There is a theory that the moment, right where you are sitting now, contains everything you need to feel perfectly happy.

I don't buy it.

Sure, there's a lot of anxiety and misery that would just drain away if you take a few deep breaths, stretch, and stop demanding what you don't really need. But what if The Moment happens to contain, say, a hornet stinging you? Or the experience of conviction of sin? I don't think humans are capable of being happy all the time; it's not part of our design. In the succession of present moments, some of them are bound to be less than perfect, and the best one can do is bear legitimate suffering.
The present perfect is a verb tense that is used to describe an action or actions that have taken place at an unspecified time before the present. The present perfect is not used with definite terms like "last week" or "a year ago," but can be used with terms such as "never" and "once."

    Examples of incorrect present perfect usage:

  • I have met you last week.
  • You have sucked me off yesterday.
Notice how the definite times in the second example set cause the sentence to no longer make sense?

The present perfect is used to describe many things, notably: Even though in the present perfect the exact time of an event isn't important, it can also be used to describe something that has been happening from a point in the past until the present, such as I have had big breasts since I was fifteen and You have had to go potty since we left home.

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The Present Perfect of English is a linguistic curiosity, especially when viewed in light of equivalent tenses across other Indo-European languages. The basic meaning, independent of context, is that of an event which happened sometime in the past and continues to have present relevance. Usually, this refers to something in the recent past. In the sequence I have walked, I walked, I had walked - I have walked seems closest to the present moment. That does not apply in all contexts, however. For example, one could write an astrophysical explanation that read The Big Bang has caused the universe to expand for several billion years. This event occurred as far back in time as one could go, but it still has present relevance (the universe is still expanding). Such a meaning holds for the present perfect tenses in other languages as well.

English, however, exhibits a noteworthy difference. One cannot use a past-time adverb such as last week or a year ago with the Present Perfect in standard English. Other languages place no such limits on adverb usage with the Present Perfect. In Norwegian, it's perfectly acceptable to write such a sentence as Vi har sett dem for et øyeblikk siden, or literally We have seen them a moment ago. Another example from Finnish (care of vuo): En ole häntä nähnyt nyt tässä, literally "I have not seen him now." In this case, 'now' refers to the general now of the surrounding circumstances and not necessarily the very present moment. This applies to other languages with an equivalent present perfect tense. English's restrictions on the Present Perfect are cross-linguistically unusual.

Since past-time adverbs may not be used with the Present Perfect, one might conclude that the present perfect tense in English is not really a past tense at all, but rather a present tense referring to a past event. Basically, making the 'present relevance' aspect of the tense more important than the 'past event' aspect. Upon closer examination, however, this explanation doesn't fit the actual use of the Present Perfect. If you were to ask someone Have you seen John recently?, s/he could respond I have seen him recently, but not today. Recently is a past-time adverb, and more importantly, it is incompatible with a present tense.

So, why recently, but not yesterday? The key is that recently extends right up to the present; it is a past-time adverb with present relevance. A different answer to the same question posed above might be Yes, I've actually seen him this morning. If it was the afternoon, this sentence would not be possible (Yes, I have seen him this morning, but not since then ...?), however if it is still the morning, the past-time adverb also has present relevance. It was morning when the event occurred, and it is also morning now. So, the English Present Perfect, which refers to events in the past that have present relevance, may only be used with adverbs that also refer to the past, but have present relevance.

It would be wonderful if this neat summary covered all bases, but languages are slippery. Many dialects of English do allow exclusively past-time adverbs to be used with the Present Perfect. And what about sentences such as I've not seen him now? Now is certainly an exclusively present-time adverb, and yet that sentence does not seem entirely implausible. One might object that now in this case is a short-hand for up to now, thus incorporating a past element. That would solve the problem, but it leaves the question open as to why up to now and now are entirely separate adverbs in every other context. But these exceptions are obscure and on the borderlines of incorrect speech, occupying that fuzzy ground between the real language in its everyday use (not the written language) and idiosyncratic human errors.

With general satisfaction, one can define the English present perfect tense as a past tense indicating present relevance, restricting itself to adverbs of a similar form.

The present perfect tense in English is curious in several ways. The first is the name: it is called a "present" tense, even though it is usually used to talk about the past. It is usually contrasted with the past simple tense, not the present simple tense. There are also not always perfect rules about how to use these two tenses, and which is more "correct", instead, it is a matter of which sounds more "natural".

The present perfect is usually used to describe something in the past that still has a present result, in contrast to the simple past, which is used to describe a specific activity in the past, which may or may not be relevant to the present. The formation of the present perfect in statements is regular, with some exceptions:

I          have            ridden        a horse
Subject    auxillary verb  participle    object
The major difference in form that can happen with this is the placement of adverbial phrases between the auxillary verb and the pariciple: "I have, when the occasion has arisen, ridden a horse." In addition, in certain poetic contexts, the object can be placed between the verb and the participle. Thus Shakespeare has, in the prologue of Troilus and Cressida:
Have to the port of Athens sent their ships,
But this would obviously sound silly and pretentious for normal use.

The form of the present perfect being established, the function should be addressed. The basic function is to show a result, with the result either addressing basic qualities of experience, or the state of a current situation.

For example, simple past "I ate lunch" would be present perfect "I have eaten lunch", with the first merely describing an event, while the second is meant to convey the present state of satiety and disinterest in food. However, there is not a solid pragmatic wall between these two terms in English. Other examples of perfect forms used to describe finished actions: "He has emptied the garbage", "She has finished the test", and "We have cleaned the car". Notice that in many of the cases used to talk about present perfect, the simple past would work equally: "I scheduled a meeting" and "I have scheduled a meeting" would seem to be equivalent. The difference is, in simple past, you the event can be superseded or undone: "I scheduled a meeting, but then the room was busy", while the present perfect suggests very strongly that the result is still in effect: "I have scheduled a meeting, but then the room was busy" would sound odd to most native English speakers.

The other major usage of the present perfect is to talk about personal qualities and experiences, often in a way that is essential to the subject of the statement, such as in the example of "I have ridden a horse". In these cases, the perfect is used to describe something that has become an important part of someone's identity and experience, and is still an important part of what they might be capable of doing in the future. Although, of course, examples can be about trivial experiences as well. "She has run a marathon", "He has lived in Australia", or "They have met each other". Often, the present perfect is used to introduce an overall result, and then the past simple is used to describe specific events. "She has run marathons---she was in Boston last year, and she also ran in Chicago and Miami the year before that". While it is possible to move from the general present perfect to the specific past simple, it would sound odd the other way. Thus, in the famous Tears in the Rain monologue, the first sentence is "I have seen things you people wouldn't believe" followed by "I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark". These tenses would not have worked in the opposite order!

The usage of the present perfect can be ambiguous as to it is used, or at least it is hard to explain to non-native speakers. Compare the four following sentences:

  • "I ate lunch." Simple past: used to describe a single event in some point in the past.
  • "I have eaten lunch." Present perfect: mostly used to describe an event that is still valid in the present.
  • "I have eaten Thai food." Present perfect: used to describe an event that happened sometime in the past, that has permanently changed someone.
  • "I have eaten Thai food for lunch." Present perfect: although there is no single technical reason why this sentence couldn't be used, it sounds unusual to a native speaker, because it combines two usages of the present perfect. We would normally just say "I ate Thai food for lunch" to refer to the event, and would only use the present perfect to refer to the general experience.

Explanations of why a sentence like "I have eaten Thai food for lunch" is not quite right is one of the things that keeps me employed as an English as a Foreign Language teacher! Like many things in any language, while the grammatical form of the present perfect might be a little confusing, the pragmatics of how it sounds in different situations are truly involved!

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