Community Web Version Now Available
Aven
Does 'present perfect simple' mean the action has been completely finished?

I was reading Cambridge English Grammar in use, in page 20, I saw an example:

She has painted the ceiling.

The explanation says, the important thing is that sth has been finished,' has painted' is a completed action.

But in page 26, there's an another example:

My sister is a writer. She has written many books.

The explanation says she still writes books.

So these two differnt views confused me; in the second example, what's the important thing is the action, writing the book is finished, then how can we know she's still writing, she might stop writing now.

This question is solved, since the sister's a writer, so she will continue writing.

Apr 4, 2018 6:37 PM
5
0

There is a difference in the facts and the present perfect is used in both types of situations.

In the first, once you have painted the ceiling, the action is finished and you can't paint it any more.
The ceiling may have been finished in the past, and not necessarily just finished, close to or in the present.  You could use the past simple instead ("I painted").  However, the choice to use the present perfect here is because either it has just finished and/or my perspective is the present - I am looking at the ceiling now and I can see a result of a past action.

In the second, once you have completed writing many books, you can still be a writer and still write more books in the present or future.  The situation is a result of an action that started in the past and continued to the present (I have written many books SO FAR).

April 4, 2018

Tom:  I painted it last Friday.

Notice that the present perfect tense would be completely wrong here, because you are giving a specific time in the past that something happened, and that time is now over.

I have painted it last Friday. = WRONG!

The other sentence is the same idea.

My sister has written many books.

Timeline:

Last Friday:  She wrote 3 books.

Last Saturday: She wrote 5 books.

Tom:  Has your sister written many books?

Percy:  Yes, she has.  She has written many books.  (And we don't care when it happened.  As of right now, the books are in print.) (present perfect tense)

Tom:  When did she write them?  (past tense because he is asking about a specific time in the past that is now over.)

Percy:  She wrote them last Friday and Saturday. (Past tense because he mentioned the time in the past that is now over.)

She has written them last Friday and Saturday. = WRONG!

In the future, , Tom might paint the same wall again, and Percy's sister might write more books, but we do not care.  That is not what we are talking about.

Note to German learners:

In German, you can actually say Ich habe ihn gestern gesehen and it is actually correct.  Not in English!

April 4, 2018

The present perfect tense is telling you that, at this present moment in time, something has already happened.You can have the same event, and you can describe it with two entirely different tenses.  The only difference is the way you are thinking about the event.

Let's make a timeline to show what I mean:

Last Friday:  Tom painted the wall.

Right now, at this present moment:  Percy is talking with Tom at the grocery store.

Percy:  Hi, Tom!  How's it going?  Have you painted your wall yet?  (Percy uses the present perfect tense because he wants to know what the condition of the wall is as of this very moment in time.  He does not care about when exactly in the past Tom actually painted the wall.)

Tom:  Yes I have.  I have painted the wall. (Once again, it is in the present perfect tense because as of this very moment, the wall has been painted.  It does not matter that it happened last Friday.)

Percy:  That's great, Tom!  I am so happy for you!  When did you paint the wall?  (Now Percy is asking about the specific day in the past that it actually happened.  If you mention the specific time in the past that it actually happened, you can not use the present perfect tense.  You have to use the past tense.)

continued...

April 4, 2018

To be honest, I don't know why you're confused.

My sister is a writer. She has written many books.

Yes, she still writes books. She is a writer. Perhaps she has been a writer for fifteen years. However, the "many books" are all complete.

If she stopped her writing career at some point in the past, then you put all the sentences in past tense.

April 4, 2018
Good point, it is a very tricky question and I've been speaking english all my life but I guess I still can get mixed up. To be honest they are both in the present perfect simple and for the second one you don't know whether she is still writing books or not you have to be told. I don't know if I manged to explain to you well if not let me know!
April 4, 2018
Aven
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, German
Learning Language
English, German