Grammar Guy: A slightly more perfect present
This year has been rough, especially for the U.S. The country has been on fire, we’re dealing with a global pandemic, and both racial injustice and political unrest continue to dominate the headlines. So, my question is: was the past better, or will the future bring us brighter days?
To be honest with you, that’s above my paygrade. I can’t guarantee the quality of your past, present or future, but I can help you understand the present perfect tense.
Yes, times are tense, but learning about the present perfect tense can be fun! The present perfect is a verb tense that is used in two different ways: to indicate something has happened at a time in the unspecified past and to show something has happened in the past that continues to occur in the present. Clear as mud, right? Fine, I’ll share some examples.
The present perfect indicates something has happened at a time in the unspecified past: I’ve heard this one before. She has walked this lonely road many times. I have been to North Dakota. Byron has eaten the gas station sushi. You can see the pattern in this verb construction.
The present perfect shows something has happened in the past that continues to occur in the present: I have had a weak back for about a week back. Coronavirus has been infecting people in the U.S. all year. He has been dealing with bad breath for several decades.
As you can see, the present perfect tense uses “has” or “have” with the past participle form of a verb. The past participle of a verb typically expresses an action that has already been completed or accomplished.
So, we know the present can be tense, but can it also be perfect? I’m not great at “living in the moment;” I tend to live in my head, planning how I think things should be. Because of this, I find it difficult for the present to be perfect.
Here’s the lesson I’m going to apply from the present perfect tense: think about something in your life (that is in your control) that has happened in the past that continues to occur in the present. If this thing/person/feeling has increased the quality of your life, then you should continue and perhaps amplify it. However, if this pattern in your life makes things consistently worse, then it’s probably time to kick it to the curb. Maybe if we put things through this filter, we’ll make the present at least a little better — and slightly closer to a present perfect.
By Curtis Honeycutt Grammar Guy, national award-winning humor columnist and author, recently published “Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. First published on https://www.idahopress.com/ October 18, 2020