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Thread: 'Have you eaten?' and 'Did you eat?'

  1. #1
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    'Have you eaten?' and 'Did you eat?'

    I was not sure whether to post this bit of back and forth concerning simple past vs perfect in this forum or the one where Russians are engaged in learning English. So maybe will put it in both places.

    This is a discussion list populated mostly by teachers of Russian as a Foreign Language.

    Date: Sun, 7 Sep 2008 23:46:00 +0300
    Reply-To: "SEELANGS: Slavic & East European Languages and Literatures list"
    Sender: Slavic and Eastern European Languages
    Subject: 'Have you eaten?' and 'Did you eat?'

    ===
    The distinction between 'Have you eaten?' and 'Did you eat?' is very much alive and well in most varieties of British English. Indeed, I used to refer to this distinction when teaching the difference between imperfective and perfective questions in Russian:
    Вы звонили домой? [Vy zvonili domoj?] = Have you phoned home?
    Вы позвонили домой? [Vy pozvonili domoj?] = Did you phone home?
    John Dunn.

    ===
    Dear John, Can you check you examples? If I were asked I would translate them quite to the opposite --
    Вы звонили домой? [Vy zvonili domoj?] (nesovershonny, imperfect, ) = Did you phone home?
    Вы позвонили домой? [Vy pozvonili domoj?] (sovershonny, perfective) = Have you phoned home?

    ===
    In the abstract, I would be inclined to agree: Вы звонили домой? = Did you phone home [ever]?, but Вы позвонили домой? = Have you phoned home [just now]? However, this is one of those occasions when it all depends on context. If one is speaking about a specific occasion in the past, then Вы позвонили домой? is certainly Did you phone home [then]?, whereas if you want to know whether the action has been performed at all, but in the immediate past, then Have you phoned home? is Вы звонили домой [вообще]? In other words, the perfect illustration of what we always tell our students, that aspect is not the same as tense.

    But surely the name of the aspect is не/совершенный, not не/совершённый, the latter being only the p.p.p. of совершить?

    ===
    Just quickly: I have often found it helpful to think of the perfective as embedded in an implicit narrative sequence. "[So then] I called home."

    ===
    This reminds me of a mistake that I made once on arriving home at friends' flat in Moscow quite late, when they had already started eating.

    I wanted to know if they had had any soup. I asked "Vy c'yeli sup?" They thought I was asking whether they had eaten it all up and left none for me.
    Perfective = completion.
    Of course I should have asked "Vy yeli sup?" I have used this as an aspect example ever since.

    ===
    In other words, the present perfect in English, which is used to inquire about the general fact of an action having been or not been performed, can generally be rendered into Russian using its imperfect aspect.

    While at the same time, we can render the English language's past simple into Russian by using the perfect aspect, since the past simple usually is used to inquire about whether an action occured at all.

    Is that correct?

    Russian-speaking students of English as a foreign language tend to struggle with the perfect tenses and quite a bit. These learners/speakers tend to use the present perfect more often than not in cases where the present perfect isn't needed, depending on the depth of their knowledge of English. e.g., Have you called me today? vs. Did you call me today?

    ===
    For me, the present perfect inquires whether it happened at all, with no expectation as to timing (other than the fact that it was before the present), while the simple past inquires whether it happened at some particular time (the time it was expected to happen). In general, the perfect tenses imply relevance to the time frame of the narrative (present perfect actions are relevant to the present time frame, past perfect actions are relevant to the speaker's chosen past time frame). So it's the opposite of what you describe.

    Thus, if I'm asked "have you eaten (yet)?" the speaker wants to know if I'm now hungry or sated, probably with a view to offering me a meal, whereas if he asks "did you eat?" he had an expectation that I was going to eat at some particular time and wants me to confirm/deny that events transpired as expected (in the past time frame of his narrative); he may have no food to offer.

    The FL speakers who get this most obviously wrong most often in my experience are those whose native language is German or French, whose native tenses have just the opposite usage.

    ===
    What's getting lost here is first and foremost that not all verbs are created equal, as Mr. Vendler explained some 50 years ago (I think this is it: www.csd.abdn.ac.uk/~agatt/teaching/dl/vendler57.pdf ). Позвонить, спрятаться, съесть and let's add упасть or стукнуть are very different.

    Prjatat'sja is a state (an no, I am not going to write a whole paper here) and behaves differently from the other three groups (activities, achievements, accomplishments) and their translations may at times vary.

    Second important issue in questions asked is Who asks whom? in case of Ty zvonil/pozvonil domoj? or Ty el sup? vs. Ty s"el sup? and what do both participants know at the moment of speech and what are the expectations vis-a-vis the action, i.e had there been a previous discussion or exchange regarding the action?

    ===

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    Властелин Medved's Avatar
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    Thanks, David.
    There's something I have to add to yours:
    Either of "Вы звонили домой?" and "Вы позвонили домой?" can be used perfectly with the same meaning of "Have you had a call home?" with the only difference that you "позвонили" implies that:

    1. You expect the call to have been successful, like the parents of that girl who "звонила домой" picked up the phone, talked to her for a while and allowed her to stay at the party for another couple of hours (Or they fell out, but at least they know where she is). And you "звонили" allows an unsuccessful call, like she may have called but the number was buzy or something.

    2. You strongly expect that the call has been made, if your gf hasn't called at all, that would be of a great surprise; and vice versa, if you say "вы звонили.." -- all bets are off.

    - Fox -
    Another month ends. All targets met. All systems working. All customers satisfied. All staff eagerly enthusiastic. All pigs fed and ready to fly.

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    Старший оракул
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaika View Post
    Russian-speaking students of English as a foreign language tend to struggle with the perfect tenses and quite a bit. These learners/speakers tend to use the present perfect more often than not in cases where the present perfect isn't needed, depending on the depth of their knowledge of English. e.g., Have you called me today? vs. Did you call me today?
    Does it mean that "Have you called me today?" is wrong? I was taught that the present perfect is used when the time period specified for the action is not finished yet (today, this morning, this year), and the past simple is used when the time period is already in the past (yesterday, last year, one second ago).
    So, as I was taught, I shoud say "Have you called me this year?" but "Did you call me a second ago?". Is it correct?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Боб Уайтман View Post
    So, as I was taught, I shoud say "Have you called me this year?" but "Did you call me a second ago?". Is it correct?
    To be more exact, I was taught that Present Perfect isn't used when a time moment is specified in the same sentence. After all, it is a PRESENT tense, which refers to a result of an action now.

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    Старший оракул Seraph's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Боб Уайтман View Post
    Does it mean that "Have you called me today?" is wrong? I was taught that the present perfect is used when the time period specified for the action is not finished yet (today, this morning, this year), and the past simple is used when the time period is already in the past (yesterday, last year, one second ago).
    So, as I was taught, I should say "Have you called me this year?" but "Did you call me a second ago?". Is it correct?
    "Have you called me today?" This is ok, because within the day is not specified sufficiently. To me it seems your understanding is correct.

    http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html

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    car
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    Вы звонили домой? Did you try to phone home?
    Вы позвонили домой? Did you phone home/Have you phoned home?

    I doubt the difference can be expressed via English tenses solely, rather than with auxiliary verbs like "try".

    I think the former variant is used more often, because such a question usually implies that it is unknown whether one called home at all.
    The latter variant is more definite (perfective), and it's more about asking a specific question about a specific call you wanted to make.

    Note that aspects have slightly different meanings in interrogative sentences, as opposed to declarative sentences.

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    Quote Originally Posted by car View Post
    Note that aspects have slightly different meanings in interrogative sentences, as opposed to declarative sentences.
    And in negative sentences as well.
    Compare:
    - Это ты разбил окно? - Is it you who broke the window?
    - Нет, я не разбивал его. - No, I did not break it.

    The questions uses a perfective verb here, because the window is broken (so, we get the result).
    The negative answer uses an imperfective verb, because there was no action at all, it did not even start. If the answerer replied as "Я не разбил окно" (with the perfective verb), it would sound as if he tried to break it, but failed to get a result.

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    "Невозможно передать смысл иностранной фразы, не разрушив при этом её первоначальную структуру."

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