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Here are some dictionary examples

  1. My poor old boots are falling apart.
  2. My dictionary is falling apart now. I have used it so much.
  3. After his wife died, he began to fall apart.
  4. San Diego's public buildings are falling apart, but the city refuses to do anything about it.
  5. She liked her old apartment, but the neighborhood was falling apart.

Let me modify all these sentences in present or past perfect tense.

  1. My poor old boots have fallen apart.
  2. My dictionary has fallen apart now. I have used it so much.
  3. After his wife died, he had fallen apart.
  4. San Diego's public buildings have fallen apart, but the city refuses to do anything about it.
  5. She liked her old apartment, but the neighborhood had fallen apart.

Are these sentences grammatically correct ?


When we use 'ing' it is implied that action is still on. But what if the action has been completed ? Then do we use present or perfect tense 'fallen apart' ?

I dont know whether it's possible to use 'fallen apart' in a sentence or is it ?

If yes, could you please provide some examples and explanation ?

If no, why not ?

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    Your modified sentences are all grammatical. So, yes you can use both have fallen apart and had fallen apart.
    – user6951
    Dec 22, 2014 at 10:24
  • @CarSmack - thanks for that ! It's strange that I can't find satisfactory sentences or examples on google where 'fallen apart' is used as they are in the above examples.
    – Leo
    Dec 22, 2014 at 12:13
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    @Leo Don't worry, there are plenty :) One example sentence is this - I think this N.S.A.-style attempt to control data has fallen apart. from newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/15/follow-leader Dec 22, 2014 at 13:45
  • @Man_From_India - thanks for the link. But there are very sparse numeber of examples that i could find. didnt help much.
    – Leo
    Dec 22, 2014 at 17:17
  • Sometimes another adverb is put in right before the "fallen." Examples: Had completely fallen apart (google.com/search?q="had+completely+fallen+apart" 250K hits ) or had totally fallen apart. ( google.com/search?q=%22had+totally+fallen+apart%22 20K hits)
    – Adam
    Dec 22, 2014 at 21:20

1 Answer 1

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Aside from a couple nitpicks, your sentences are grammatical, and would easily be understood by a native speaker. The third sentence would more likely be

After his wife died, he fell apart.

to make the verb tenses match, unless there's a good reason to use the perfect tense. I wouldn't use "now" in your second example, and it would be more natural to combine the two sentences:

I have used my dictionary so much that it has fallen apart. (formal) I've used my dictionary so much that it's fallen apart. (casual)

I suspect that there are two reasons why the perfect tenses of "to fall apart" would be less common. The first reason is that completely falling apart is usually a transient state. Once the falling apart is over, you'd be more likely to say that something "fell apart" or "finally fell apart". The second reason is that people tend to talk more about problems that are still happening. For those cases, "is falling apart" or "has been falling apart" are more common.

Let's look at your examples again.

My poor old boots fell/have fallen apart.

With "fell", this is a simple factual statement about your boots. With "have fallen", it sounds more like the answer to a question. "Do you want to go for a walk in the snow?" "I'd like to, but my poor old boots have fallen apart." If the listener knew that the boots were falling apart, you'd probably say that they "finally fell apart".

My dictionary has fell/has fallen apart. I have used it so much.

Usually you don't use a book until it completely falls apart. If the book does fall apart, it's not really an ongoing state. The book fell apart. That's it. Saying "has fallen" here sounds a tiny bit melodramatic.

San Diego's public buildings are falling/have fallen apart, but the city refuses to do anything about it.

As with the dictionary, buildings rarely collapse completely. They just gradually get worse over time. Saying that the buildings "have fallen" apart implies that they're (almost) unusable.

She liked her old apartment, but the neighborhood **was falling/had fallen* apart.

As with the building, a neighborhood's decline is usually a lengthy, continuous process. Saying that the neighborhood "had fallen" apart implies that it reached a terminal state of badness.

My conclusion from all of this is that "has fallen apart" describes a total collapse that is also an ongoing state, which is just not that common. A notable exception would be:

My life has fallen apart.

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