Many websites and books say that the present perfect is not commonly used in American English to tell about recent events.
I remember reading this in some grammar book:
The British say: "I have grown two inches."
The Americans say "I grew two inches."
What I want to say is that THIS IS NOT TRUE! Americans use the present perfect in the so-called "British sense" all the time!
To prove my point, many of my friends in French class were all of a flutter over the absence of a present perfect tense in French.
- "How do you say 'I have seen him' ?" asked a girl.
- "Er, just say 'Je l'ai vu'," replied the teacher.
- "But 'I saw him' and 'I have seen him' are different!" exclaimed the girl.
- "Yes," said the teacher, "you have the present perfect tense in English but we don't have such a tense in French."
And yes, we're in America! Surprise! We do use the present perfect and we do think it's awkward to say "I saw him" when we mean "I have seen him."
That specific example doesn't work well because it describes a PROCESS--i.e. the structure of the sentence describes a change that the subject of the sentence has undergone.
A better example would be "I've lost my mittens." Although an American COULD say this, it would feel very awkward. To a Brit, however, this would probably come out very naturally.
"I've lost my mittens" would come out very naturally, except that we don't wear mittens where I live. "I've lost all my money" is very common these days in California.
Maybe if you Californians started wearing your mittens, you naughty kittens, you'd be less likely to loose your money ... you could put it in your mittens but mind you don't be taking them off ... then you could have some pie.
I'd always suspected that it was a myth that Americans never used present perfect but is it as common as it is in Commonwealth dialects?
We definitely use it all the time, but it's probably a bit more widespread in the Commonwealth countries.
Losing money remains very common here too.
In Britain, or at least, right where I am, we're as apt to say I grew/I ate/I watched as I have grown/I have eaten/I have watched. In fact, I would be more likely to use the first because it's quicker and easier.
Does it matter if you don't use present perfect as long as it makes perfect sense?
As far as I know we can distinguish the present perfect from the simple past by this:
- The present perfect is used when talking about an event in the past with is (directly or not) connected to the present. Ex.: I haven't gone to the beach this week. (the week is not over yet and I can still go to the beach (this week)).
On the other hand, with the simple past, it has no connection with the present. Ex.: I went to the beach last week. (last week is over)
It doesn't matter either you're speaking American or British English, or does it?
- The present perfect is used when you are talking about an action in the past at an indefinite time. Ex.: I have been to Japan. (I'm not telling you when I was in Japan). But you will use the simple past if you provide the date you were in Japan. Ex.: I went to Japan in 1998. (1998 is a definite time).
- I think there may be a few more rules on this but I cannot remember now. If someone can, please help me with that.
Thank you for replying! One week of no replies, and I had to make a couple of posts myself to keep this thread from drowning. And now, suddenly, you reply en masse. Thanks a lot!
Thanks too for supporting my argument! So, it's absolutely NOT true that the British use one tense and the Americans use the other. Both use both very naturally and under the same rules (which are usually not followed).
It sounds odd to say "I ate" on its own. Wouldn't Americans say "I've eaten"?
We'd say both depending on the circumstance:
"I ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast."
"He ate all of his dinner."
"I've eaten a lot of cereal over the past year."
"Now that I have eaten my breakfast, I'm off to work."
Je l'ai vu equates to I have seen him. "Ai" is the conjugated verb of "avior" and "le(l')," which means male, him, he, etc. is put in front of "ai" to have(unlike in English, where the subject goes after the verb). "Je" means I and "vu" means seen or saw. Therefore this sentence actually equates to I've seen him.
And I, being an American, can also say that I regularly say "I've".
There are some so-called signal words that indicate the use of present perfect: e.g. ever, never, yet, already, just. I am especially intersted in "just".
Would you (as Americans) say "I've just read about it." or rather "I just read about it"?
I'd say "I just read about it."
I'm no American but I might say either depending on my meaning. I'd say "I've just read about it." if I mean that have finished reading about it only a short time ago. I might say "I just read about it." if I mean that this is the only way I found out about it, i.e. I didn't see it happen, I didn't observe the evidence, I wasn't at the trial, I didn't hear any eye-witness accounts, I didn't do the experiment, I didn't see it on TV, all I did was read about it.