Basic qualities of the perfect forms — страница 4

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meaning of the verb; the tense category of the form, i. e. whether it is the present perfect, past perfect, or future perfect (we cannot be certain in advance that the tense relation is irrelevant here); the syntactical context, i. e. whether the perfect form is used in a simple sentence, or the main clause, or again in a subordinate clause of a complex sentence. To these should be added an extralinguistic factor, viz. (4) the situation in which the perfect form is used. Let us now consider each of these factors separately and then come to the question of their possible interaction. (1) The meaning of the verb used can affect the meaning of the perfect form in so far as the verb may denote either an action which is apt to produce an essential change in the state of the object (e.

g. He has broken the cup) or a process which can last indefinitely 1 See А. И. Смирницкий, Морфология английского языка, стр. 310. Uses of the Perfect Forms 95 without bringing about any change (e. g. He has lived in this city since 1945), etc. With the verb break, for instance, the shade of meaning would then be the result of the action (the cup is no longer a cup but a collection of fragments), whereas with the verb live no result in this exact sense can be found; we might infer a resultative meaning only in a somewhat roundabout way, by saying that he has now so many years of life in this city behind him. Thus the meaning of result, which we indeed do find in the sentence He has broken the cup, appears to be the effect of the combined

meanings of the verb as such (in whatever form) and the perfect form as such. It is quite natural that this meaning should have more than once been taken to be the meaning of the perfect category as such, which was a misconception.1 To give another example, if the verb denotes an action which brings about some new state of things, its perfect form is liable to acquire a shade of meaning which will not be found with a verb denoting an action unable to bring about a new state. We may, for instance, compare the sentences We have found the book (this implies that the book, which had been lost, is now once more in our possession) and We have searched the whole room for the book (which does not imply any new state with reference to the book). Of course many more examples of this kind

might be given. The basic requirement is clear enough: we must find the meaning of the form itself, or its invariable, and not the meaning of the form as modified or coloured by the lexical meaning of the verb. If this requirement is clearly kept in mind, many errors which have been committed in defining the meaning of the form will be avoided. (2) The possible dependence of the meaning of perfect forms on the tense category (present, past or future) is one of the most difficult problems which the theory of the perfect has had to face. It is quite natural to suppose that there ought to be an invariable meaning of the phrase "have + second participle", no matter what the tense of the verb have happens to be, and this indeed is the assumption we start from. However, it

would be dangerous to consider this hypothesis as something ascertained, without undertaking an objective investigation of all the facts which may throw some light on the problem. We may, for instance, suspect that the present perfect, which denotes "precedence to the present", i. e. to the moment of speech, may prove different from the past perfect, denoting precedence to a moment in the past, or the future perfect, denoting precedence to a moment in the future: both the past and the future are, of course, themselves related in some way to the 1 This was very aptly pointed out by Prof. G. Vorontsova in her book (p. 196), where she criticised this conception of the English perfect found in several authors. 86 The Verb: The Perfect present, which appears as the centre to

which all other moments of time are referred in some way or other. One of the chief points in this sphere is the following. If an action precedes another action, and the meaning of the verb is such a one that the action can have a distinct result, the present perfect form, together with the lexical meaning of the verb (and, we should add, possibly with some element of the context) may produce the meaning of a result to be seen at the very moment the sentence is uttered, so that the speaker can point at that result with his finger, as it were. Now with the past perfect and with the future perfect things are bound to be somewhat different. The past perfect (together with the factors mentioned above) would mean that the result was there at a certain moment in the past, so that the