In some dialects of English, there seems to be a clear(er) difference between past tense verbs with the auxiliary have as in “I have eaten the pie”, and those without, as in “I ate the pie”. The only distinction that I know of (can discern for my dialect) regarding use of “have” vs. Ø (or “do” in relevant constructions) comes out in the contrast “I have eaten pie” meaning “I have, at some point in life, eaten pie”, vs. “I ate pie” which doesn’t have the connotation of non-specific time. “Have” is incompatible with a time expression in the same S that identifies a specific time (*“I have eaten pie yesterday/last Christmas”) though it is compatible with such an expression in the discourse (“I have eaten pie, in fact it was yesterday”). Apart from that, have+V seems to be interchangeable with bare V.

Is there any paper which lays out the semantics and pragmatics of bare verb vs. have+verb, especially in UK-derived dialects of English?

  • Schoolbook English usually explains the difference as an aspectual one (have + V: imperfective, i.e. something continuous, repetitive or an unspecified point of time; V simple past: perfective, i.e. a punctual event). Negation of have + V results in the meaning "never" (because you kind of negate the universal time quantification) while neg. of V simple past is negation of the action at the specific mentioned point of time (not excluding the possiblity that the event happend at some, other, point of time). I wasn't aware that native speakers don't judge this distintion as that clear. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:34
  • Well, I'm looking for professional linguistic works in semantics and pragmatics, not Schoolbook English.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:40
  • That's why made it only a comment and not an answer. Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 19:40
  • I think this is a question about elementary English grammar. Probably better off in the "English language learners" forum.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 23:58
  • Comrie (1976, pp.52-64) is a nice, accessible introduction, explaining e.g. why the perfect is incompatible with specific time and why there are exceptions. Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 3:35

2 Answers 2


There's lots of work on the semantics of the English perfect constructions. A recentish (2002) paper by Kiparsky which could get you started is here.

  • Tough choice, but this paper includes multi references. Too bad I can't split it.
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 21:22

The classic statement of the meanings of the perfect construction is McCawley, “Tense and time reference in English”, in Langendoen & Fillmore, Studies in linguistic semantics, 1971. (McCawley subsequently retracted one of the four meanings he described there, the "Hot News" perfect.)

After that linguists struggled with the perfect—is it monosemous? is it an aspect and/or a tense?, and particularly the "Present Perfect Puzzle", the constraint on temporals with present perfect— for a generation without getting much farther. But a couple of recent papers have to my mind pretty well settled what the perfect is about:

Michaelis, “Stative by Construction”, Linguistics 49-6 (2011), available online here.

Nishiyama and Koenig, “What is a perfect state?”, Language 86, 3 (2010), available through JSTOR.

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