Apologies if this is too basic, but I know very little about linguistics and figured this would be a good place to ask.

English seems like it draws from several other langiuages, notably the romance languages like French, where there is not really a perfect tense. That is, there is no tense for "I have been living here for...". Instead one would use prepositions

J'habite ici depuis...

where this would translate literally (whatever that actually means) to

I live here since...

but actually means

I've been living here since..

So I'm wondering how, why, and from where English acquired this particular feature. I looked over the Wikipeda page on this but it's more about usage than history.

  • 2
    This particular use has been called the continuative perfect.
    – Michaelyus
    Oct 23 '20 at 14:59
  • 1
    Are you interested in the perfect in general ("I have [already] done this", etc), or specifically the version with "have been ___ing"? (Michaelyus calls it the "continuative" perfect, I'd call it the "progressive" perfect, same thing by different names.)
    – Draconis
    Oct 23 '20 at 16:14
  • 2
    Very short answer: for various reasons, Germanic languages lost all tense affixes except past and present. To make up the difference, they did things with auxiliary verbs (have, be, and modals). One of them adopted a completive construction, as we would say it today, I have that job finished now, to become I have finished that job now, putting together the have and the past participle as a verbal unit. That's the ultimate origin of the English perfect construction.
    – jlawler
    Oct 23 '20 at 16:17
  • @Draconis And I was taught to call it Perfect Continuous tense :)
    – tum_
    Oct 23 '20 at 19:19
  • @jlawler But in other Germanic languages, as in most of SAE and periphery, the construction is exactly as in French. English is an outlier. Oct 24 '20 at 7:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.