The present perfect puzzle
In John has left London, it is clear that the event in question, John's leaving London, has occurred in the past, for example yesterday at ten. Why is it impossible, then, to make this the event time more explicit by such an adverbial, as in Yesterday at ten, John has left London? Any solution of this puzzle crucially hinges on the meaning assigned to the perfect, and the present perfect in particular. Two such solutions, a scope solution and the 'current relevance'-solution, are discussed and shown to be inadequate. A new, strictly compositional analysis of the English perfect is suggested, and it is argued that the imcompatibility of the present perfect and most past tense adverbials has neither syntactic nor semantic reasons but follows from a simple pragmatical constraint, called here the 'position-definiteness constraint'. It is the very same constraint, which also makes an utterance such as At ten, John had left at nine pragmatically odd, even if John indeed had left at nine, and hence the utterance is true.
Publication typeJournal article