37

In the textbook by by Raymond Murphy, Intermediate English Grammar, 2nd edition, on page 26:

  1. "The Chinese invented printing."

Raymond Murphy says that we can't use the present perfect here. I question why?

According to Murphy:

"We can't use the present perfect if there's no connection with present."

But I guess there is a connection/result in the above example because we have printing now.

So why can't we say:

  1. "The Chinese have invented printing."

Why is version #2 wrong?

  • 10
    A: "Class, tell me, what have the Chinese invented?" B: "The Chinese have invented Chinese checkers." C: "The Chinese have invented Chinese food." D: "The Chinese have invented gunpowder." -- It seems to me that you can use the present perfect in some contexts. – F.E. Apr 12 '15 at 17:21
  • 16
    @F.E. I would never phrase the answers that way... If someone asked "What have the Chinese invented?" I would answer, "The Chinese invented... ". – Catija Apr 12 '15 at 18:10
  • 6
    @Catija How is "The Chinese have invented what?" an extremely tortured sentence? It sounds quite natural to my ears. Also, the present perfect is quite natural for the context of listing inventions or accomplishments. For example, an interviewer could ask you: "What have you accomplished in your professional life?" – F.E. Apr 12 '15 at 18:25
  • 4
    (cont.) Interviewer: "What have you accomplished in your professional life?", Me: "I have climbed Mount Everest.", Me: "I have killed a bear with my bare hands." etc. – F.E. Apr 12 '15 at 18:31
  • 2
    @Catija Interviewer: "Why should we consider you as a CEO for our startup business? What are your qualifications?" You: "I have founded a company …" – F.E. Apr 12 '15 at 18:35
33

"The Chinese invented the printer."

Statement of about the past, that this is a historical fact. (simple usage of the past tense of "invent").

"The Chinese have invented the printer."?

Saying it that way implies it just happened, like you'd say "The Chinese have invaded our moon base!". As discussed in comments, you can get away with this usage in reply to a question like "What have the Chinese invented?", because that gives a context for the statement.

I think in most cases, the meaning will still be clear whether you say "invented" or "have invented", but it will probably sound strange to native English ears if its clear from context you don't mean "just now" when you say "have invented".

edit: There are other ways to use present perfect tense that don't imply something just happened, but this specific usage does (outside of a context provided by a question, or an introduction like "Let's consider what Chinese civilization has accomplished"). See the comments on this answer for discussion.

See the other high-voted answer for an analysis of how the grammar rules apply.

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  • 3
    I appreciate this simple answer. One is like headline news, and the other is a statement of historical fact. Kind of a bummer that "have" gets overloaded like that. I'm sorry, English language learners! – msouth Apr 13 '15 at 2:57
  • 3
    Yeah, my answer doesn't say anything that isn't in the other answers, but I thought this point was the important point, and didn't want it lost in all the grammar rules. I don't normally hang around on this sub-site, but I noticed the question in the sidebar on video.stackexchange.com :P – Peter Cordes Apr 13 '15 at 3:40
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    … but it will probably sound strange to native English ears if its clear from context you don't mean "just now" when you say "have invented". <== Er, that's not right at all. – F.E. Apr 14 '15 at 3:40
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    -1 The statement that using the present perfect tends to imply that something happened recently is incorrect. – Jim Reynolds Apr 14 '15 at 10:08
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    @StephenOstermiller: but that's because of the connection to the present, not specifically because of how long ago it is. You can say, "the Bills have been to a Super Bowl", and that was forever ago, the point is that you're remarking on the enduring fact of the franchise having the property, "past Super Bowl competitor". How long ago that enduring fact commenced is irrelevant. In your example, the reason you say of last week "the players scored a point" isn't that it was a week ago, it's that you're remarking on an event that's done, not on the enduring state of that event having happened. – Steve Jessop Apr 14 '15 at 15:06
19

I agree with Murphy:

"We can't use the present perfect if there's no connection with present."

When you say that because we have the printer now, we can use the present perfect, you are misunderstanding what the present perfect means and what kind of connection with the present it makes.

We are talking about grammatical connection, not historical connection. (This is a distinction, not an absolute difference, that I am using to help explain the use of the present perfect.)

Of course, even the simple past tense makes some historical connection with the present:

The Chinese invented the printer (and we still have the printer, so there is a connection to the present)

Thus, there is a historical connection even with the simple past. But there is no grammatical connection with the use of the simple past, because--grammatically--the simple past tense excludes the present moment.

And if this is the only meaning of "connection to the present," then there would be no need for the present perfect to exist.

Actually, the "connection" is not to the present, as in the present days. The connection is to the moment of speaking.

The "connection" (better: relevance) is one that the speaker makes, and it means to connect the past with something that is relevant at the moment of speaking.

So, just to say something in the present perfect, as in

The British army under Cornwallis has surrendered to the colonists.

does not automatically make a connection with the moment of speaking. What it talks about has a termendous historical connection to the present. But it would be incorrect to use the present perfect in the sentence above without having some grammatical connection with the defeat of the British to the speaker's utterance at the moment of speaking. And unless you are saying this in 1781, then it is hard to come up with such a connection. (Yes, it is possible to make a connection, as in saying that as part of a play or other re-creation of the past.)

And

The Chinese have invented the printer

also requires a relevance to the moment of speaking, not just general, overall historical "connection" or "relevance".

Yes, if the context is answering the question:

What have the Chinese invented?

which means

What have the Chinese invented up until now = at the moment of speaking?

then the response:

The Chinese have invented the printer

is fine.

But as a statement devoid of any relevance to the speaker at the moment of speaking,

The Chinese have invented the printer

is not something one would say. In other words,

"We can't use the present perfect if there's no connection with present."

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  • While the use of the present perfect is generally as you describe, I think its use may also appropriate in cases to prevent a presumption of exclusivity. "X invented Y" may be taken to imply "The (one and only) inventor of Y was X". Saying "X has invented Y" may be grammatically dodgy in many contexts, but I think it leaves open the possible existence of other independent inventors. If the existence of other inventors was known, "The inventors of Y included X" might be better; if the existence is unknown but possible, I'm not sure what would be better than present perfect. – supercat Apr 13 '15 at 17:35
  • Another context in which you'd use the present perfect is when comparing which countries have invented the printer and which haven't. A counter-factual example, but if Belgium invented the printer independently of China, then you could say, "The Chinese have invented the printer, the Belgians have invented the printer, but the Senegalese have not invented the printer". Sorry Senegal. – Steve Jessop Apr 14 '15 at 15:10
11
  1. Who invented printing using movable type?
    -- The Chinese invented printing using movable type. [grammatical]
    -- The Chinese have invented printing. [not grammatical in this context].

  2. Name some of the things the Chinese have invented?
    -- The Chinese have invented gunpowder, movable type, and cast iron.

Question #1 establishes a context of an event completed in the past, which asks for the simple past tense.

Question #2 establishes a temporal context that might be paraphrased "over the centuries, up to and including the modern age". This context asks for the present perfect because the time extends from the past up to the present.

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6

If we are naming one of multiple things that the Chinese have invented, or otherwise implying that they have invented something so far, we can say the Chinese have invented printing because the Chinese are still inventing (or still might invent).

From Grammar for English Language Teachers (Parrott, 2000). Cambridge. pp. 186-187. Chapter on verb tenses for "the past":

"Unfinished periods of time

We use the present perfect simple to refer to completed events, states or actions which took place within a period of time which is unfinished . . . .

Often [the unfinished time period] is just implied.

I've never been outside Europe. (The period of the person's life is an implied unfinished period of time.)

In American English the past simple may be used in place of the present perfect simple in these instances."

I like this explanation because "connection to the present" is easy to say but often problematic to define. It also explains a significant source of confusion: AmE is less strict than BrE in distinguishing between felicitous uses of the present perfect simple and simple past.

Simple here means not progressive/continuous.

The invention also produced a thing which remains with us through the present. This is another way of seeing the event of inventing carrying a consequence that endures through an unfinished time period.

To those who say that we use the present perfect when there's a "connection to the present," we can reply that there is always some connection between something we utter and the present: the present is, after all, when we utter it.

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5

So why can't we say "The Chinese have invented the printer"?

But in some contexts, that kind of sentence can be said. It can be said in a context where the speaker thinks that the past situation (the invention of the printer) has relevance to the present.

There are many uses for the present perfect construction. The present perfect is used when the past time situation has current relevance to the present time. There are normal contexts that would make your example sentence completely acceptable.

When the present perfect is being used, the past situation doesn't have to occur recently in the past. It could have occurred a long, long, long time ago. (Note: And for your example, the Chinese don't even have to still be inventing stuff.) What matters is that the past situation has current relevance to the present time in the mind of the speaker.


Here are some (made up) examples, which will also show that the past time situation does not have to have been recent.

Example #1:

  • A: "Class, tell me, what have the Chinese invented?"
  • B: "The Chinese have invented Chinese checkers."
  • C: "The Chinese have invented Chinese food."
  • D: "The Chinese have invented gunpowder."

All of the sentences above are standard English, and are acceptable in that context.

Example #2:

  • A: "What have you accomplished in your professional life?"
  • B: "I have climbed Mount Everest."
  • A: "When was that?"
  • B: "Twenty years ago when I still had two legs."

Example #3:

  • A: "What did Tom accomplish in the past that makes him so special?"
  • B: "Tom has met the President."
  • A: "So what? Many people have met the President. Keep trying."
  • B: "Tom has killed a bear with his bare hands."
  • A: "Oh, well that's different. When did he do that?"
  • B: "Forty years ago when he was a mere child of twelve."

GRAMMAR: The present perfect is a compound tense. Both a present tense and a past tense is in it. The present perfect is used to place a situation (or part of it) into the past, which is one of the uses of the past-tense; and that past situation has relevance to the present time in the mind of the speaker.

In the appropriate context, the present perfect can be used; and in some contexts, it might be expected or preferred over the simple past-tense.

Many grammars distinguish four major uses of the present perfect:

  1. the continuative,
  2. the experiential (or 'existential') perfect,
  3. the resultative perfect,
  4. the perfect of recent past.

Your example seems to be involving the usage of the experiential perfect.


LONG VERSION:


The present perfect is a compound tense. It is a construction that involves two tenses: a primary present tense and a secondary past tense (the perfect). To understand grammatically how those two tenses work together in a present perfect construction, it's often safer to rely on a decent grammar source, a source that has already been vetted by well-respected professional linguists.

It would probably be simpler if I copied here some related excerpts from reliable grammar sources.


Here's some related info from the 2005 textbook by Huddleston and Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Pages 48-9:

6.1 The present perfect

The present perfect, like the simple preterite (the non-perfect preterite) in its central use, locates the situation, or part of it, in past time:

[41] - - - PRESENT PERFECT - - - - - SIMPLE PRETERITE

  • a. She [has read] your letter. - - b. She [read] your letter.

The difference in meaning results from the fact that the present perfect is a compound tense combining past and present, whereas the simple preterite is purely a past tense. The former includes explicit reference to the present as well as the past, whereas the latter does not. We can see the significance of the present tense component in two ways.

(a) Time adjuncts

. . .

(b) Current relevance

With the present perfect the past time situation is conceived of as having some kind of current relevance, relevance to the present, whereas the preterite does not express any such relationship. Compare:

[43]

  • i.a. She has lived in Paris for ten years. - b. She lived in Paris for ten years.

  • ii.a. She has met the President. - - - - - b. She met the President.

  • iii.a. The premier has resigned. - - - - - b. The premier resigned.

  • iv.a. You've put on some weight. - - - - b. You put on some weight.

. . .

In [ii.a ], a natural interpretation would be that we are concerned with her past experience as it affects her status now: some past experience of hers at some indefinite time puts her in the present state of being among the relatively small class of people who have met the President. If I use [ii.b ], on the other hand, I'm simply reporting a past event, and it will typically be clear from the context what time period I am talking about.

. . .


Here's some related info from the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum (et al.), The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL). Pages 142-6:

5.3 Present perfect vs the simple preterite

5.3.1 Present perfect as a compound tense

. . . The difference in meaning and use between the present perfect and the simple preterite reflects the fact that the former is a compound tense combining past and present, whereas the latter is a simple tense, just past. . . .

5.3.2 The experiential perfect

Grammars commonly distinguish four major uses of the present perfect: the continuative, the experiential (or 'existential') perfect, the resultative perfect, and the perfect of recent past. These can be thought of as a classification of the main ways in which the concept of a time-span up to now can be involved in the use and interpretation of the present perfect -- or as different ways in which the past situation may have 'current relevance'. The continuative has been dealt with already, and can be distinguished reasonably sharply from the non-continuative: compatibility with such expressions as ever since provides a criterion. The three categories within the non-coninuative are not mutually exclusive, but they are useful nevertheless.

The experiential/existential perfect is seen in:

[11 ]

  • i. I 've finally finished. - - We 've now walked ten miles.

  • ii. [This is / That was] the best meal I 've had all week.

  • iii. His sister has been up Mont Blance twice.

This use of the present perfect is concerned with the occurrence of situations within the time-span up to now. The connection with now is clearest and most direct when the completion of an accomplishment takes place at (or virtually at) Td, as in [i ]. The possibility of having present time adjuncts like now or at present shows clearly that we have present time meaning as well as present tense form. These bear some resemblance to continuatives -- the walking ten miles, for example, has occupied a period up to now. However, they cannot take continuative adjuncts like ever since ( *We've now walked ten miles ever since we started), and they are interpreted perfectively, not imperfectively.

The connection with now is also apparent in [11.ii ], illustrative of a common type involving superlatives or ordinal numerals (cf. It's the first/third time you've said that today). There is an actual or potential series of occurrences within the time-span up to now (with first only one is actualized, but there could have been more). In the this is version of [ii ] the meal is presumable still taking place, but it is nevertheless presented perfectively (progressive I've been having would be out of place), for the issue is its ranking in a series, which applies to it as a whole.

The connection with now is less direct in [11.iii ]: the ascents could be quite a long time in the past. The focus, however, is not on their occurrence at some particular time in the past but on the existence of the situation within the time-span. The connection with now is the potential for occurrence, or recurrence, of the situation at any time within the time-span up to now. Thus [iii ] implicates that his sister is still alive, while I haven't been to the market yet implicates that the possibility of my going to the market still exists (it hasn't closed down). (fn 37)

footnote 37:: The implicature may be weaker: that the same kind of situation is still possible. Nixon has been impeached, for example, can still be acceptable even though Nixon has since died, given a context where the issue is the occurrence within the time-span of situations of the kind "impeachment of a president".

. . .

5.3.3 The resultative perfect

. . .

5.3.4 The perfect of recent past

. . .


ASIDE: Often times there is confusion as to the use of past-time adjuncts with the use of the present perfect. Many easily available textbooks on grammar have over-simplified or over-generalized their grammar "rules" on this topic, and so, are often wrong. But that will hopefully be a topic for another day.

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  • 1
    This is a great long answer about this subject but how does this help the OP understand why his text book is telling him that the correct choice is "The Chinese invented the printer." and the choice "The Chinese have invented the printer." is wrong (in this case). – Catija Apr 14 '15 at 4:27
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    @Catija I don't know the rationale that Raymond Murphy was using to make his claim in that book that the present-perfect couldn't be used there for that example sentence, nor the context for that example. Mostly, I addressed the OP's question: "So why can't we say "The Chinese have invented the printer"? by showing that that sentence can actually be used in some contexts. In other words, I don't really know if R. Murphy was correct in what he opined in his book--I would have to read that section of his book. I would need the context for that example sentence. – F.E. Apr 14 '15 at 7:12
  • "Long Version" - Are you kidding me?! :P – M.A.R. Apr 15 '15 at 12:39
4

I could find a good point/answer on M.Swan's PEU with a similar example, like I provided you .so I thought to share it.

According to M.Swan, he says,

"The present perfect is normally used when we're thinking about past events together with their present result. For example,

I can't come to the party because I've broken my leg.

However, we usually prefer a past tense when we identify the person, thing or circumstances responsible for a present result situation (because we are thinking about the past cause, not the the present result.

*E.g:

  • Look what John's given me! (thinking about the gift)
  • who gave you that? (thinking about the past action of giving)

Other examples:

  • Why ere you crying? ~Granny hit me. (NOT...Granny has hit me.)

  • Some people think that 'Pericles' was not written by Shakespeare.

  • The Chinese invented paper (NOT The Chinese have invented paper)" [this is not an example which I created. I copied this from M.swan's book]

So I guess the reason why we can't use the present perfect in the sentence ' The Chinese invented the printer' is because we're thinking about the past cause of inventing the printer.not the present result.

If my guessing is wrong. please add a comment to me.( and I apologize for posting this as an answer.)

Further, while I was writing this answer, a problem arised . That is, according to Swan, if we are thanking about the past cause (not the present result ) we prefer the past tense , but I question again whether we can say 'The Chinese have invented the printer if we are thinking about the present result of inventing the printer (such as benefits )?

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  • 3
    One of the "rules" to Stack Exchange is that people can post a question and then answer it themselves, there is no need to apologize. – user6951 Apr 13 '15 at 7:32
  • I don't like Swan's terms 'past cause' and 'present result'. They do not help me when thinking about the present perfect. And I don't think they are helping you that much, because as people have pointed out in answers and comments, The Chinese have invented the printer is fine in certain contexts. Read the answers by TRomano, PeterCortes: they are simple and straight to the point. – user6951 Apr 13 '15 at 7:45
  • When we narrate a past event or series of past events, we use the simple past (Granny hit me, Granny hit me 33 times, The Chinese invented the press). When the speaker wants to say that a past event has relevance to the speaker at the moment of speaking, we can use the present perfect Granny has hit me (and that is why I am now crying). Granny has hit me 33 times in the past year (and that is why I am now reporting her to the police. – user6951 Apr 13 '15 at 7:51
  • If I walk up to @TRomano and, without any other context, say The Chinese invented the printing press, I am telling him about a past event. The event is over. I am not saying that the event has present relevance to me at the moment I say it. Yes, of course, it has tremendous historical significance overall to the world, but I am not talking about that kind of significance or benefits or even relevance. – user6951 Apr 13 '15 at 7:56
  • If I walk up to @TRomano and, without any other context, say The Chinese have invented the printing press, he is going to wonder what relevance that fact has to me or him or anybody at the exact moment I say it (the moment of speaking). And unless I tell him what that relevance is, he will think my statement strange. – user6951 Apr 13 '15 at 8:03
0

I chose to change the focus from the chronological to who or what the subject (or object) of the sentence/statement is.

If a question "What can you tell me about gunpowder?" is asked, the answer is, "The Chinese invented gunpowder.", since the focus is on the gunpowder (the object of the sentence).

On the other hand, if the focus is on the Chinese (a group of people that continue to exist presently), then you could say "The Chinese have invented gunpowder, printing, and rickshaws.", as if the question was "What can you tell me about the Chinese?

In deciding between the statements "The Chinese invented gunpowder." or "The Chinese have invented gunpowder.", consider which entity is the topic of the discussion.

If the topic is The Chinese (Q: "Tell me about the Chinese." A: "The Chinese HAVE invented gunpowder and spaghetti."), then use "have".
But, if the topic is the invention (Q: "Tell me about gunpowder." A: "The Chinese invented gunpowder."), then don't use "have".

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  • 1
    Welcome to ELL! Currently it's kinda hard to follow what you've written here, so please edit your post and improve its formatting. – M.A.R. Apr 13 '15 at 16:00
  • MARamezani, when I have time, I'll reorganize the comment to make it more clear. In the meantime, although it is not well-structured (it was written off the top of my head), I believe someone could get the gist of it. In any case, when I get some time, I'll rewrite it. – rcroce Apr 13 '15 at 19:40
  • Let me try to write my point more clearly. – rcroce Apr 13 '15 at 19:42
  • There's not much problem with your answer. (Also, you might take a look at the FAQ and see how SE is different from forums) We leave trivial info for comments, and the answer part is left for high quality posts. – M.A.R. Apr 13 '15 at 19:45

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