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The usage of the present perfect tenses with the markers of past time has been noticed in as much as 20% of BE colloquial speech. But it is still difficult for the non-native speakers to discern correctly in what cases it can be relevant because this usage doesn't fall under conventional rules (i.e. Past Indefinite or Past Continuous with clauses or adverbials of past time).

The above said, could it be possible for the perfect tenses to be put on in the following patterns:

  1. I just want to know how you have spent your parents' money when you studied at the university.
  2. I just want to know how you have been spending your parents' money when you studied at the university.
  3. Some time ago I wanted to know how he had spent his parents' money when he studied at the university.
  4. Some time ago I wanted to know how he had been spending his parents' money when he studied at the university.
  5. They asked me about something I have said years ago.
  6. They asked me about something I have been saying years ago.
  7. They asked me about something I had said years ago.
  8. They asked me about something I had been saying years ago.
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  • Sentences 2, 5 and 6 (looking quickly) are incorrect.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:07

2 Answers 2

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When the time-phrase consigns the action to the past, thereby excluding the present, the present-perfect is not viable. I've put the time phrase in brackets and the proper tense in superscript below.

I won't address the past perfect forms in this answer. Could you ask about that in a separate question?

NOT VIABLE:

I just want to know how you have spent spent your parents' money [when you studied at the university.]

I just want to know how you have been spending were spending your parents' money [when you studied at the university.]

They asked me about something I have said said [years ago].

They asked me about something I have been saying was saying [years ago].

And to address a comment in which the commenter has misunderstood what I mean by "excluding the present", this sentence is viable:

They asked me about something I have been saying [since I graduated from school long ago.]

Even though there is a reference to the distant past in "long ago", the relevant word from the time phrase is since, which means "from then until now". The time phrase does not exclude the present but implicitly includes it.

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  • Thank you! If I haven't misunderstood you, when we scratch out the phrases in brackets then perfect tenses will become possible? I.e. "They asked me about something I have said" can be viable?
    – Eugene
    Dec 12, 2023 at 11:16
  • @Eugene: Correct.The present perfect is grammatical if "years ago" is removed from that sentence. The simple past is also grammatical there. Dec 12, 2023 at 12:18
  • Couldn't you, please, elucidate the difference in perception to me between "They asked me about something I have said" and "They asked me about something I said"? I.e. in what time lapse does "I have said" lies?
    – Eugene
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:00
  • "When the time-phrase consigns the action to the past, thereby excluding the present, the present-perfect is not viable." That is inaccurate: What have you done since you finished school five years ago?
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:15
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    @Lambie: the time phrase is "since you finished school" and thus it connects to the present, rather than excludes the present. "Since" means "from then up to now" Dec 12, 2023 at 16:17
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Look what you say about BrE is false. This is the "rule": the past perfect is used to point to something that precedes another action in the past. That preceding action can be stated in black and white or be implied. That said, there are other issues with the sentences.

  1. I just want to know how you have spent your parents' money when you studied at the university. [BUZZER]
  • how you spent your parents' money when you studied [no buzzer]

The spending and studying is finished, over.

  1. I just want to know how you have been spending your parents' money when you studied at the university. [BUZZER]

No, not if you keep when you studied.

Yes, if you change it, like this: I just want to know how you have been spending your parents' money while you are studying, or have been studying at university.

  1. and 4) are fine.

  2. They asked me about something I have said years ago. [BUZZER]

No, why? Because asked me is specific and finished, so:

They asked me about something I said years ago. [no buzzer: ago takes the simple past]

Also, ago always goes with simple past or a completed (continuous) past.

  1. They asked me about something I have been saying years ago.

No, because they asked me is finished, so you cannot have been saying it years ago.

  • They asked me about something I was saying years ago. OR
  • They asked me about something I had said OR had been saying years before.
  1. and 8) are correct because asked me is "preceded by" an action in the past perfect.

Basic rule: The present perfect and present prefect continuous are used in relation to the present time of speaking and are preceded by another action in the simple past.

Basic rule: The past perfect and past perfect continuous are used in relation to the simple past tense or imperfect past tense.

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  • "They asked me" is not relevant to the choice of tense. It could be "they will ask me" or "they are asking me" or "they had asked me" or "they have asked me". What governs the choice of tense is the time-phrase, "years ago" and "when ... studied". Dec 11, 2023 at 23:32
  • @TimRonsomedevice Basic rule 1 (see my answer): I've been teaching English or have taught English [for] a long time. [said now, in the present] versus Basic rule 2 (see my answer) They asked me or were asking me if I had taught or had been teaching for a long time. Obviously, I cannot give every possible combination of tenses. I have given the ones relevant to the question. simple past=goes with ago. I left five minutes ago.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2023 at 15:51
  • "They asked me" etc. is relevant to the question: They asked me about something I have said years ago. They asked me about something I have been saying years ago. [buzzer on those two] They asked me about something I had said years ago. [before] They asked me about something I had been saying years ago. Those two are fine. They will ask me is not part of the question.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:09
  • The tense of the main clause ("they asked me", "they will ask me", "they had asked me", "they have asked me") has no bearing upon the choice of tense in the clause headed by "what". That choice in the examples sentence is driven by the time-phrase ("when you studied" and "years ago"). Dec 12, 2023 at 16:21
  • @TimRonsomedevice Again, the OP did not ask about: they will ask me or they had asked me. The OP asked about "They asked me" at the beginning of a sentence! And I have corrected his sentences.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2023 at 16:23

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