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In the sentence (a), is the word have used as an auxiliary or a main verb?

a) Decades of neglect have now come to haunt governments.

If I say (b), does it convey the same meaning?

b) Decades of neglect now come to haunt government.

In Present perfect tense have is used to say something which happens in past and has impact in present (http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html)

E.g. I have seen that movie.

Meaning: I saw that movie yesterday hence no point to see this movie again today.

Then what meanings do my sentences a) and b) convey? Do they mean the same thing?

  • No, because sentence (b) does not contain anything in any past tense. (A) implies (recent) past, (b) implies present (happening now). – IanF1 Apr 23 '15 at 5:32
  • Recommended reading: ell.stackexchange.com/q/13255/3281 – Damkerng T. Apr 24 '15 at 20:04
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It sounds as though you're asking whether "have" is optional. If that is what you are asking, then no, you need to use "have" when using the present perfect tense.

In sentence (a), you use the present perfect tense to imply that the consequences of decades of neglect are now fully apparent. This is because the present perfect signals that the action is completed ("perfect" also means "complete"), so the haunting ghosts of those decades of neglect have finished their "coming"—they are already here.

Sentence (b) is technically correct, but unidiomatic. The simple present tends to be used to describe regular habits rather than something that is happening right now (e.g., "I come home every weekday at 5 o'clock"). If we want to emphasize that something is happening now, we use the present progressive rather than the simple present.

(c) Decades of neglect are now coming to haunt governments.

The present progressive exemplified in sentence (c) means that the action is still ongoing. If the ghosts of decades past are still coming, they aren't here yet. The idea is that they soon will be, however.

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