past perfect for past

Danielle E. Cyr dcyr at
Fri Aug 13 14:59:59 UTC 2010

My students at York University in Toronto are from a highly multicultural and
multilingual background. Very few of them, and even fewer of their parents,
have English as their first language. Most of them, however, have had their
high school years in Canada. They do not have the faintest notion of the
difference between simple past and past perfect, especially of the resultative
aspect in past perfect. Only a couple of mature students still know the

Danielle E. Cyr

Quoting Damien Hall <djh514 at>:

> 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
> found.
> Damien
> --
> Damien Hall
> University of York
> Department of Language and Linguistic Science
> Heslington
> YO10 5DD
> UK
> Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
>      (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
> Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673

"The only hope we have as human beings is to learn each other's languages.  Only
then can we truly hope to understand one another."

Professor Danielle E. Cyr
Department of French Studies
York University
Toronto, ON, Canada, M3J 1P3
Tel. 1.416.736.2100 #310180
FAX. 1.416.736.5924
dcyr at

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