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Man #2 is about to start winding up a cord when man #1 comes up to him. They have the following conversation (here's a link to the video on YouTube):

Man #1: "What are you doing?"

Man #2: "I finished sawing a board, and now I'm winding up this cord."

In the above dialog, man #2 could as well have said "I've finished sawing a board, and now I'm winding up this cord." I think both the simple past "I finished" and the present perfect "I have finished" are correct in this case. But if I present the same thing as a present tense narrative:

John has finished sawing a board, and now he's winding up a cord. Peter comes up to him and asks him: "What are you doing?". John replies to him: "I finished sawing a board, and now I'm winding up this cord."

I think "has finished" cannot be replaced with "finished" here because "has finished" gives the background context to the events that follow, and all those events are in the present tense (which is in agreement with "has finished"). Am I right? Thanks in advance.

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    John has finished sawing a board, and now he's winding up a cord. Peter comes up to him and asks him: "What are you doing?". John replies to him: "I finished OR have finished sawing a board, and now I'm winding up this cord." Both are fine. [John replies, not to him].
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:20
  • No, I don't think the tense of finish as anything to do with the narrative present, which by the way, you don't show at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:25
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    Is that some kind of joke video - Is it a parody of very bad English learning videos? Or is it a genuine old video? Either way, please find something better to learn English from.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 3 at 20:16
  • Yes, adults on the spectrum back when had no label, but talked like Run, Dick, Run. They spun tops. Commented Mar 3 at 21:29

2 Answers 2

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That an action has been completed can be expressed in mutiple ways. The most obvious is to use the verb finished but one can use the perfective aspect instead or in combination:

I have sawn the board.

I finished sawing the board.

I have finished sawing the board.

Using the verb finished, the act's completion is expressed lexically. Using have sawn the act's completion is expressed aspectually.

Because the present perfect is expressed with the present tense of the auxiliary verb have, the present perfect can be used to express a relationship between the act's completion and the present context, a relevance, which the simple past I finished sawing does not do.

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I agree. The "present perfect" is used to bring out the present relevance of the action, and this sort of present tense narrative is a typical context.

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  • finished in the sentence may not intrude in the narrative present at all. He jumps on the truck, throws out the suitcase and shouts: Hey John, have you finished yet? OR Hey John, finished yet? or several other possibilities.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:24
  • Yes. If he means "I've finished my first task so I found something else to do", then present perfect ("I've finished") is the best choice. But we can't be certain this is the intended meaning.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 4 at 12:00

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