Perfect Tense and Aspect

Marie-Eve Ritz

in The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195381979
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Perfect Tense and Aspect

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Semantics



In English and several other European languages, the perfect tense is a complex morpho-syntactic construction made of an auxiliary (“have,” “be”) followed by a past participle, as in “Jamie has eaten all the chocolate biscuits.” The auxiliary appears in the past, present, and future tenses, thus creating past, present, and future perfects. The perfect has been a problematic category for scholars across time due to the multiplicity of its meanings/uses within a given language and to the variation in meanings/uses of what has been labeled “perfect” across languages. In an attempt to provide a clearer understanding of this complex semantic category, this article looks at theories of the perfect, focusing on its semantics and pragmatics. It also discusses whether the perfect is a tense, an aspect, or both; how pragmatic factors and discourse relations affect the use of the perfect; and concludes by examining the place of the perfect in a tense/aspect system more generally, focusing on how it relates to categories such as resultatives and the simple past tense, as well as to habituals and prospectives.

Keywords: perfect tense; aspect; semantics; pragmatics; European languages; discourse relations; resultatives; simple past tense; habituals; prospectives

Article.  12644 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Semantics

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