Death and Americans: present perfect simple, part II

Soooo I promised you a part two to my present perfect simple blog post. Here it is, but you’re going to have to work for it. Look at these sentences:

  1. Queen Elizabeth the second is a wonderful leader.
  2. She has been an inspiration to the people of Britain for many years.
  3. She lived in Buckingham Palace in London.

So, everything OK here? Of course not! Number three is wrong. The Queen hasn’t moved house or sold up to go and live in the Bahamas. She lives in Buckingham Palace. It should be present, not past. What about here?

  1. Genghis Khan is a terrible leader
  2. He has caused many deaths across Asia.
  3. He was the first emperor of the Mongol Empire

Yes, you may think I’m going crazy here but: Number one? No no no, thankfully the “is” here is wrong. Genghis Khan was a terrible leader. It’s obvious! He’s not rampaging around these days. We have other things to worry about. What about number two? Trust me, number two is just as silly as number one! As soon as we use present perfect “has caused” we are saying the time period, his life, is still going on. With Queen Liz the second that’s fine. She is Queen now, so you can use has been when talking about achievements in her life like, “she has been an inspiration” because her life is in the present.

Genghis Khan is dead. This Emperor is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘he’s expired and gone to meet his maker! Hes a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! He’s off the twig! ‘He’s kicked the bucket, he’s shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-EMPEROR!! So his life is finished. Finished time, past simple not present perfect. Easy as that.

Many learners of English don’t understand the true scale of this kind of present perfect / simple past mistake. You just don’t talk about dead people’s lives using the present perfect. As soon as you say, “Elvis has sold a lot of records” your listener will think “Eh, Elvis back from the dead? I always knew he was chilling on the beach in Goa all this time.” “Elvis sold a lot of records” is the right grammar here.

So, that was death, how about the Americans?

Last week I said the present perfect simple has two different uses:

  1. To say “how long” something has happened for, (Something that starts in the past and continues to the present) for example: “I have lived in Zürich for 12 years”.
  2. To show off, for example: “We have made new jobs”, “I’ve broken my leg” or “I’ve written my tenth blog post.”

For use number two, Americans sometimes use the past simple when they consider the action to be finished. In order to make this past tense seem more recent they often add words such as “already”, “just” and “yet”.

For example an American might say: “Mom, I brushed my teeth already!” or “Did you put the trash out yet?” or “I just did my homework. Can I go play basketball with my homies?”.

Whereas a Brit would say: “Mother dearest, I have brushed my teeth!” or “Have you put the rubbish out (yet)?” or “I‘ve (just) done my homework. Can I go and play cricket with my chums?”

Americans do use present perfect like the British, like Trump in last week’s blog post, but they have this second option to use the past simple.

A short one this week! I’m gathering up strength for the present perfect continuous next week. I’ve been meaning to write that one for a long time! So be lovely to one another, have fun and see you then.

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