Where I want to start telling is the day I left Pencey Prep. Pencey Prep is this school that's in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. You probably heard of it. You've probably seen the ads, anyway. They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hotshot guy on a horse jumping over a fence. (THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger)

My question is why the author uses two different times, past simple for "hear" and present perfect for "see".

Why not past simple for both or present perfect for both?

Why "You've probably seen the ads, anyway." rather than "You probably saw the ads, anyway."?

Is it because of the word "anyway", because the author want to emphasize that the probability to see the ads is greater than just to hear about the school.

Or is it because of the words "the ads", and the ways how you could learn about the school?

So "have seen the ads" implies that you can see the ads still today throughout the Pennsylvania. But these ads are the type of billboards, they don't broadcasted by the radio or TV. If they were, the both sentences would have been in the present perfect (because you've probably heard of it [e.g. in commercials by the radio, which are translated everyday])

And "You probably heard of it" means that you probably heard of it accidentally once before e.g. from other people.

Could you say if my guesses are correct? Thank you.

3 Answers 3


Catcher In The Rye is written as if it were narrated by the main character (Holden Caulfield). It's in the style of teenage colloquial speech, so I wouldn't look here for excellence of grammar.

I think the answer to "Why is it written like that?" is: Because that's how teenagers spoke.

You probably heard of it

... Is a colloquialism (for You've probably heard of it) rather than a choice of tense.


It's worth noting that the relevant OED definition is given in Present Perfect form...

11 c. to have heard of:
to have become or been made aware of (a fact, etc.) in the course of one's experience;
to have heard tell of.
Freq. in negative contexts, often with never.

That's to say, idiomatically we would normally say "I've [never] heard of X", rather than using Simple Past "I heard of X". Personally I'd assume in OP's cited context the 've (= have) is "deleted, but implicit".

The reason for using Present Perfect rather than Simple Past is that Hollden Caulfield (the narrator) isn't talking about "the past" as such - he's talking about what the reader currently knows. Bear in mind this is something of a "literary device", since "There is no town named Agerstown in Pennsylvania". Obviously you the reader can't have actually heard of the place, but you're to assume that within the context of the narrative it's a well-known educational establishment.

In general I wouldn't say that to have heard of X particularly implies "accidentally-obtained" knowledge. The primary implication is "I know a little about X" (at least enough to know that X exists), with the additional implication "I have [over]heard or been involved in conversations where X was discussed".

The significance of anyway (= at least, if nothing else, as a minimum) is much as OP suspects. Except the speaker isn't really thinking in terms of "probability" - it's simply that for the purposes of the narration it would be sufficient for the reader to have seen the ads. More accurately (since it's all fictional) it would be sufficient for the (real) reader to simply accept that this school has a (local) reputation, actively publicises itself, and is consequentially well-known to the local populace and (fictional) reader.


The present perfect is used for situations that occurred in the indefinite past. By indefinite I mean that " have heard " doesn't refer to any specific event wherein it was heard.

Let's say there was a gunfight in the Bronx last night, where you currently reside. You were out of town that day, on assignment with the military, so you didn't hear the gunshots that particular instance. However, being a military man, you have most definitely heard gunshots at some point in your life.

Instead of wondering if you heard the gunshot last night, present perfect addresses the wider question of whether at any point in the past an event occurred where the said phenomenon (in this case a hearing a gunshot) was experienced.

Present simple is a point on the timeline. Present Perfect is more of a black and white question about a wider, less specific, frame of time.

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