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I'm really confused about tense:

The percentage of the employees has risen from 20 percent to 24 percent over the past five years.

The university's four-year graduation rate rose from 20 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2017.

The second sentence uses past tense not related with present, and the first sentence uses present perfect because the percentage now is 24 percent.

The percentage of people age 65 and older in the workforce has risen from 15.5 percent percent to 17 percent last year.

"Last year" here is the past, say 2022. Why does it uses present perfect tense?

[EDIT] My question is that in the third sentence which is from a newspaper, why present perfect tense was used despite the clear referent to the past, "last year." [EDIT END]

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    We're only at the beginning of 2023, so an increase during 2022 is almost 'up to the present time'. However, the sentence would have been better expressed as 'in/during the last year' Jan 8, 2023 at 14:21

2 Answers 2

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  • 'Rose' is the simple past tense.
  • 'Risen' is the past participle.

We use 'rose' when the rising has finished. That's why your example that refers to a specific period from 2013 to 2017 uses it. That entire period is in the past.

But when we speak about something rising during "the last 5 years" its reasonable to assume, unless otherwise stated, that it is continuing to rise, so it is correct to say it "has risen".

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    In my experience, learners are too often misled by the myth that there exist constant, black-and-white, and universally observed distinctions between the perfect present and the simple past, or between the perfect past and the simple one, the way there actually are with matching up the verb inflection based on a singular-vs-plural subject. This is due to the endless "right-or-wrong" tests they're forced to undergo that unhelpfully demand exactly one "right" answer in all cases, all so a mindless computer can quickly grade them. This leads to misunderstandings that are long and hard to unlearn.
    – tchrist
    Jan 8, 2023 at 17:43
  • My question is that in the third sentence which is from a newspaper, why present perfect tense was used despite the clear referent to the past, "last year." Jan 9, 2023 at 14:02
  • @tchrist This comment is not helpful to the answer. It seems more like a frustration aimed at the OP. In my opinion, if a question is worth asking (and within the scope of the site) then it is worth answering correctly. There is a difference, and I've explained it.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:27
  • @HeidiHamont You'd have to ask the newspaper editor why they used it. In light of my answer, do you think it might be wrong?
    – Astralbee
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:27
  • @Astralbee I appreciate your answer. The reason for my comments is I am confused about those 2 tenses. And there seems to be a difference in perspective. As an ESL learner, we are taught that a specific past referent can't be used in present perfect. That's why I think the 3rd sentence is dubious. Suppose "The percentage of people age 65 and older in the workforce has risen from 15.5 percent percent to 17 percent in 1989." Is this still acceptable and natural? Jan 10, 2023 at 15:01
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As the answer by Astralbee correctly points out, "rose" is the past tense of the verb "to rise", while "risen" is the past participle of that verb. The past participle is used in forming both the past perfect and present perfect constructions. The sentence

(1) The percentage of the employees has risen from 20 percent to 24 percent over the past five years.

uses the present perfect. This consists of the present tense of the verb "to have" plus the past participle of the main verb. (see This page on "Present Perfect" for details.)

As the EF page linked above puts it, the present perfect is often used for:

  • An action or situation that started in the past and continues in the present.
  • An action performed during a period that has not yet finished.
  • A repeated action in an unspecified period between the past and now.
  • An action that was completed in the very recent past, expressed by 'just'.
  • An action when the time is not important.

However, an action that occurred at a specified time in the past that ended significantly before the present will not usually be described using the present perfect. It will most often be described using the simple past, although the past perfect or other constructions may sometimes be used.

Thus sentence (1) is proper and natural. This construction is often used for events during a period still in progress, or one very recently ended. This is true whether the rise may be assuemned to be continuing, or to have only recently halted. But an attempt to use this construction about a definite past period not ending at or near the present movement (or continuing beyond the present) would not be. For example:

(2) The percentage of the employees has risen from 20 percent to 24 percent during the 1990s. Red X, showing incorrect form

is not a valid use of this construction. One might write either of:

  • (3) The percentage of the employees had risen from 20 percent to 24 percent
  • (4) The percentage of the employees rose from 20 percent to 24 percent during the 1990s. Green Check, showing acceptable formduring the 1990s. Green Check, showing acceptable form

Sentence (3) would be likely to be used only if some other event, subsequent to the rise, had been or was about to be mentioned as well.

One might also write:

(5) The percentage of the employees has risen from 20 percent to 24 percent over the past five years, but that rise reversed dramatically last November.

This is a case where the rise has recently endued, but the present perfect may still be used.

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  • My question is that in the third sentence which is from a newspaper, why present perfect tense was used despite the clear referent to the past, "last year." Jan 9, 2023 at 14:02
  • @Heidi I can't say why the writer chose that construction. But early in the year, "last year" is a period recently ended, so a present perfect construction is in my view acceptable. I might have used "rose" (simple past) for that sentence. But thus usage distinction is not as strict as that. Jan 9, 2023 at 17:43
  • ♦ Thank you so much! Jan 14, 2023 at 13:38

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