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There's a sentence in The Edict of Nantes (English version) starting like this:

We have, by this perpetual and irrevocable edict, established and proclaimed and do establish and proclaim:...

What confuses me is the combination use of the present perfect tense and the present tense:

We have established and do establish...

For I know, the present perfect tense means "the action continues to date". So I have no idea why it makes sense to add the present tense like this. Is it necessary in completing the meaning of the sentence?(If so, what does it mean?) Or is it used for emphasis?

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    The original was written in French, not English.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 13:53
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    It is formulaic legalese: the proclamation has effected what it says it is doing. It is analogous to a sign prohibiting hunting which says "POSTED: NO HUNTING". The sign has been posted and says so itself.
    – TimR
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 14:03
  • Ironically, the Edict of Nantes was revoked 87 years after it was promulgated. So much for "perpetual and irrevocable".
    – Jasper
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 0:46

1 Answer 1

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The simple answer is that legal language like this is often formulaic, in that it follows certain prescribed patterns, which are often very different from how English is commonly spoken. It is often formal, repetitive, dense and often hard to understand, especially for people who are not familiar with the language.

In this case the edict has some redundancy to make sure that there is no room for misinterpretation; however the "do establish" implies more the English quirk of using the present tense to indicate future events. "We do establish" means "we establish for now and the foreseeable future" (that some thing is true).

Also as Tᴚoɯɐuo mentions, the original was written in French, not English, so this is perhaps an accommodation to mirror in English what could be written in French as a single phrase, or to match certain similar formulaic legal patterns in French. It may sound strange in English, but there is no real harm in being thorough.

As another example, the preamble to the North American Free Trade agreement, signed in 1993:

The Government of Canada, the Government of the United Mexican States and the Government of the United States of America, resolved to:

STRENGTHEN the special bonds of friendship and cooperation among their nations;

CONTRIBUTE to the harmonious development and expansion of world trade and provide a catalyst to broader international cooperation;

CREATE an expanded and secure market for the goods and services produced in their territories;

etc.

All present tense verbs in a past context ("the three nations resolved"), although the present perfect would have been fine ("the three nations have resolved").

(Edit). Whoops. As tenebris2020 points out, these are all tenseless infinitives, not present tense verbs. So let's look further into the text of the treaty:

The Parties to this Agreement, consistent with Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, hereby establish a free trade area.

The Parties affirm their existing rights and obligations with respect to each other under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and other agreements to which such Parties are party.

However, much of the document is written using "shall" to form the future tense, with the additional nuance of obligation. I expect the use of one or the other has subtle legal connotations, but I'm not experienced enough with this kind of language to know what those are.

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  • It's new to me that present tense can be used to imply future events in some ways. Thanks a lot!
    – user32250
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 9:29
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    @user32250 For example, "She goes to work every day at 7" implies not only what she does today, but also tomorrow and every future day that she has work. Of course nothing is forever so it suggests that this is how it is normally, until things inevitably change. Using the future tense always gives at least a small suggestion of uncertainty, as if it might be that way in the future, but we don't really know. So in the context of some legal documents the future tense sounds weak and indecisive, and the present tense bold and certain.
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 14:45
  • Consider the text of the preamble (opening statement) of the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1993: The Government of Canada, the Government of the United Mexican States and the Government of the United States of America, resolved to: STRENGTHEN ... CONTRIBUTE ... CREATE ... etc., all present-tense verbs.
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 14:49
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    @Andrew They are infinitives here, not present tense. Infinitive is a tenseless form. "Resolved to"
    – user68912
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 15:11
  • @tenebris2020 Well, shoot. I need a better example then.
    – Andrew
    Commented Feb 22, 2018 at 15:19

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