Life into language: living in the present perfect

One of the things I like best about English is its present perfect. It looks quite common, as many other languages have the same structure, have + Ved to talk about a past event. If we think about it, even the form is interesting: although you’re talking about the past, there is a grammar word that is in the present: have. So you can see this tense as a bridge between the past and the present. When you have done something, you have that something, because it is already completed or fulfilled.

But it’s precisely this fine implication of the form that lends the verb tense its special meaning in English. In English, and only in English, this is not just a way to talk about the  past. It’s not a past like any other. It’s a past that includes your present. A past that defines you. A cumulative experience that is integrated in your Now.

Let’s take an institution and think about its history. There will be milestones in that history which are significant today. Think of the EU and the euro. Of the history of the organisation you work for. Of the history of your country. Which moments would you say continue to be important nowadays? What progress do you feel can be recorded if you compare today with the past? The EU fiscal policy has divided people in different European countries. The Euro has brought some countries huge commercial advantages. My country has been influenced by the French culture. 

Think more broadly about life 50 years ago and life today. Link the past and the present and say:

In the past people used to work in one place all their lives (past), but now we change jobs and employers very often (present). Career has become more important and more a matter of choice for us to make. (past-present bridge).

Our grandmothers used to work their whole lives in the kitchen (past), but now women are involved in all professions (present). The mentality of the society has changed a great deal (past-present bridge).

Now think of yourself in the past 5, 10, 20 etc years, or over your whole life. What experience did you go through that will stay with you forever? How have you changed over years, what have you learnt? How has your lifestyle changed? It could be things like:

I have worked in many large companies / in some NGO-s / for myself etc all my life / in the last 10 years etc.

I have become more patient / more flexible / more open etc

I have learnt that…. / I have learnt to….

I have cried at a film, I have been on that mountain top, I have met so many interesting people in my life, I have…

And now why do I like the Present Perfect so much? Because it forces you to think beyond grammar; it makes you ask yourself the question what is really past, and what is really present, how important is that past to me and how important is it to the person I’m talking to? Where does the past end, where does the present begin? It makes you think of  who you are, of what defines you, what stories and experiences in your life are still with you. It makes you think of what BEING is and what BECOMING is. Of how the present is being created by the past, and ultimately of how your present is generating your future.

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