Thursday, March 26, 2009

Simple Past & Present Perfect :Common Errors in the Use of These Tenses

Hello, readers!

Many ESL learners make mistakes while they use Simple Past and Ptesent Perfect . French and German learners of English are more prone to make mistakes of this kind. In their languages the verb form have+ past participle is used where native speakers of English prefer to use Simple Past. Have a look at this French sentence:

Elle est allée à l'école hier.

This sentence can be literally translated as follows: She is gone to school yesterday. This is the French way of saying :She went to school yesterday.Thus the distinction between Simple Past and Present Perfect is lost on the French ESL learners. The same is the problem with the German ESL learners, and for the same reason,too. The same verb_form performs two different functions in English and other cognate languages of EuropeThis is the crux of the problem with English tenses for most ESL learners.

Simple Past Tense and its uses

Simple Past Tense ,as the name indicates, has no auxiliary in its verb-form In negatives and questions,however, the verb-form requires the presence of the dummy auxiliary did The dummy auxiliary carries the tense ,and ,therefore, the main verb is in the base form. Example:

She went to school yesterday(affirmative statement)

Did she go to school yesterday?(question)

Please note that the dummy auxiliary did carries the tense and ,therefore, the main verb go is left undisturbed in its base form, In order to make a statement negative not is inserted between the auxiliary and the main verb. Example:

She played tennis yesterday. (affirmative statement)

She did not play tennis yesterday(negative statement)

Here too the dummy auxiliary carries the tense and the main verb is in the base form. Please note that when the contracted form n't is used, it is always attached to the auxiliary and there is no space between the auxiliary and n't .Example:

He didn't come yesterday.

Uses of Simple Past Tense

Simple Past Tense indicates an action that occurred in the past .The speaker does not want to see the action in its relation to the present. He looks upon the action as something over and done with .The pastness of the action is often clinched with a past time reference like yesterday,two days ago, last week etc.Examples:

*He came back from the States in 2002

* India became free in 1947.

* Shakespeare died in 1616.

* Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales.

Sometimes Simple Past is used to indicate a habitual action in the past .It is then equivalent to would or used to Examples:

I read a lot of books when I was young

She played tennis when she was at college

It rained heavily when we were children

Distinction between Simple Past and Present Perfect

Many an ESL learner stumbles on this distinction>.Simple Past Tense ,as I have explained , indicates an action that occurred in the past .It is over and done with! It need not affect the present state of affairs .Present Perfect ,on the contrary, indicates an action that is just over , that is to say , no much time has passed between now and the occurrence of the action. The effect of the action is felt in the present. Hence, past time references are not permitted in Present Perfect.Past time references are necessary in Simple Present Tense It puts a seal on the pastness of the action

Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post.

Thank you .

Friday, March 20, 2009

Present Perfect Continuous Tense: :Frequently Asked Questions

What is the verb-form of Present Perfect Continuous Tense?

Present Perfect Continuous is a hybrid tense in a way . It is a combination of Present Perfect and Present Continuous . Hence its verb-form is :have(has) +been + -ing form of the main verb Note that it has two auxiliaries.

Which of these two auxiliaries agrees with the subject?

There are tenses in English requiring two or more auxiliaries No matter how many auxiliaries there are in the verb_-form the first auxiliary (operator) always agrees with the subject in number and person .

What is the context in which Present Perfect Continuous is used?

* the action took place some time ago

* the action is still continuing at the time of speaking
* there is continuity in the action ,that is to say ,the action is an uninterrupted one
* the action is likely to continue

Present Perfect Continuous can be used only if all these elements are present Example:

It has been raining for three hours

The rain started three hours ago.It is still continuing. Itis a continuous rain .The rain will probably continue. Remember that the emphasis is on the continuity of the action and not on its duration or effect.

Can Present Perfect Continuous be used in any other contexts?

Yes! Sometimes this tense can be used to express the result of an action that is over now but was continuing for some time Prepositions since and for are not necessary in this context Examples:

My eyes ache . I have been reading for the exam

Do I look tired? I have been digging in the garden

In these sentences the emphasis is on the result of the action and not on its continuity

Can we use the stative verb be in this tense?

No! As be is a stative verb it does not take continuous form . English has to make do with Present Perfect in such contexts . Examples:

He has been our President for the last two years

She has been kind to me all these years

How can we ask questions using Present Perfect Continuous?

If it is a yes/no question the purpose of the questioner is to get confirmation of what he already knows. Example:

Have you been working in this company for ten years?

The structure of yes/no question follows the usual pattern -:auxiliary+subject+been+ ing-form of main verb+............. If an information question (Wh-question) is to be asked we have to use the question phrase-how long? Example:

How long has Dr.Manmohan Singh been serving as the Prime Minister of India ?

Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you

Friday, March 13, 2009

Present Perfect Tense for ESL Learners

Hello, readers!
Some people think that French and German learners of English are in a much more favored position than Indian learners of English . The reason is obvious . French and German are cognate with English . In other words English bears close similarity to German and French . But truth is sometimes stranger than fiction! . The truth here is that French and German learners of English are liable to make far more mistakes than Malayalam-speaking learners of Kerala , particularly when it comes to the use of English tenses! Present Perfect tense is a good example in point , It is true that there are corresponding verb-forms in French and German ,.The French call the tense Passé Composé .,and its usual verb-form is have+ past participle of the main verb . However, when the past participle has the force of an adjective ,the verb-form is ;is +past participle of the main verb . and the participle agrees with the subject in number and gender . But the French use their present perfect where the native speakers of English would like to use Simple Past . Besides , the French use past time reference with this tense which is not allowed in English For example

Elle est arrivée hier(this is permitted in French)

She has arrived yesterday(this is grammatically incorrect in English)

In German too this verb-form is put to applications different from those in English . Thus present perfect can be a real pitfall for French and German ESL learners! Students from Kerala who learn English from scratch make fewer mistakes in the use of English tenses!

Applications of Present Perfect

Present Perfect is used to indicate an action that is just completed . The word perfect implies that the action indicated by the verb is finished and it is not a progressive one Now a reasonable question might pop up :If the action is finished why is the tense called present perfect.?Strictly speaking, even if an action was completed a moment ago , it belongs to the past . Hence , we have got to find an answer to this question. A sensible answer would be as follows: The action belongs to the past OK, but the effect of the action belongs to the present. Thus this tense is a kind of bridge between the past and the present.There should be two actions to illustrate this tense. One action is the cause and the other the effect . The cause should be expressed in the present perfect tense and the effect can be expressed in present continuous or any other way appropriate to the context.

I am giving below a few sentences by way of illustration .Please remember that the clause representing cause is in red and the effect in blue

1 Shall I get you some tea?
No, thanks .I have had it .

2 We have won. Let us celebrate!

3You have finished your job.Now you can go home.

4. She has completed her course , so she can leave the school.

5 India is proud of him because he has won an Oscar.

6 He has completed 18 years .He is eligible to vote.

7 I have put in 10 years of service . I am now eligible for a promotion

8 Now that you have given up smoking ,your health will improve.

9 You have fully recovered..Yu can leave the hospital

10 All the guests have come .Now we can begin the party.

From the examples given you may have observed the following points:

*Present Perfect is a bridge connecting the past with the present

*The past is always a recent one .If the past is too remote the action's connection with the present would be lost .and, therefore, the use of PresentPerfect would not be justified.

* Past time references are avoided It is because Present Perfect points at present time and past time references would have a contradicting effect!

* Adverbs are placed between the auxiliary and the main verbs

Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you

Friday, March 6, 2009

English Invents Present Continuous Tense!

Hello, readers!
Present Continuous Tense is an invention of the English language! Languages closely linked to English like French or German do not have any corresponding verb-forms in their tense-systems. If the French want to emphasize the progressive aspect of a verb , they have to resort to some periphrastic devices like the construction être+en train de+ infinitive of the verb. Germans must have recourse to adverbs like at the moment or now to emphasize the continuity of an action. It is obvious that the ancestors of the French and German people did not feel strongly the need to emphasize the progressive aspects of actions. Otherwise, their languages would have come up with a solution by inventing a new tense A language always responds to needs The ancestors of the present_day English people too did not feel the need to emphasize the continuity of actions. In their language Old English there is no verb-form similar to present continuous . In some Old English texts there are constructions using the verb-form be+present participle.The present participle marker then was -ende , and it had an adjectival meaning as in Modern German. But unlike as in Modern German it could be used as a predicative adjective. Toward the end of the Middle English period-ing began to replace -ende and the way was cleared for the emergence of a new tense. It must have been a long process. I am giving the modernized version of a hypothetical Middle English sentence : The child is sleeping. This sentence cannot be accepted as a new tense-form.The present participle sleeping has a strong adjectival meaning and is is a lexical verb. This sentence had the potential to become a new tense. In course of time, present participle began to acquire the force of verbs and the verb is got relegated to the position of an auxiliary verb. I am giving modernized version of another hypothetical sentence in Middle English: The child is jumping, Jumping has the force of an action . In course of time all present participles acquired the force of verbs and the verb be increasingly lost its lexical status This is how Present Continuous Tense was born,The invention of this new tense was a giant leap forward for English in its progress towards precision and accuracy. English became capable of expressing subtle nuances of action in relation to time.

Now I will discuss a few problems that ESLlearners confront while learning Present Continuous. German and French ESL learners have no specific tense-forms in their languages corresponding to present continuous. Hence they may experience difficulty in conceptualizing it. Malayalam -speaking students may find this tense difficult on account of the presence of auxiliary in its verb-form. They expect the auxiliary to have some meaning , and when they are told that it has no meaning, they are confused. I think a knowledge of the history of this tense will enable them to understand why the auxiliary lost its meaning and it remains in the verb-form only to perform a function

The Applications of Present Continuous

Present Continuous is used to indicate an action in progress at the time of speaking . It is a foil to Simple Present. The following examples in contrasting pairs will help the learners

1. Birds fly towards their nests in the evening
birds are flying towards their nests.

2.Milk boils at 100 degree Celsius
Turn down the gas ,please. The milk is boiling over!

3It rains every day in June in Kerale
Give me ny raincoat .please. It is raining now.

4She goes to office every day.
Today she is going to her office in a new car.

5She speaks several languages.
She is speaking in French now.

Dear readers, I will continue the discussion in my next post

Thank you