GRAMMAR NOTES-15

Tense-aspect forms. I came across two interesting cases of Indefinite (Simple) tenses being used. The so-called “historical” Present Indefinite is combined in the same sentence with the Past Indefinite: When I go to 50, I felt it was time for a change. A more natural way of presenting the same information would have been: Now, when I’m going to 50, I feel it is time for a change. However, it looks quite reasonable that the speaker emphasized a longer and more stable duration of  his advancement in years by using the Present Indefinite (I go…), at the same time remembering some fact of the past and using the Past Indefinite to convey it (I felt…).

Of late linguists start speaking about the “polite” Past Indefinite (used instead of the neutral Present Indefinite in questions): How much (milk) did you want today? (a talk between a salesman and a buyer). Did you think it is a good idea? Did you hope he is a reliable partner?

The old form of the Perfect Tense with the auxiliary to be is acceptable in the phrases of the type: Their enthusiasm is gone, I’m done (= I have finished), Are you finished with the dishes?

A learner of English should be careful while identifying the word recently (which is usually a marker of the Perfect tense). If the word means from some time in the past until now, the Perfect tense is used. However, when the meaning is some time ago, one should use the Past Indefinite. The same concerns other markers of the Perfect tenses: lately, ever, never. Cf. Have you ever talked with the boss? (the addressee keeps working at this company), and Did you ever talk with the boss? (the addressee was once working at a company and is now asked about his previous communication with the boss of that company).

In British English the usage of the Perfect tenses in the constructions to be the (first, second) …+ (that) + Clause and to be + adjective in the superlative degree + Clause is a norm. E.g. This is the first time (that) I’ve been here. OR: He was the most middle-class person (that) I have known.

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