# How to determine time intervals?

When something happens in past and still has relevance in the present, we usually express it with the present perfect. But actually this doesn't tell us when exactly the action happened, it may have happened recently or earlier. So sometimes it's hard for me to determine the time interval of the sentence as sometimes the intervals are not salient enough and actually I'm not native speaker. Examples : - We are at a party and my friend says to us "I've prepared a great program for today's party " so what's the interval and why didn't he use past simple? - I was at my friend's house and he was showing me his new picture, he said "Look, I've painted a new picture". So I don't know when he did paint the picture so how can I determine the interval?

• -1. It is not clear to me what you are asking. The examples you give do not allow the time interval to be determined. Are you asking what tense you could use to indicate what the interval is? Perhaps you could give literal translation of an example from your native language? Sep 11, 2017 at 16:10
• What @sammy said. At most, English tenses can imply whether things happened / are happening / will happen before, at the same time as, or after some other "reference" time (usually, now). Nothing about tense choices really carries any information about "time interval". When your friend says I've (I have) prepared a great program, he's simply using Present Perfect to emphasise relevance to time of utterance - what he's done is important to you now, because you're about to experience the benefits of his (past) efforts. Sep 11, 2017 at 16:13
• I'm asking about the relation between time intervals and the present perfect
– Abc
Sep 11, 2017 at 16:16
• Sorry, still not clear to me. You are just repeating what you have already said. Sep 11, 2017 at 16:38
• I'm going to try and clear up why people aren't understanding your question. In particular, with the last quote "Look, I've painted a new picture" you state that you don't know when he painted the picture. As a native English speaker, all the information about time included in that sentence is "Before now". If you are struggling to figure out "How long ago" from the given information, it's because English doesn't indicate the time interval through a grammar structure. Sep 11, 2017 at 19:46

In English, we don't have distinct tenses for "long ago" or "recently" or "soon" or similar periods. We do have tenses for "completed in the past" and "begun in the past and continuing" and "beginning now" and similar.

The only way to express the time intervals you are asking about is through a more detailed narrative, and the only way to infer it is through context.

• You're talking about the action or intervals ?
– Abc
Sep 11, 2017 at 17:00
• Relative intervals during which actions started/continued/stopped.
– Davo
Sep 12, 2017 at 14:21

If the person does not specify the time interval, it's usually not important. Example:

The chef has prepared a wonderful dinner for us this evening

It doesn't matter whether the chef cooked the dinner this morning or last week or just now. The point is that it's been prepared, and we get to eat it.

Sometimes you can assume a time interval from context:

Shh, don't wake up the chef. He has been cooking all night.

From context the most obvious explanation is that it's now morning, and the chef was cooking the previous night. But this is more about logic than grammar.

• But the first example says this evening so it means the dinner's been cooked at some time this evening
– Abc
Sep 11, 2017 at 16:30
• @Abc No. Well, yes maybe, but in this context "this evening" refers to the dinner itself, not when it was prepared. Sep 11, 2017 at 16:33
• When the time is supplied by an adverbial (this evening), you don't need to use the perfect (retrospective) aspect -- the simple past will work as well. Without the adverbial, the simple past could apply to some previous meal, so the present perfect narrows down the time.
– amI
Sep 11, 2017 at 21:10
• @amI I can't say whether that's true or not but the way servers actually say it is the form Andrew has used here... "has prepared". Sep 13, 2017 at 4:05
• @Catija Yes, in the absence of anything to the contrary, "this evening" refers to when the dinner is to be eaten, not when it was prepared. You can remove it from the sentence without significantly changing the meaning (since, presumably, the diners already know it's evening). Sep 13, 2017 at 5:29

For these examples:

- We are at a party and my friend says to us "I've prepared a great program [at some point in a past which is not specified by him or relevant] for today's party".

- I was at my friend's house and he was showing me his new picture, he said "Look, I've painted a new picture" [at some time in the past, where the exact time such as last week or yesterday is irrelevant].

The way to think about this here is to think of what is called: the time of speaking. In these two cases, the speakers wanted to indicate the past but did not want to indicate a specific moment in the past. It was not relevant to them at the time they spoke in the present. Had it been relevant, they would have used it.

Could the speakers have used simple past? Answer: Yes. It they had wanted to.

Have I explained this succinctly? [in the past right before this] I hope so. I tried to explain it clearly and succinctly [just a minute ago].

Handy reference pattern:

- Have you been swimming at the beach**? [specific time not important; the speaker just means in the past, so PP is used

Yes, I have. - When did you go swimming at the beach?

I went last week. [SP, specific time].

• So the moment of speaking is always a part of interval?
– Abc
Sep 11, 2017 at 16:47
• @Abc Think of a timeline, with past, time of speaking [the present], and the future as blocks of time, but not intervals. Intervals is confusing. Sep 11, 2017 at 17:09