I would like to know some of the best books (or other accessible materials) out there with a thorough treatment of English tenses and in particular the perfect state. The book should be accessible to advanced learners* of English language.

I've found @StoneyB's article of great help, but I would like to check out more. I like/am interested in the descriptive approaches to English grammar. The following quote from StoneyB's article caught my attention:

Recent studies look at how rather than what the perfect means and suggest that meaning is not expressed by perfect constructions but inferred by hearers/readers from both the prior eventuality introduced and the larger discourse context.


  • Re:@Jim's comment below, advanced learners = with a CEFR C2-level.
  • 1
    Describe what you mean by "advanced learners" One might argue that native speakers getting their PhD in English are "advanced learners" of English.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 17:57
  • With a CEFR C2-level in mind.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


A good starting point is Laura Michaelis' chapter on “Time and Tense” in Bas Aarts and April McMahon, eds., The Handbook of English Linguistics, Oxford, 2006. The chapter is available online here.

It should be noted, however, that technical treatments of this sort are way beyond what any ‘Master’ of the language, in the sense described at your link, is likely to be aware of. Language is ‘mastered’ by a thorough grasp not of theoria but of praxis, and even the profound and fascinating insights into language and usage which contemporary linguistics offers are, from a practical standpoint, merely ‘maxims’, understood only by those who have already achieved mastery:

Maxims are rules, the correct application of which is part of the art which they govern. The true maxims of golfing or of poetry increase our insight into golfing or poetry and may even give valuable guidance to golfers and poets; but these maxims would instantly condemn themselves to absurdity if they tried to replace the golfer's skill or the poet’s art. Maxims cannot be understood, still less applied by anyone not already possessing a good practical knowledge of the art. They derive their interest from our appreciation of the art and cannot themselves either replace or establish that appreciation.
                                                  — Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge

  • It's only a matter of time* before I get the hang of it. I believe that I have the tools, and more or less know the way to get there. * You use the theory, kept in mind, as you practice. Your article has some terms and pointers I was looking for.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 20:06
  • One more thing, I may not have achieved the mastery in the language yet, but I have enough learning experience to appreciate and value your advice on praxis [& on sounding natural].
    – learner
    Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 20:41
  • 1
    @learner That much is pretty clear from your writing here, which is irreproachable. Commented Dec 28, 2013 at 21:00

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .