Chapter 6. We can choose our paths about time

There are no universal rules for choosing between the Present Perfect and the Past Simple. We need to resolve on our own, how we view time and developments. Let us compare examples.


We have visualized the Simple and the Perfect, with mapping values {ON} and {TO} (Chapter 4).


1. Jill left a few minutes ago. {ON, the PAST}, Past Simple

1a. Jill has just left. {TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect


It is not only visualization to help learn. We also can think in situations.

We can imagine a small office. A man is entering it. Let us say 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? Could we fancy raindrops on the windowsill?

Could this be Jim?

Jim happy no backgr


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 can use a dictionary to find at least five words about Jim and Jin.




Grammar is not only about making PRESENT, PAST, or FUTURE patterns. It is about language skill altogether. We need to work with words, read and write. There is no language without words (!)




Could this be Jin?


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


1. Jill left a few minutes ago.

1a. Jill has just left.


In both cases, she could mean the same Jill leaving the office at the same time. How do we tell the difference?


Expression 1, “Jill left a few minutes ago”, places Jill’s departure in the PAST.

Expression 1a, “Jill has just left, connects Jill’s departure with the PRESENT.


Importantly, Jin could choose her way to speak about the same fact, Jill’s leaving the office, which she could link to Jill’s being in the building or not.


We do not always need meditation, to make language choices.


Jin also could say,

1b. She left a few minutes ago ― what a pity you did not come a little earlier. Probably she has gone out of the building by now.
(Jill’s presence belongs with the PAST.)


Alternately, Jin could say,

1c. Jill has just left ― why don’t you ask at the front desk, she still may be somewhere around.
(Jill’s presence belongs with the PRESENT; she might be in the building.)


Does Jin perceive time divergently in expressions 1 and 1a? Let us consider a concept of a time frame. We may think about a famous American park, Yellowstone.


The Steamboat geyser in Yellowstone National Park


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 asks if we have visited the park ever in our lives.




The open time frame also can embrace some PAST. 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 belongs entirely with the PAST. It is closed.




The PAST does not have to be distant, or — whatsoever — irrelevant. If we look to standard American English usage, we could tell the difference is “only in closing the frame”. The clock might be showing the same hour, and the matter might be important.




Then, the matter with the frame has to be cognitive. First, we may need some “ground in time”, to use the closed, Past Simple frame. In conversations, people naturally seek a ground in common. We can name it a cognitive ground. We can envision our cognitive ground as a surface. This is how we could imagine our talk before 2a:


Cognitive grounds


2b. Have you met your Yellowstone friend?

2c. He moved to Treasure ― yes.


Yellowstone and Treasure are neighboring American counties. Our friend introduces a PAST reference in time. We can try the same cognitive ground. We may ask,

2d. Did you go to the park?


Our cognitive grounds also can be our notional grounds. 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. We could consider saying,


2e. Did you go to Yellowstone National Park, when you met your friend?


However, when we know our cognitive or notional ground, we would be more likely to hear or say 2d. Example 2e would have linguistic redundancy, that is, it would say needlessly. After all, making a conversation is about having something to talk over, not about saying as many words as possible.


There would be theories that American English “generally is getting rid of the Perfect tenses; they are much less in use in American than in British”. Let us reflect on the language information for what we say.





What is language information? When we speak a language, our contexts and circumstances, along with our memories and personalities, can make entire scopes of language features or elements come together as in information pools.


We can seek to draw conclusions from natural language learning. Children produce forms such as “no John”, or “no gone”. Children could be pooling language information for this.



Childhood language variables do not all go obsolete with maturation. It might be even impossible to learn advanced language structures without the cognitive basics. The star symbol below can denote information pools. We can think about the symbol as showing various language features and elements pooling together.






Let us return to our office conversation. Importantly, an American really could say in the context,


2. Jill just left.
(This is what Jin actually tells Jim.)


The word “just” effectively marks the recency. There is no language information missing from example 2, when we compare it with example 1a.


1a. Jill has just left.


Further, 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.
__Smiley PNG




What if Jin only would be telling that Jill just left, knowing that Jill is still in the office? Could we think about language information, if Jin would be lying about Jill?


Let us reckon on truth conditions. For example, many people know and believe that water boils at about 100 degrees Celsius, 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or 373 Kelvin. There could be circumstances on Earth or in the outer space in which this would not be true, however.



We do not need to travel the outer space to learn American, but we are free to imagine even miscellaneous worlds.


Astronaut and the truth

Saying, “At 100 centigrades”, could be the truth when telling how to set a kitchen oven. It could be a lie on a spaceship or another planet (!)


Someone saying that water always boils at the temperatures quoted above might not have enough knowledge of the world to tell other circumstances. He or she would not be lying. Telling a lie takes the intention to deceive.


Similarly, someone saying that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius may be unfamiliar with Fahrenheit or Kelvin. Finally, it can be redundant to mention all known circumstances to include the outer space, to speak about an everyday kitchen oven.


Please mind that Americans use the Fahrenheit scale to tell temperatures. If an American says that our temperature is 100 degrees, it does not mean that we are boiling. In Fahrenheit, normal body temperature is about 97 to 99 degrees.


The Fahrenheit scale tells the freezing point of water as 32 degrees, and the boiling point as 212 degrees at one atmosphere of pressure.




If someone has all the necessary knowledge and consciously lies, it is not equivalent to grammar error. Whether someone lies or tells the truth, he or she needs to use the language information that allows grammar and linguistic structures. Grammatical incorrectness does not rule out the truth. Someone could be a beginner and tell the truth or lie, same as an advanced language learner.


Let us think about a few examples for language information.


Could we imagine a jealous husband?




3. Where have you been?

{TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
PRESENT Perfect Progressive arrow cue OPEN real-time frame


3a. I‘ve been to the movies.

{TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
PRESENT Perfect Progressive arrow cue OPEN real-time frame


3b. Did you enjoy it?

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple
PAST arrow CLOSED real-time frame


The wife could say, especially if she does not want to answer too many questions,


3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple


We do not have to look suggestive of portraits to tell the truth.


The wife could be preparing a surprise birthday party for her husband. She could be lying about the cinema. The husband does not know it. Still, they would use their language knowledge to progress into a closed time frame.


3b. Did you enjoy it?

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple


3c. Actually, I didn’t like it much.

{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple


Conversations need cognitive grounds in common.


Cognitively, we do not always rely on clocks and watches. We can gain our cognitive ground in time when we speak about place.




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.



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.


4. Have you had breakfast?
{TO, the PRESENT}, Present Perfect
(We are still at the motel. The motel belongs with the PRESENT)
PRESENT Perfect Progressive arrow cue OPEN real-time frame


4a. Did you have breakfast?
{ON, the PAST}, Past Simple
(We are out in the open. The morning in the motel belongs with the PAST)
PAST arrow CLOSED real-time frame


Obviously, time is good when telling the time, too.




4. Have you had breakfast?
(It is morning, still; the time frame is open.)

Real time open frame



4a. Did you have breakfast?
(It is afternoon; the time frame is closed.)

Real time closed frame


Naturally, we cannot require a timetable to speak American. Choosing our time frame, we can think about effects of something. We also may highlight our regards.




5. He has met Jim’s little cousin.
(He can tell the kid is very curious about the world; we are highlighting the personal impression.)

Real time open frame


5a. He met Jim’s little cousin last summer.
(It was when he last went to visit Jim; we are highlighting the time.)

Real time closed frame




Our language information does not belong with information technology. Computers do not originate speech. Computers do not produce novel speech. No computer could do our human thing: begin, learn, and think on our indeterminate.


Feel welcome to some reasoning on our linguistic gravity.
6.1. The time frame and the cognitive ground

6.1. The time frame and the cognitive ground



Feel welcome to comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s