"I composed music over the last twelve years, but almost quit for many reasons. So now I just play songs on my guitar". Why doesn't the past tense sound correct with "over the last twelve years"? Is it correct ? I would use the present perfect without a second thought.

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    There's a contradiction here. "Almost quit" implies that you have not quit -- which would call for "I have composed" (and would also call for although rather than but). "Now I just play" implies that you have quit composing -- which would call for "I composed" (and would also call for deleting almost). – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 24 '14 at 19:39
  • @StoneyB Why not an answer? – nxx Mar 25 '14 at 1:28
  • @nxx Because I can't answer without knowing which of those OP means. – StoneyB on hiatus Mar 25 '14 at 2:53
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    If he has quit, it should be past tense. If he hasn't quit, it should be present perfect. – Peter Shor Mar 25 '14 at 2:53

"I composed music over the last twelve years, but almost quit for many reasons"

You are right about past simple sounding awkward here. "over the last 12 years" means the 12 years up to now, which means present perfect or past continuous (was composing) can sound more natural (past simple in the first part is okay, but would perhaps be better with "for the last 12 years").

Further, you indicate that the action of composing is not completed: you have almost quit, but you never actually quit, which contradicts the use of past simple.

(It is possible to use this construction [with minor changes], but this requires a very specific circumstance - if you are a recently retired composer, for example).

"I have composed music over the last 12 years, although I almost quit (once/a number of times/two years ago) for many reasons"

sounds perfectly natural, but means that, as of the present moment, you still do compose music. (Note the time markers; without one, the "when" aspect of quitting is left in the air).

What you perhaps want to say with past simple is

"I composed music for (the last) twelve years (but quit for many reasons). Now I just play songs on my guitar".

Here, the action of composing, which lasted for 12 years at some point in the past, is completed.

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I guess that it might be something like this:

I composed music over the last twelve years, but almost quit for many reasons.
Earlier this year, it hit me, "Why shouldn't I just quit and start doing what I really want to do?"
So I quit.
Now I just play songs on my guitar.

(The two italicized lines are what I inserted to make the context clear.)

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  • Damkerng when you say 'I composed music over the last twelve years, but almost quit for many reasons.' in this does "over the last twelve years" mean last twelve years starting from today or last twelve years starting from sometime in the past and extending to twelve years in the past? Please clarify. Because as per what I have read over the last twelve years means twelve years starting from today, but in your example that is not the case and hence the source of confusion. Look forward to your help! – Policewala May 9 '16 at 5:06
  • @Policewala In my opinion, we should keep in mind that language is not math, so it's not always precise. Logically, in/over the last twelve years shouldn't include even this year. Let's consider last year or last week. It shouldn't include this year or this week, right? But sometimes a speaker's last year or last week may carry over a few months or a few days to this year or this week. Another convention when people say last year is similar to what you mentioned, i.e., 365 days up to today (note that it's "up to" rather than "starting from"). But words are not always precise... – Damkerng T. May 9 '16 at 5:45
  • (cont.) And because words alone may not be precise, we have to consider the context as well. In our context, it's clear that the speaker quit composing music earlier this year, so "the last twelve years" means the last twelve years up to that time (i.e. some time earlier this year). Hope this helps! – Damkerng T. May 9 '16 at 5:54
  • if you say "Logically, in/over the last twelve years shouldn't include even this year.", then we must we never use present perfect with this construction, strictly speaking? Should it always be simple past? – Policewala May 9 '16 at 6:12
  • Not quite. By default most speakers would take last N years, out of context, as "last N years up to now", which means that the simple past is not always the only choice. ("Up to now" means the present perfect would be more appropriate.) What I did in this answer was to come up with a context that makes the original sentence (with a little twist, because I added "So I quit.") make sense. (Context is king!) – Damkerng T. May 9 '16 at 6:18

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