Some grammar books/ websites say that 'The present perfect can be used for actions which started in the past and continue up to now...and often we use Non-progressive verbs (state verbs) in this way.' For example,

  1. I have known john for years.
  2. I've been there since 2011.

  1. I've lived here since 2011.
  2. I've smoked since I left school.

The non-progressive verbs have been used in the examples 1 and 2. but, why are the verbs which are not non-progressive used in this way( like the examples 3 and 4.)?

What's the theory used when the present perfect is meant as an action which continue up to now?

  • There will be exceptions to any simple "theory" covering all such usages. For example, Bill Clinton could say "It's true I have inhaled cannabis since I was a boy. But it was only once, back when I was a college student." With no suggestion that he might still indulge. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 17:20

1 Answer 1

  1. The website you link does not say that “Often we use “Non-progressive ... ” but that “we use stative verbs in this situation”. Stative and non-progressive are two different things.

    • Non-progressive means ‘not cast in the progressive construction’; a more usual term is simple (‘simple present’, ‘simple past’). The ‘progressive construction’ is that which employs a form of the verb be followed by a verb in the -ing form. None of your sentences employs the progressive construction; all are non-progressive. Progressive versions would be these:

      1a. ? I have been knowing John for years.
      2a. I’ve been being there since 2011.
      3a. okI’ve been living here since 2011.
      4a. okI’ve been smoking since I left school.

      Note that 1a is marked as ? marginally acceptable and 2a as unacceptable. More about that in a minute.

    • A stative verb is one which expresses a state rather than an event; know and be are statives. Other sorts of verbs, those which express events rather than states, are called eventive (or sometimes dynamic); live and smoke are eventives. Live is of the type of eventive called activity verbs: these are similar to statives in that they have duration in time and do not have a goal or endpoint ‘built in’ to their senses. Smoke when it is used intransitively (John smokes) is also an activity verb; but when it is transitively (John smoked a cigarette) it is an achievement verb, one which has both duration and an endpoint (the endpoint is when John finishes the cigarette).

      One important distinction between statives and eventives is that statives are not ordinarily cast in the progressive construction. (This is apparently because the progressive construction is typically employed to ‘recategorize’ verbs of any type as current states, and statives are, of course, stative already!) For instance, we do not say

      I am knowing algebra.
      I am being a student at the University.

      In the last generation or so this rule has been increasingly relaxed in some contexts, especially in conversation, and it may eventually disappear. Be, however, is a special case. When you cast be in the progressive it takes on a different meaning: it turns into an activity verb meaning behave.

      John is being a jerk = John is behaving like a jerk.
      John is being foolish = John is behaving foolishly.

  2. The perfect construction is inherently ambiguous. What it ‘means’ is that the past event or state it mentions gives rise to some present state; but what that state is is left to the hearer to figure out, which may involve looking at not just the rest of the sentence but the surrounding discourse as well.

    In particular, perfects like I have lived in Paris since 2002 may have either a continuative meaning (I started living here in 2002 and I am still living here) or an experiential meaning (I lived here for a while at some point in the past after 2002).

    One strategy for avoiding this ambiguity is to cast a perfect into the progressive construction when it is intended to bear a continuative sense: I have been living in Paris since 2002 can only mean that I have lived there right up to the present. And this strategy is extended more and more frequently to stative verbs, exerting a force contrary to the rule against casting statives in the progressive. That is why I have been knowing John for years is now moving toward acceptability: it makes it wholly unambiguous that I still know John today.

This whole issue is discussed in stupefying (but nonetheless inadequate) detail at our Canonical post What is the perfect, and how should I use it?, especially §§ 3.1 Grammatical meaning and 3.2 Pragmatic meaning.

  • Once we know something, how can we cease to know it? I have known John since elementary school means (to me) without any ambiguity that I first came to know John in elementary school and that we have been friends or acquaintances ever since. I don't see any room for ambiguity there. If John is a very mysterious fellow, or is mercurial and is full of surprises, one might say "I have been getting to know John since elementary school."
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 20:10
  • @TRomano I agree; but the fact is, people these days often say "I've been knowing John" rather than "I've known John" in order to contrast with "I knew John". I would say it's because the PfPrg has become (or at least is becoming) the favoured form for the continuative perfect, and for many people that overrides the prohibition against Prg be knowing Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 20:26
  • @StoneyB Can you simply say how to differ state verbs from non-progressive verbs? (Is it because some state verbs can be used in continuous tenses?)
    – Dinusha
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 6:18
  • @Dinusha There are a number of tests which usually work; three pretty reliable ones are listed in the aspect tag-wiki. Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 12:53
  • @StoneyB When the present perfect continues tense is used for actions which started in the past and are still continuing, Is it necessary to be doing the action at the time of speaking?
    – Dinusha
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 7:39

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