Please look at the following emphasized sentence taken from the news Curfew without end.

Neither of these — the government’s curfew and restrictions, or the protest programmes of the secessionist leadership — is new to Kashmir. We have seen them in 2008 and then again in 2010.

Shouldn't that part be like this?

We saw them in 2008 and then again in 2010.

Because 2008 and 2010 are over, we can't use present perfect here. Am I right?

Could the following be right?

We have seen them before, we saw them in 2008 and then again in 2010.

Is this the right way to use it?

  • 1
    The years 2008 and 2010 are over, but the events (i.e. government-imposed curfews, etc.) are still continuing. Your final sentence could be shortened, avoiding the repetition of "seen" ... "saw": We have seen them before, in 2008 and [then] again in 2010.
    – alephzero
    Sep 5, 2016 at 21:07

2 Answers 2


The basic 'rule' is that a present perfect cannot be modified by a temporal expression which does not include the present (let's call this an NPT for 'non-present temporal'). Under this 'rule' you are quite correct in thinking that the sentence would be better expressed with a past:

We saw them in 2008 and then again in 2010.

There are, however, two situations in which an NPT is acceptable:

  • The one which is operative in your example is situations in which the temporal lies outside the clause syntactically, as a 'parenthetical' or supplement—something added to the clause. In these cases the supplement is conventionally 'bracketed off' with punctuation. Your sentence would be entirely acceptable if it were pointed this way:

    We have seen them: in 2008, and then again in 2010.

  • The other is situations in which the NPT does not locate the prior action but expresses a circumstance which occurred at the same time as the prior action. Jim Reynolds raised an example in Chat last week:

    Have you visited Vermont when the trees were flowering?

    Here when the trees were flowering really does not modify the entire present construction have visited, like this (for simplicity I've 'translated' it into declarative voice):
       enter image description here

    It is rather understood as modifying only the VP which is the complement of the perfect auxiliary 'have', like this:
       enter image description here

    In effect, it asks "Does visiting-Vermont-when-the-trees-were-flowering lie within your memory?"

  • Yes. I suppose that the idea is there in the instant example: These things are not new. They have been going on. We've seen them in 2008 and 2010, and we'll probably see more. So what's expressed conceptually feels ok or ok-ish to me. My I've lived here in year1 and there in year2 isn't something I'd say, I think. So, in a gray zone? Sep 5, 2016 at 19:11
  • The OP's example being more okayish, and mine quite less? Sep 5, 2016 at 19:12
  • It's happened time and time again. It's happened last year. It's happened in March. It's happened just last week. What makes you think it's been extinguished? Seems natural to me. Sep 5, 2016 at 19:20
  • @JimReynolds There's no temporal location in time and time again or your extinguished sentence, and in March is fine if parsed as "in some March or another"; but I wouldn't say last year or just last week without at least comma intonation. Sep 5, 2016 at 21:46
  • I sense that your phrasing implying it's not entirely acceptable may be the best. Some speakers would avoid the use cited by the OP, most careful such probably. The choice may be made differently in Indian SE. I dunno. Sep 6, 2016 at 4:08

The present perfect may be acceptable to some speakers of Standard English as it is used here, but not to others.

We very commonly use the present perfect to talk about finished past events that happened in a longer timeframe conceptualized as continuing into the present (this longer timeframe may be only implied): For example, those things might happen again in the future, or the consequences of those events may be in operation now or particularly relevant now.

We also often use the present perfect when something has been repeated, especially if it is seen as possibly or likely or certainly to repeat in the future.

The example text falls into a gray zone because the idea that the referenced events are placed in a continuing time context comes from outside the sentence.

British English practically demands the use of the present perfect in some cases where American English is more permissive in allowing either the present perfect or the simple past tense.

  • is it okay to use present perfect with a time that is clearly over? In this case 2008 and 2010 are clearly over. Shouldn't simple past have been used in the above emphasized sentence?
    – Policewala
    Sep 5, 2016 at 18:43
  • It's ok. I have lived in California and in New York. Both in the past. But I might live in more places in the present and future. You are probably confused because when we specify a "precise" past time, we often must use the simple past: I lived in Paris in 1990. Not * have lived. However: I have lived in so many places. I have lived in Paris in 1995 and in Spain in 1996, and in Moscow for a summer in 1999. That's ok. Sep 5, 2016 at 18:53
  • Oops. I just saw StoneyB's more detailed and technical correct answer. I'll leave mine just because it may be easier for some learners to understand, although it's inferior! Sep 5, 2016 at 19:02
  • As a native speaker (English!), the phrases sound awkward to me. I don't know where you heard that "British" English "demands" the use of the present perfect in a case like this? I'd say closer to the opposite. Sep 5, 2016 at 20:00
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit You're ignoring his qualifier practically. I would have equivocated even further, but his point is well taken that NAmE is less ... what, expectant? ... of the present perfect than BrE in constructions like this one. (For some reason, no one points out that "We have seen them in 2008..." is a peculiarly InE way of phrasing that thought, particularly in journalese) Sep 5, 2016 at 21:38

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