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The Perfect in English Grammar

The Perfect in English Grammar

Perfects are words that express the perfect aspect including the perfect-progressive aspect. Perfects function within verb phrases functioning as predicates. Only one grammatical form can perform the function of perfect in English. The one grammatical form that can function as the perfect is the verb. Only the verb have, sometimes referred to as the perfect have, can function as a perfect.

The conjugations of the verb have are as follows:

  • Base – Simple Present – Simple Past – Present Participle – Past Participle
  • have – have, has – had – having – had

Active Present Perfect

The first use of the perfect have is within active present perfect constructions. The present perfect expresses and emphasizes a previous action or state that began in the past and continued up to the present and whose consequences have implications for the present. For example:

  • My aunt has written me a letter.
  • The visitors have arrived at the train station.
  • I have purchased some more diapers.
  • Rabbits have destroyed my garden.

Active Past Perfect

The second use of the perfect have is within active past perfect constructions. The past perfect expresses and emphasizes a previous action or state that began in the past and continued up to another point in the past and whose consequences have implications for that second point in time. For example:

  • She had just jumped in the shower when the doorbell rang.
  • Had you studied verbs before this class?
  • He had ironed his clothing before getting dressed.
  • Because we had not booked in advance, we were unable to find a hotel room.

Active Present Perfect-Progressive

The third use of the perfect have is within active present perfect-progressive constructions. The present perfect-progressive expresses and emphasizes the consequences resulting from a previous but incomplete action or state that began in the past and continues into the present but may or may not continue into the future. For example:

  • She has been baking all morning.
  • What have you been doing all day?
  • We have been waiting here for hours!
  • I have been experiencing pain in my side.

Active Past Perfect-Progressive

The fourth use of the perfect have is within active past perfect-progressive constructions. The past perfect-progressive expresses and emphasizes the consequences resulting from a previous incomplete or ongoing action or state that began in the past and continues up to a specific time. For example:

  • The teacher had been speaking when a student interrupted him.
  • Many animals had been dying until drastic measures were taken.
  • We had been sleeping when the train crashed.
  • He had been contributing to the project.

Passive Present Perfect

The fifth use of the perfect have is within passive present perfect constructions. The present perfect passive expresses and emphasizes previous actions with present implications that began in the past and continued up to the present while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • All the cookies have been eaten.
  • My homework has been turned in already.
  • Language has been studied for many years.
  • My toes have been broken many times.

Passive Past Perfect

The sixth use of the perfect have is within passive past perfect constructions. The past perfect passive expresses previous actions or states with additional past implications that began in the past and continued up to another specific point in the past while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The vase had just been knocked down when the earthquake happened.
  • Had verbs been studied before this class?
  • The tub had been cleaned before the sink.
  • Because a room had not been booked in advance, we were unable to find a hotel.

Passive Present Perfect-Progressive

The seventh use of the perfect have is within passive present perfect-progressive constructions. The present perfect-progressive passive expresses incomplete or ongoing actions or states with present implications that began in the past and that may or may not continue into the future while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • I have been being yelled at all morning.
  • The toys have been being broken by the children.
  • The pamphlets have been being printed since last night.
  • Too much pollution has been being dumped in the river.

Passive Past Perfect-Progressive

The eighth use of the perfect have is within passive past perfect-progressive constructions. The past perfect-progressive passive expresses incomplete or ongoing actions or states that began in the past until a specific point in time while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The child had been being yelled at by her mother yesterday.
  • Many animals had been being killed until the situation was addressed.
  • The cake had been being cake when the kitchen exploded.
  • Your document had been being printed just as the power went out.

The only grammatical form that can function as the perfect in the English language is the verb, specifically the verb have, or the perfect have.

Summary

Perfects in English grammar are words that express the perfect aspect.

Perfect is a grammatical function.

The grammatical form that can function as the perfect in English grammar is the verb phrase. The only auxiliary verb that can function as the perfect is the verb have.

Perfects are constituents of the verb phrase.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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