Basic qualities of the perfect forms

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BASIC QUALITIES OF THE PERFECT FORMS The Modern English perfect forms have been the subject of a lengthy discussion which has not so far brought about a definite result. The difficulties inherent in these forms are plain enough and may best be illustrated by the present perfect. This form contains the present of the verb have and is called present perfect, yet it denotes an action which no longer takes place, and it is (almost always) translated into Russian by the past tense, e. g. has written — написал, has arrived — приехал, etc. The position of the perfect forms in the system of the English verb is a problem which has been treated in many different ways and has occasioned much controversy. Among the various views on the essence of the perfect forms in

Modern English the following three main trends should be mentioned: The category of perfect is a peculiar tense category, i. e. a category which should be classed in the same list as the categories "present" and "past". This view was held, for example, by O. Jespersen. 1 The category of perfect is a peculiar aspect category, i. e. one which should be given a place in the list comprising "common aspect" and "continuous aspect". This view was held by a number of scholars, including Prof. G. Vorontsova.2 Those who hold this view have expressed different opinions about the particular aspect constituting the essence of the perfect forms. It has been variously defined as "retrospective", "resultative", "successive",

etc.3 The category of perfect is neither one of tense, nor one of aspect but a specific category different from both. It should accordingly be designated by a special term and its relations to the categories of aspect and tense should be investigated. This view was expressed by Prof. A. Smirnitsky. He took the perfect to be a means of expressing the category of "time relation" (временная отнесенность).4 This wide divergence of views on the very essence of a verbal category may seem astonishing. However, its causes appear to be clear enough from the point of view of present-day linguistics. These causes fall under the following three main heads: 1 See O. Jespersen, The Philosophy of Grammar, p. 254 ff. 2 See Г. Н. Воронцова, Очерки

по грамматике английского языка, 1960. стр. 191 сл. 3 Ibid. 4 See А. И. Смирницкий. Перфект и категория временной отнесённости. Иностранные языки в школе, 1955, № 1, 2. Basic Qualities of the Perfect Forms 91 Scholars have been trying to define the basic character of this category without paying sufficient attention to the system of categories of which it is bound to make a part. As we shall see presently, considerations of the system as a whole rule out some of the proposed solutions. In seeking the meaning of the category, scholars have not always been careful to distinguish between its basic meaning (the invariable) and its modifications due to influence of context. In

seeking the basic meaning of the category, scholars have not always drawn a clear line of distinction between the meaning of the grammatical category as such and the meanings which belong to, or are influenced by, the lexical meaning of the verb (or verbs) used in one of the perfect forms. If we carefully eliminate these three sources of error and confusion we shall have a much better chance of arriving at a true and objective solution. Let us now consider the views expressed by different scholars in the order in which we mentioned them above. If we are to find out whether the perfect can be a tense category, i. e. a tense among other tenses, we must consider its relations to the tenses already established and not liable to doubts about their basic character, i. e. past, present,