past perfect for past

Damien Hall djh514 at
Wed Aug 11 18:29:06 UTC 2010

This alternation is certainly not limited to AAVE any more - it was one of 
the peculiarities of young Americans' English that stuck out most to me as 
a British sociolinguist at Penn between 2003 and 2008. I'm afraid I don't 
know of any literature on it, though. FWIW, my impression is that, while 
common, using the past perfect for the simple past is a variant which 
(educated) Americans who are older than their twenties would still avoid 
and see as sub-standard, not merely different.

Could it be related to the use of the simple past in American English (by 
many people, not just the young) where British English would prefer the 
perfect: the classic 'Did you eat yet?' ~ 'Have you eaten (yet)?' 
alternation? In a way, these two developments could be seen as part of a 
'syntactic / semantic chain-shift', whereby in both cases American English 
can use a tense further into the past than British English can? Such a 
shift would then clearly be well advanced for the perfect / past 
alternation, but only in its beginning stages for the simple past / past 
perfect alternation; but, if this were like a phonological chain-shift, we 
could expect the simple past / past perfect alternation to gain ground and 
expand its social coverage in future.

I have, in fact, written a paper on the perfect / past alternation, which I 
would be very willing to pass on to anyone who would like to see it.

I would also recommend that this question be asked on the American Dialect 
Society List

since the ADS-L has among its subscribers a number of experts who would be 
able to be more authoritative about it, and others who can add their 
experience of when and where the past perfect / past alternation has been 


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673


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