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 .

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