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My English grammar book (English Grammar, David Daniels & Barbara Daniels) describes the perfect tenses as follows:

The perfect tenses are used to describe how an event in the present, past or future continues to be relevant at a later time.

When I say when I was born, in English I use the past tense, as I have done in this sentence too. I don't use a perfect tense. In Italian I would use the passato prossimo, which this section of the Italian Wikipedia article about passato prossimo considers equivalent to the present perfect.

Which tense should I use for a past event that it is still relevant at the present time?

  • Kiam, yes, but you can use the past form in the Italian language, too--e.g. "Io nacqui a Brescia, ma qualche anno dopo mi trasferii a Londra," in which "nacqui" is past tense. I do not see the reason why you cannot say that sentence before you dead. – user114 Mar 20 '13 at 21:44
  • Incidentally, you might want to look at this, in which John Lawler advances the charming idea that be born is a deponent verb! – StoneyB Mar 20 '13 at 23:29
  • @Carlo_R. Also, when somebody asks you your date of birth, the asked question is Quando sei nato? not Quando eri nato? or Quando tu nacqui? – kiamlaluno Mar 21 '13 at 13:22
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    Languages are different even if they're related. German people, whose language is quite close to English, use the "perfect tense" rather than "simple past" to indicate things happening in the past and it doesn't matter whether or not any relevance to the present exists. --- So, I suggest not to compare tenses and their usages in different languages, especially not when they're even not related. – Em1 Mar 22 '13 at 14:02
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This is a bit clearer if rather than "still relevant" you think of the perfect tenses as expressing a current (with respect to Reference time) state, not an event.

The English phrasal verb be born, however, designates an event: birth, which is the punctiliar fact of entry into a state of extra-maternal existence (I am being as pompous and mealy-mouthed as possible to avoid politico-theological controversy). An event is expressed using a simple form, not a perfect form.

There are circumstances in which a perfect construction with born is proper; for instance:

A son to the Earl has now been born, so his nephew Roderigo is no longer the heir apparent to the title.

Here a current state is spoken of: the existence of an heir presumptive. But if you want to locate the birth in time you are speaking of the event, not the consequent state, and you must employ the simple tense:

A son to the Earl was born yesterday, so his nephew Roderigo is no longer the heir apparent to the title.

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    +1 for "entry into a state of extra-maternal existence". Wonderful phrase! – user264 Mar 20 '13 at 23:04
  • What are the verbs that express a current state instead of an event? I imagine that in "Mario has arrived home." the current state is "being home"; in "Mario has gone to the stores." the current state is "being at the stores." Is that correct? – kiamlaluno Mar 30 '13 at 17:09
  • @kiamlaluno Yes. These are matters of grammatical aspect, expressed by grammatical form. There is also lexical aspect, which is inherent in the word itself. For instance learn and buy are inherently activities or events, while their outcomes, know and own, are inherently stative ... but you have to be careful not to press these generally valid distinctions too far. – StoneyB Mar 30 '13 at 17:19

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