CHAPTER 6. WE CAN CHOOSE OUR PATHS ABOUT TIME

POL

There are no universal principles for choosing between the Present Perfect and the Past Simple. We may learn many classic rules, yet the truth is going to be that we need own resolves, in context.

Imagination can help shape language skill that works also in real-life situations. Let us imagine a small office. A man is entering it. His name is Jim. He is asking about a woman who works there.

Real-life, we would notice some characteristics and qualities about Jim. Is he in a hurry? Is he anxious or relaxed? What is his manner of speaking ― fast, swift, steady?

We probably would perceive the time of day and the weather. Is it morning or afternoon? Is it warm and sunshiny, or cold and somber? Would we fancy a few raindrops on the windowsill?

Could this be Jim?

PICTURE: JIM SMILES

We may visualize the person in the office. Let us say she is a woman and her name is Jin. How could we describe her? We might use a dictionary to find at least five words about Jim and Jin.

PICTURE: JIN ON HER BREAK

Could this be Jin on her break?

Jim is looking for Jill. He meets Jin. He asks her about Jill (sound-alike and look-alike names really happen). Jin could say,

1. Jill left a few minutes ago;
or,
1a. Jill has just left.

We pictured the Simple and the Perfect with mapping values {ON} and {TO} in Chapter 4.

1. Jill left a few minutes ago;
{ON a PAST ground in time};
GRAMMATICAL LABEL: Past Simple.

1a. Jill has just left;
{TO the PRESENT ground in time};
GRAMMATICAL LABEL: Present Perfect.

Importantly, Jin could choose her way to speak about the same fact, Jill’s leaving the office, let us say, at 5 p.m. sharp. Still, we do not always need meditation, to make language choices.
Joke emoticon
PICTURE: MEDITATION

Let us consider an idea as a time frame. We may think about a famous American park, Yellowstone.
2. Have you ever been in Yellowstone?
2a. Did you go to Yellowstone?

The time frame in example 2 is open. It embraces time to the PRESENT. The question is if we have visited the park ever in our lives.
PICTURE: REAL-TIME OPEN FRAME

We could imagine a 50-year-old man asked if he has ever been in Yellowstone. The time frame would embrace 50 years of his life (!)

In example 2a, the time frame for the Simple Past is closed on a reference to the PAST.
PICTURE: REAL-TIME CLOSED FRAME

The PAST does not have to be distant, or — whatsoever — irrelevant. We close the frame, when we have the cognitive ground for it.

In conversations, people usually seek a cognitive ground in common. This is how we could imagine our talk before 2a:
2b. Have you met your Yellowstone friend?
2c. He moved to Treasure ― yes.

Yellowstone and Treasure are neighboring American counties. Our friend closes the frame on a PAST ground. We can try the same cognitive ground. We may ask,
2d. Did you go to the park?

A cognitive ground also can be a notional ground. A notion may be a thought or a word. A notional ground is not any surface actually to stand on, but we can take stands ― express our views and opinions ― using our cognitive or notional grounds.

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Theories happen, that American English “is getting rid of” the Perfect tenses, and people use them much less in American than in British. Let us think about the cognitive ground and the time frame together. Could we imagine a brother waiting to take his sister to a meeting?

PICTURE: A JEALOUS MAN
Joke emoticon

3. Where have you been?
{TO the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
PICTURE: THE PRESENT PERFECT ARROW CUE

3a. Hey, I’m back on time. I’ve been to the movies.
{TO the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
PICTURE: THE PRESENT PERFECT ARROW CUE

3b. Did you enjoy it?
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple
PICTURE: THE PAST ARROW CUE AND A CLOSED REAL-TIME FRAME

The sister might say, especially if she does not want to answer too many questions,
3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple

Naturally, we do not have to look suggestive of portraits to tell the truth.
PICTURE: A WOMAN'S PORTRAIT
Joke emoticon

The sister could be preparing a surprise birthday party for her brother. She could be lying about the cinema. The brother does not know it. Still, they would progress into the same closed time frame: they know they are speaking about the same time span.
3b. Did you enjoy it?
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple
3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple

We do not always rely on clocks and watches, using our cognitive grounds. Let us imagine we are on a countryside vacation. We are staying at a motel. For a few days, we have our breakfast at the motel, before we go hiking.

PICTURE: ROUTE 66 ROAD SIGN

We may know U.S. Route 66 as the Will Rogers Highway, or the Main Street of America. Part the original highway is now a National Scenic Byway. Will Rogers was a famous American media personality of the 1920s and 1930s.

PICTURE: THE PRESENT PERFECT ARROW CUE AND AN OPEN TIME FRAME
4. Have you had breakfast?
{TO the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
(We are still at the motel. The motel belongs with the PRESENT).

PICTURE: THE PAST ARROW CUE AND A CLOSED REAL-TIME FRAME
4a. Did you have breakfast?
{ON the PAST ground}, Past Simple
(We are out in the open. The morning in the motel belongs with the PAST).

Obviously, time is good to reckon on time, too.
PICTURE: BEFORE A TIME
PICTURE: REAL-TIME OPEN FRAME
4. Have you had breakfast?
(It is morning, still; the time frame is open.)

PICTURE: FOUR O'CLOCK
PICTURE: REAL-TIME CLOSED FRAME
4a. Did you have breakfast?
(It is afternoon; the time frame is closed.)

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Let us return to our office conversation. Importantly, an American really could say in the context,
2. Jill just left.
(This is what our Jin tells Jim.)

The word “just” effectively marks the recency. We are not missing out on grammar or information, if we compare 1a:
1a. Jill has just left.

However, asking questions in Perfect tenses ― as “Have you ever been in Yellowstone?” ― is natural in American. It is not true that American is the kind of English to delete the Perfect Aspect.
Emoticon, a smile

Feel welcome to some more reasoning on the linguistic time frame: 6.1. LINGUISTIC GRAVITATION

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Poetry by Emily Dickinson:
Life | Love | Nature | Time and Eternity.

Notes for Emily Dickinson’s poetry | Fascicles and print, the poetic correlative with Webster 1828, Latin and Greek inspiration, an Aristotelian motif: Things perpetual — these are not in time, but in eternity. More→