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I have passed the English grammar test. I'm B1 and can't complain about that. But I have a major questions about verb tenses anyway.

I ______ your book. It's fantastic. I'll finish it tonight.

  1. have been reading
  2. read
  3. have read
  4. am read

The correct answer is 1. But why? Why not just "read"? I read your book - it is possible for the sentence to be in the present tense. I frequently read the book and want to share my impression that the book is fantastic. And now I have only a few pages to finish it, which I will do tonight.

I see why "have read" and "am read" are wrong, and I see why "have been reading" is the right answer. I started read reading in the past and the reading still is still in progress at the present moment. Okay, I get it. But I don't see how it conflicts with the answer "read". In the first case I'm pointing to the regular fact of reading, and in the second — to the fact that I read the book at one time and continue to read until finishing it tonight. Both answers seem valid to me and differ only semantically.

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    The problem is that you haven't grasped the fact that seldom can you use a "simple" (unaspected) present tense that way in English. This is quite different from almost any other language with a present tense. Without the progressive aspect, it simply sounds wrong to us for something that you're doing right now.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2023 at 3:23
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    @tchrist You mean in the case of 'read' you have to use Present Continuous? Like 'I'm reading your book' Jun 18, 2023 at 3:32
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    "read" is a particularly confusing verb for this example, as the past tense has the same spelling as the present.
    – James K
    Jun 18, 2023 at 10:02
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    1 is the correct answer because the speaker is still in the process of reading the book - as evidenced by the fact that the speaker says they will finish it tonight. It's the only possible logical answer. Also note that we can't generally use the simple present tense in English for current events that are ongoing. We need to use one of the continuous/progressive tenses. The English simple present tense has some very special use cases, and you have to be careful when using it. To confuse matters the verb read is spelt the same in the present and past tense. Only the pronunciation changes.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 18, 2023 at 10:57
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    Note that it would also be possible to say "I am reading your book. It's fantastic. I will finish it tonight". But this isn't one of the answer options available.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 18, 2023 at 11:03

3 Answers 3

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The verb read has two different pronunciations, its present simple form /riːd/ and its past simple form /red/. Neither tense belongs to the sample sentence

a) I read your book [at the moment]. It's fantastic. I'll finish it tonight. ❌
b) I read your book [sometime in the past] . It's fantastic. I'll finish it tonight. ❌

As Martha's answer explained, the past simple version (b) conflicts with the sentence that follows. If the activity of reading a book concluded in the past but the speaker promises to finish it at some point in the future, it does not make semantic sense.

Why doesn't version a) work? The activity of reading that book has not concluded yet. The expression “I read” refers to the present, so why is that answer wrong?

In English we have dynamic "action" verbs and "stative" verbs, a dynamic verb is an action that can occur over a limited space of time. It has a starting point and usually implies that it will end at some point in the future. We use the Present Continuous to express this duration, but we may not know how long this action will last.

For the sake of clarity, I'm going to substitute the verb "read" with its close relative, "write".

I am writing a book [at the moment]. I'll finish it soon. ✅

If the action recently concluded–the Present Perfect–we focus our attention on what this means in the present

I have written a book. You can read it now. ✅

If the action started and ended at a specified point in the past, we use the Past Simple.

I wrote and self-published a book in 2020 but nobody bought a copy. ✅

The Present Simple tense often refers to an habitual action.

Every night I write something in my diary. ✅

The present simple is also used to express the concept of something being permanent or always true.

I write short stories and poetry. ✅
He writes for a living. ✅

The present simple is not used for dynamic verbs (actions) that started at some point in the past and continue to the future. We normally use the Present Perfect Continuous to express this concept.

I write a story. It's hard work but I'll finish it on Friday. ❌
I have been writing a story. It's been hard work but I'll finish it on Friday. ✅


This is why the correct answer, in that list of options, is the first one.

I have been reading your book. It's fantastic. I'll finish it tonight. ✅

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    So many learners get confused when it comes to the simple present in English because in many other languages the simple present is the only way to talk about a currently occuring action, and they assume this is also possible in English, but it isn't really. This is a very good answer. Nice and clearly explained. +1
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 18, 2023 at 11:10
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    That would be [ɹɛd] in the past tense: we're not talking about Raiders of the Lost Ark here.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2023 at 13:22
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    I am reading your book. It's fantastic. I'll finish it tonight. also works, but it wasn't one of the choices. Jun 18, 2023 at 14:26
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    "I have been" sounds very stuffy to my ear, I'd say "I'm reading your book". Jun 18, 2023 at 15:31
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    @Jack "I've been" is better :) and fits better with the sentence since there are two other contractions used.
    – wjandrea
    Jun 18, 2023 at 20:02
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If you've already read the book, then "I'll finish it tonight" makes no sense. This is why neither 2 ("read") nor 3 ("have read") can be the correct answer. Answer 4 can obviously be eliminated for lack of subject-verb agreement, which leaves answer 1, "have been reading".

Edit: I never even considered interpreting option 2 as the simple present (/ri:d/) because there are absolutely no contextual indicators for that meaning (e.g. "every morning" or some other phrase that points to this being a habitual action), and besides, "I'll finish it tonight" would invalidate that interpretation as well.

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    But 'read' doesn't imply finishing reading. I engage in the process of reading on a regular basis, little by little, for example, every evening before bed. If I wanted to emphasize that I have actually finished reading the book, I would have chosen the Present Perfect tense, which directly conflicts with the phrase 'I'll finish it tonight' Jun 18, 2023 at 3:28
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    @PhaenomenonSanctus You're correct that the word 'read' can be present tense, but it can also be the simple past form (they look identical even though they're pronounced differently). Martha's answer is from the perspective of assuming that 'read' is the simple past, and tchrist's comment addresses your question about if it's the simple present. Jun 18, 2023 at 4:09
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    Option 2 doesn't tell us if it's the simple past of the verb "read" /red/ e.g "I read Animal Farm in one day" or the present simple /ri:d/ as in "I read every day" The OP is asking why the answer is not in the present simple.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 18, 2023 at 4:13
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    @PhaenomenonSanctus: I read (/ri:d/) your book every day, works fine as a sentence in English, if this is a habitual action. That is, if this is a book that you read every day and will keep reading every day for the foreseeable future. But if you're going to finish it tonight, you will presumably stop reading it after you finish it, so it doesn't count as a habitual action, and present simple is ungrammatical. Jun 18, 2023 at 14:40
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    This whole thread just makes me, as a native speaker, amazed that I can naturally, automatically, distinguish /riːd/ and /red/ without even thinking about it or even knowing the rules of why it's one way or the other. Wow, English sucks to learn as a second language.
    – stan
    Jun 19, 2023 at 11:30
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To me, the sentence "I read [present tense] your book" makes it sound like you have an ongoing habit of reading the book, and you don't have any plans to quit that habit. In particular, it makes it sound like even after you get to the end of the book, you're going to continue the habit by re-reading parts that you've already read.

Likewise, if someone said "I read [present tense] the Bible," that would probably mean that they have a habit of regularly reading various parts of the Bible, and they probably intend to continue that habit for the rest of their life.

On the other hand, the sentence "I have been reading your book" sounds like it's talking about an action that started in the recent past and has not yet finished. That makes much more sense.

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  • I just thought that the Perfect Continues is a very uncommon thing in the English and usually determined grammatically, not logically, by the use of marker words. Jun 18, 2023 at 17:54
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    @PhaenomenonSanctus I wouldn't say that it's uncommon at all. It's frequently used to describe any kind of short-term repeated or continued activity. Example dialogue: "What have you been up to?" "Well, lately, I've been watching movies and playing video games. I've also been trying to quit smoking, and I've been chewing nicotine gum to help with the cravings." Using the simple present would specifically indicate a long-term repeated action. Jun 18, 2023 at 18:29
  • in your example why can't we just use Past Simple? Jun 18, 2023 at 22:32
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    @PhaenomenonSanctus Well, saying "I've been watching movies and playing video games" implies that you expect to continue those habits for at least a short amount of time into the future. Saying "I watched movies and played video games" doesn't have any such implication at all. As for quitting smoking, saying "I tried to quit smoking" would imply that you failed and you've given up for the time being. Jun 18, 2023 at 23:30
  • So the difference is in the presence of habit, regularity? And we can get such info either from the general context or through marker words. That is, can I say that if these conditions are not present, I can confidently use other tenses? Jun 19, 2023 at 18:46

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