforced my suspicion that people use tenses very well, but don't know how to explain why we use them.

Even today on internet, we may still find frustrated teachers confess the tense is difficult and ask for help. There are intensive comments about tenses in the following pages:
http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/pp1_sarn.htm
http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/pp2_sarn.htm
http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/pp3_sarn.htm
http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/pp4_sarn.htm
Anyone who wants to know more about tenses shall take a look at them.
I have long noticed a kind of tense-changing process: telling the time frame of an action will have to change its tense. If on one-sentence basis, the stand-alone meanings of Simple Past, Present Perfect, and Simple Present are no more than the following four simple rules:

(a) Simple Present action indicates a present action (=continuity):
Ex: I live in Hong Kong.
(b) Present Perfect action indicates a past action (=finish):
Ex: I have lived in Japan.

BUT: If we state a time frame, tenses have to be changed:
(c) Present Perfect action indicates a present action (=continuity):
Ex: I have lived in HK since 2000/in the past three years.
(d) Simple Past action indicates a past action (=finish):
Ex: I lived in Japan in 1976/five years ago.

These few rules seem simple, but they can cover all the patterns of the three tenses. Conceptually, they are far better than all the things grammar writers have ever written about tenses, for they will avoid the unavoidable family of "in the past three years" and we don't. Though I agree they can see many more details from the sentence that carries the tense, but these details have actually nothing to do with the tense itself. So far, people have had no objections whatsoever to these four simple points for the three tenses.
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Not all kinds of time adverbials call for the tense-changing process. We may have to put them into three categories, and only Definite Past Time Adverbials, which I simply dub as 'Frame', can do so:

(a) Definite Past Time Adverbials, or Emotion: time FRAME, are such as: "in the past few/four/ten years, in 1920, since 1920, in recent years, for many years, for the past few months, during last few weeks, two weeks ago, yesterday, last week/year, when I first saw him," etc.
Characteristic: They refer to both a past and a date.

(b) Indefinite Past Time Adverbials are "in the past, before, previously, earlier, long (for a long time), recently, lately, already, yet, and just. Also, time clauses showing indefinite past are also included here (e.g. when I have seen him)." They are indefinite because they don't refer to a date, even though they educe the sense of pastness.
Characteristic: They refer to a past but not a date.

(c) Indefinite Time Adverbs: They confuse people by being able to stay together with any tense. They therefore have a difference from the adverbials denoting past time. They are "every day/month/year, now, up to now, nowadays, still, today, this morning/week/month, these days/years, often, always," etc.
Characteristic: They refer to a date but not a past.

The three kinds of adverbials each have different functions, so that we may see the difference between the puzzling similarity in:
ExA: I have worked here in the past. (= A finish)
ExB: I have worked here in the past two years. (= A continuity)
== ExB can be explained as "I work here", but because of mentioning of a time Frame, we have to use Present Perfect to say a present action.
So far, no one has disagreed with me to my divisions of the time adverbials.
The difference in use between Simple Past and Present Perfect has always been a noted and puzzling question. I have explored this problem for decades and found no learners who can really tell the two apart.

Actually, since tenses are used to show the time connections, or disconnections, between actions in paragraph, these two tenses cannot be discriminated on one-sentence basis. Using paragraph, however, we may now give conclusive answer to the nuance between them. There is a time for Simple Past and a time for Present Perfect:
Ex: "Last week we went to a new store department. We BOUGHT many things. We HAVE RECOMMENDED it to Ms B."
== Simple Past BOUGHT indicates it happens at the same past time of the former past frame "last week". Present Perfect HAVE RECOMMENDED happens clearly behind "last week". Additionally, it is therefore not wholly correct for grammars to say commonly that Present Perfect happens in an indefinite time. As here, we definitely know when it happens.

So far, no one has disagreed with me about my way of telling the difference between the two tenses.
Miriam, your explanations were really great, thank you very much!

This turns out to be a quite interesting thread...

TS, I can understand your problems with the correct usage, especially the ones you mentioned in your last few postings. You've mentioned a very interesting aspect here, one that I always have to struggle with: The correct usage of simple past or present perfect tense.
It might be that native speakers of English as well as native speakers of Romanian languages can very well distinguish between all these tenses as there are so many in their languages.
English e.g. has 13 tenses as far as I've learnt and Romanian ones have just as many, maybe even more - some language history might help here:

Germanic languages used to have just 2 tenses (the present-tense and the non-present-tense = past tense).

Everything was expressed by these two tenses - even for future, e.g., the present tense was used.
Especially Latin and later on also French influenced the Germanic languages very much and the difficult tense-system was therefore also introduced into Germanic languages such as English and German. Now these languages had to fight with the correct use of different tenses, in English, this system had been very well established (6 tenses + their 6 progressive forms + going-to-future = 13 tenses!), native speakers are quite familiar with the correct usage of most of these tenses.

It's a bit more difficult in German as this "standardized" paradigm (6 standard tenses actually, no progressive forms in standard, but up to 6 progressive tenses, as in English, in colloquial language, esp. in the north, but usually not used in written German though). The German language never really acclimatized with this Latin paradigm of tenses as rules for a standardized language did not exist until 1901.
People today still use the present tense mainly for not only habitual activities, but also for activities that happen at the moment. It is also the preferred tense to express future-activities, substitutionally for the actual, standardized future-tense.
It's quite interesting with simple past, present perfect and also past perfect:
The standardized rules say btw nearly the same as they also do for the equivalent tenses in English, but the past perfect hardly ever occurs, and simple past and present perfect are often used interchangeable.
For typical situations that need to have the simple past in English e.g. people in south Germany usually use the simple past tense, too while people in the north use the present perfect unless the standard rules say that only simple past is correct.

This is the reason why people here have severe problems with the correct usage of simple past and present perfect, it's hard to distinguish between them because it wouldn't make any difference here no matter what tense you picked...

I don't know how tense-paradigms work in other languages, e.g. non-Germanic or non-Romanian languages - Mike_in_Japan, what's it like in Japanese? Or is anyone here who speaks a Slavonian language, or what about Chinese, Arabic, etc...
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Hi Pem, Mirriam and TS,
There are really only two tenses in Japanese, past and present - BUT conjugation is a nightmare!
Those interested may like to follow this link;
http://www.mindspring.com/~kimall/Japanese/verbs1.html
Cheers
I want to put a few points here:
-- I am the first one who has explained the difference in use between Simple Past and Present Perfect, without objections or disagreements from readers. But actually I want to be challenged so that I can fortify my opinion with discussion.
-- Moderators should have checked my IP and know where I have come from. I come visit various forums with no evil intenteion. I didn't throw personal attack to anyone here. If there is, please quote and I will apologize.
-- Tenses are used to tell the time relations between happenings, so that to explain one tense, we have to provide at least two sentences/tenses, so that we may form a comparison.

You wrote:
> English e.g. has 13 tenses as far as I've learnt and Romanian ones
> have just as many, maybe even more...
>
My reply: I am interested more in the present situation than history. The problem really is, we have only three kinds of time: past, present, and future, but many kinds of tenses. Then how can we stuff so many kinds of tenses to just three kinds of time? Have you thought about it?

If we couldn't stuff too many kinds of tenses into three kinds of time, we have to pretend that some kinds of tenses are used to express Meanings, like Habit. However, as nothing can escape from time, every Meaning in turn will have to express past, present, and future. For example, Habit will in turn be future habit, present habit and past habit. That is to say, any Meaning at last will bring us back to past, present, and future. Therefore, the question to a Meaning still is, how can we stuff so many kinds of tenses into just three kinds of time?

Yes, knowing this vicious circle, some grammarians now have decided to use some vague terms, such as remoteness or immediacy, to explain tenses. Even the author himself claims the terms don't have a clear definition (as in M. Lewis' "The English Verb"). The whole thing, to me, obviously, is to protect teachers from further asking from students. In the area of tenses, experts have done too many concealment. I promise that, if they can define clearly remoteness or immediacy, these terms still have their past, present, and future.
THE EMBARRASSMENT OF DEFINITE PAST TIME ADVERBIALS (DPTA)

Most grammar books will remind you of the 'Golden Rule': Present Perfect doesn't stay with past time expressions, such as "yesterday, in 1993, last week," etc.

However, as they know by heart they are hiding away many past time adverbials like "in the past *** years" (see above "The Past Family"), they would not tell you clearly how to define Definite Past Time Adverbial (DPTA). Defining DPTA to students is showing the weakest point for students to pinpoint the error in the 'Golden Rule'. Therefore, in an area where grammar writers can spend a lot of time in collecting data easily, they tell us the least of the fact. What a shame. Any of us will meet past time adverbials much more than any grammar book can possibly show you. Most of us don't even know why.

We discover and remember what DPTAs are totally by ourselves in observing what usual writers use to connect to Simple Past. We didn't acquire them through reasonable descriptions from any grammar book. Even with searching machines on internet, we cannot find its solid definitions. The best result we can get is something like ".....Definite Past Time Adverbials such as yesterday, in 1993, last week, etc." It is true and really surprising. Have you ever seen in any grammar the contrast between Specific Past Time and Unspecific Past Time? How did they say?

I am not complaining grammar writers haven't made a comprehensive collection of DPTA. I am pointing out they haven't started the first step to define them. As students inevitably have to use the Past Family (such as "in the past *** years") to express, defining DPTA correctly and clearly is encouraging them to ask why the Past Family can stay with Present Perfect. This will instantly kill the only and the last rule in English tense: Present Perfect doesn't stay with past time adverbials.
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Because of my four simple rules mentioned before, I know that Present Perfect comes from Simple Present, and Simple Past comes from Present Perfect. In other words, Present Perfect not only has a confusion with Simple Past, but also a confusion with Simple Present. The latter is known to few persons.

A reader once read:
One thought I've had about the simple present is that we should think about it as timeless. The simple present does not so much refer to a particular time frame as it really refers to a statement of fact:
Ex1: Napoleon is a historical figure.
Ex2: The Earth is about 4 billion years old.
Ex3: London is the capital of the United Kingdom.
Ex4: Des Moines, Iowa is not the capital of the USA.

My reply:
My promise is here: Whatever you say to Simple Present can be said word for word again to Present Perfect.

First of all, rather than timeless, Simple Present refers to a lot of time frame:
Ex: Her wife lives in her mother's house today/ this week/ this month/ these days/ these months, etc.

Secondly, please understand Present Perfect can always repeat the same thing simple present expresses:
Ex1a: Napoleon is a historical figure.
Ex1b: Napoleon has been a historical figure in the past two centuries.

Ex2a: The Earth is about 4 billion years old.
Ex2b: The Earth has been about 4 billion years old since it was formed.

Ex3a: London is the capital of the United Kingdom.
Ex3b: London has been the capital of the United Kingdom for many centuries.

Ex4a: Des Moines, Iowa is not the capital of the USA.
Ex4b: Des Moines, Iowa has not been the capital of the USA even since the independence.

Comment: I just tell the time frame of the Simple Present action, and we have to use another tense. Please be informed that telling the time will not change the fact a little bit. (It is as same as telling the age of a man will not change the man a bit.) They are the same actions, either in Simple Present or Present Perfect.
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