LINGUIST List 8.842

Sat Jun 7 1997

Sum: Expressions like 'Put them away yet?'

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Carsten Breul, Sum: Expressions like 'Put them away yet?'

Message 1: Sum: Expressions like 'Put them away yet?'

Date: Wed, 4 Jun 1997 09:00:33 +0000
From: Carsten Breul <>
Subject: Sum: Expressions like 'Put them away yet?'

A big Thank You to the persons who commented on my query
(Linguist, Vol. 8-808) on expressions like 'Put them away

J. Atkinson, R.M. Brend, B. Clark, C. Davenport, D. Dee, M.
Donohue, M. Farris, N. Frishberg, D. Harris, J. Hilferty, L.
Horn, D. Houghton, P. LeSourd, R. Mc Callister, C.D. Nilep,
J. Reighard, P. Svenonius, M. Swart, G.H. Toops, L. Trask,
R. Wright

The result is quite definite.
a) My impression that

 (2) See them yet?
 (3) Get them yet?
 (4) Write him yet?
 (5) Hear it yet?

will have a present tense reading, and that a simple past
reading is not possible, has been REJECTED almost
unanimously by my informants (only a couple of British
English speakers among them). For most of them the simple
past interpretation is in fact dominant over the present
tense interpretation; some informants even have difficulties
in imagining an appropriate situation for a present tense
reading; others, though, have reported no problems here.

b) When expressions such as (2)-(5) are used with a
non-present tense meaning, there is no distinction made and
perceived between meanings associated with simple past in
contrast to present perfect in other constructions. (This,
then, supports Bolinger saying with respect to 'Put them
away yet?': "I do not force you to an either-or choice
between the two compatible meanings 'Did you put them away
yet?' and 'Have you put them away yet?', in spite of formal
differences, elsewhere in the structure between _see_ , and
_seen_, _do_ and _done_, _go_ and _gone_, etc.". And this is
what I referred to in my query as 'indeterminedness' of
meaning in contrast to 'ambiguity'.)

c) A number of further comments have been made, e.g.
concerning the influence of context on the interpretation of
these expression; concerning the influence of the semantic
class of the verbs in these expressions on their
interpretation; concerning the influence of the presence of

Meanwhile I have found the following note in Quirk et al.'s
_Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language_: "In AmE,
the simple past is often preferred to the present perfective
for the variants of the indefinite past discussed in this
section [4.22]. Compare [_Have the children come home
yet?_], for example, with _Did the children come home
yet?_<esp AmE>."

Dr. Carsten Breul
Englisches Seminar
Universitaet Bonn
Regina-Pacis-Weg 5
53113 Bonn

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