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American & British English

One of the functions of the present perfect tense (“I have done”) is to say that something which happened in the past, and is now complete, has significance that stretches to the present. One simple example of this is the sentence “I have eaten a lot of food.” Here, the eating part has finished, but the point of the sentence is that the speaker is no longer hungry, or is feeling a little uncomfortable, or is worried about putting on weight, or is no longer able to eat a large meal, or is saying that they really enjoyed the meal. Note that the specific nature of the significance to the present is not explicitly stated. To simply communicate the fact of having eaten, the speaker could just say “I ate a lot of food,” using the past simple tense (“I did”).

Grammatically speaking, this also means that, when using the present perfect — when the result, and not the action itself, is the important thing — we should not use a specific time reference such as “yesterday” or “an hour ago.” Again, this is where the simple past is used: “I ate a lot of food yesterday.”

The above apply to both American and British English. However, the present perfect is used much more regularly in British English; the use of the simple past is commonly used to communicate this function of the present perfect in American English.

That is, an exchange in British English might go:

“Have you registered to vote yet?”

“Yes, I registered last week.”

In American English, the same exchange might be:

“Did you register to vote yet?”

“Yes, I registered last week.”

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

現在完成式(例如「I have done」,我已經完成)的功能之一,是表示過去發生的事,現在已經完成,有從過去延伸到現在的意涵,例如「I have eaten a lot of food」(我已經吃了很多東西)這個簡單的句子。此處「吃」這個動作已經完成,但這句話的目的是表示說這話的人已經不餓了,或感覺有點不舒服,或擔心體重增加,或沒辦法多吃,或表示這頓飯吃得很開心。請注意,雖然此例句的過去完成式賦予它這些言外之意,但這句話字面上並未明確表達這些意義。若單純只是要表達已經吃過飯這個事實,只要說「I ate a lot of food」(我吃了很多食物)就可以了,所用的是簡單過去式(I did)。

就文法而言,這也表示我們不應把「yesterday」或「an hour ago」等時間參照用在現在完成式,因為現在完成式的重點是結果,而不是動作本身。時間參照是像這樣用在簡單過去式的句子:「I ate a lot of food yesterday」(我昨天吃了很多食物)。



「Have you registered to vote yet?」(你登記投票了嗎?)

「Yes, I registered last week.」(對,我上週登記了。)


「Did you register to vote yet?」(你登記投票了嗎?)

「Yes, I registered last week.」(對,我上週登記了。)


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