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I'm reading a book where the author describes the process of his work. Referring to what he wrote in the past, he says:

Often in the notes and essays I have had to break off just at the point where a different kind of analysis – extended theoretical argument, or detailed social and historical inquiry – would be necessary.

A different direction would have meant restricting the number and range of the words discussed, and in this book at least this range has been my priority.

My question is: why is it present perfect here? As I said, the author refers to his past work or to the work he has already completed (the second example), so it seems this should be past simple or past perfect. Is there some rule regarding the use of present perfect in the past?

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    Does this answer your question? Present perfect - ended action One of the uses is that something is true at the time of speaking or writing.
    – Lambie
    Nov 26, 2023 at 17:24
  • @Lambie I'm sorry it doesn't, as the author seems to describe completed actions. Nov 26, 2023 at 17:27
  • No, it means as of the time of writing this, x is true. PP also means past tense without any timeframe. It is merely past. Completed is not the idea.
    – Lambie
    Nov 26, 2023 at 17:36

2 Answers 2

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In both of the fragments you enquire about,

“Often in the notes and essays I have had to…”

and

“in this book at least this range has been my priority,”

the author is conceiving of the writing of the book as an activity only recently completed. That’s what licenses the present perfect.

The entire quoted passage has the feeling of an introduction or preface—material that, although physically located before the main body, was composed chronologically (shortly) after the main body was completed. If the present perfect were replaced with the simple past tense, that would imbue the passage with the feeling of reflections on things done at some point further back in time, like an author’s retrospective on work done decades earlier.

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  • The PP can be used to be something that happened in the past but without further ado well as meaning "x is true" in the past as I write this here.
    – Lambie
    Nov 26, 2023 at 17:38
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There are various uses to the present perfect; it signals the past without specifying when something is done. As compared to the finished action of the simple past. It also is used to mean up to the time of writing or speaking.

British Council:

when we are talking about our experience up to the present: I've seen that film before. I've played the guitar ever since I was a teenager. He has written three books and he is working on another one.

Even if the author cited in text completed something in the past, that is not the focus of the idea. The focus here is up to now, in the present.

present perfect

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