Monday, April 18, 2011

Simply Perfect

I can’t remember the last time I read a really good article on the perfect tense. Can you?  Like the subjunctive mood, the perfect tense never gets treated with the respect it deserves.  It’s time to change that.
The perfect tense has to do with verbs that represent completed action. The perfect tense may be present (“I have texted”), past or pluperfect (“I had texted”), present continuous progressive (“I have been texting”), past continuous progressive (“I had been texting”), future (“I will have texted”), or future continuous progressive (“I will have been texting”).

Some people may have been sexting, but that’s another issue.

Compared to the simple past tense, the perfect usually represents an indefinite period over which an action took place, rather than a specific instance. The simple past would be “I texted yesterday.” The perfect tenses would express that past action over a less specific period of time. The present perfect, extending into the present time, would be “I have texted” (and intend to continue doing so in the future) and the past perfect, indicating an action prior to some other action would be “I had texted” (but then I started Tweeting instead).

The future perfect refers to an event that will happen before some other future event: “I will have texted” twenty-seven people before you can stop me.

Texting does not come easily to the Bard of Buffalo Bayou (but then not much else does, either):

     Each time I text,
     I soon grow vexed
     To find I’ve Xed
     Out what comes next.

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