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The category of perfect


§ 13. The category of perfect is as fundamental to the English verb as the categories of tense and aspect, whereas it is quite alien to the Russian verb.

The category of perfect is constituted by the opposition of the perfect to the non-perfect.

The perfect forms denote action preceding certain moments of time in the present, past or future. The non-perfect forms denote actions belonging to certain moments of time in the present, past or future.

To see the difference between the two categories compare the following pairs of sentences containing non-perfect and perfect forms:


Perfect Non-perfect
I have seen the film, and I think it is dull. At last you are here! I ’ve been waiting for you so long! She had left by the 2nd of September. She had been sleeping for half an hour when the telephone woke her up. I shall have returned before you get the supper ready. I see you are tired. Whom are you waiting for?   She left on the 2nd of September. When the fire began, everybody was sleeping.   I shall return at 10.


§ 14. The perfect forms belong either to the continuous or to the common aspect and as such they have specific semantic characteristics of either one or of the other. Thus the perfect continuous forms denote continuous actions taking place during a definite period of time preceding the present moment or some moment of time in the past or future. The moment of time in question may be either excluded or included in the period of time of the action, as in the following:


Don’t wake her up, she has only been sleeping for half an hour. (She is still sleeping at the moment of speaking.) I’ve woken her up, she has been sleeping ever since dinner. (She is not sleeping at the moment of speaking.)
She had been living in St.-Petersburg for 10 years when we met. (She was still living there at that moment of past time.) They had been living in St.-Petersburg for 10 years when they moved to N. (They were not living in St.- Petersburg any longer at that moment of past time.)
He will have been working here for 20 years next autumn. (He will still be working here at that moment of the future.) He will have been working there for 5 years before he returns to our institute. (He will not already be working there any longer at that moment of the future.)


The perfect forms of the common aspect are devoid of any specific aspect characteristics and acquire them only from the lexical meaning of the verb or out of the context in which they are used. Thus terminative verbs in the perfect forms of the common aspect express completeness of the action:


She had shut the window and was going to sleep.


The completed actions expressed by such forms may be momentary or iterative, as in:


He had stumbled and fallen down before I could support him. He had stumbled and fallen down on his knees several times before he reached the bushes.


Non-terminative verbs may express both completed and incompleted actions:


She had spoken to all of them before she came to any conclusion.(поговорила) I have known him all my life. (знаю)  


They may also express iterative or durative actions:


He had lived in many little towns before he settled in St.-Petersburg. She had lived here since the war.


Thus the difference between the perfect and the perfect continuous forms is similar to the difference between the indefinite and the continuous non-perfect forms.

Before passing on to a thorough study of all verb forms in detail it should be clearly understood that every one of them is a bearer of three grammatical categories, those of tense, perfect, and aspect, that is every form shows whether the action refers to the present, the past, the future or the future viewed from the past; whether it belongs to a certain moment of time within each of these time-divisions or precedes that moment, and whether it is treated as continuous or not.


Table I

Tense, aspect and perfect forms of the English verbs


Tense   Perfect Aspect Non-Perfect   Perfect  
Present   Common Takes   Has taken
Continuous   Is taking Has been taking  
Past   Common Took   Had taken  
Continuous   was taking   had been taking  
Future   Common   will take   will have taken  
Continuous   will be taking   will have been taking  
Future in the Past   Common   would take   would have taken  
Continuous   would be taking   would have been taking  


Thus each tense is represented by four verb forms involving such categories as aspect and perfect. There are


four present tense forms:

the present indefinite (the simple present)

the present continuous

the present perfect

the present perfect continuous


four past tense forms:

the past indefinite (the simple past)

the past continuous

the past perfect

the past perfect continuous


four future tense forms:

the future indefinite (the simple future)

the future continuous

the future perfect

the future perfect continuous


four future in-the-past tenses:

the future in-the-past indefinite (the simple future-in-the-past)

the future in-the-past continuous

the future in-the-past perfect

the future in-the-past perfect continuous.


Present tenses


§ 15. All the present tenses (The present indefinite, the present continuous, the present perfect, the present perfect continuous) refer the actions they denote to the present, that is to, the time of speaking. The difference between them lies in the way they express the categories of aspect and perfect.



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