Consider this example

Having switched off the lights, I went to bed.

It implies that I went to bed after I had switched off the lights. The action of switching off the lights happened prior to going to bed, which was in the past. Although I understand Perfect aspect of participles, I don't quite get why they are "Present" if they represent action occurred in the past prior to another action?

Also, is this sentence correct?

Having switched off the lights, I go to bed.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. The lights are now off. Thus the action is 'present'. It affects the present state of affairs. The activity started in the past but continues into the present. Both sentences are correct, depending on context. – user63615 Sep 15 '18 at 12:06
  • @NigelJ I think that you actually don't know whether the lights are now off. This story could happen 5 years ago. Since then these lights may have been switched on and off million times. And so there is no connection to the present( – efimovdk Sep 16 '18 at 8:23
  • @NigelJ Or wait. I think that I was wrong. Indeed. If it is Present Perfect Participle, then it implies that the action that happened in the past has consequences in present, meaning that the lights are off. So theoretically it can be a story that is 5 years old, but it is very unlikely since by using Present Perfect we underline that the results of this action are related to present. – efimovdk Sep 16 '18 at 12:59

We often call the -ing form a "present" participle and the -en/-ed form a "past" participle; but these are very misleading terms.

The combination of the -ing form of HAVE and the -ed form of SWITCH does not create either a "present" or a "past" perfect. Present Perfect and Past Perfect require that HAVE be cast in a finite (tensed) form, but having is a nonfinite form which has no tense; having done X is a Participial Perfect whose temporal reference is determined by the context in which in it appears.

In the case of your examples, for instance, Having done X is a subordinate clause whose temporal reference is determined by the tense of the verb in the main clause. That's why both of your examples are acceptable: with I went it designates a state at the time you went to bed which arose from the prior action, with I go it describes a state which is current every time you go to bed.

  • Yes, both are acceptable but "I go to bed" here is only acceptable with "having switched off the lights" in very limited narrative contexts. It is not acceptable in everyday speech at all. – Lambie Sep 15 '18 at 23:35
  • @Lambie Quite so. In fact, I'd go farther and say that any use of a participle clause in "everyday speech" will strike hearers as affectedly literary. Indeed, I could probably count my adclausal uses of it in formal English in the last ten years on the fingers of one hand. But the construction is immoderately popular with ESL teachers and we gotta help these guys pass their exams. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 16 '18 at 8:03
  • Ok, I see. So this is why it is also called Perfect Participle I? To avoid such confusion with nonfinite verb having tense? – efimovdk Sep 16 '18 at 8:10
  • @efimovdk Hmm ... I've never encountered the term "Perfect Participle I". – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 16 '18 at 8:22
  • Ah, okay, never mind, it seems that these concepts were introduced by russian teachers of english language and don't exist in actual english grammar. All in all, should I then ignore the "Present" name of perfect participle as it is not so "present" and bound to the tense of verb in the main clause? – efimovdk Sep 16 '18 at 8:38

If you are telling a story, you can use present simple here instead of simple past.

That is the only explanation that would make sense.

It's called narrative past or historical present.

Having switched off the lights, I went to bed. [normal usage for a finished action]

Having switched off the lights, I go to bed. [historical present].

Of course, the simple present is normally used for general statements with this major exception.

I go to bed early [every night]. [general statement]

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