Perfect Forms. Category of Time-Correlation

§ 513. Like other analytical forms of the verb, the Perf. forms have developed from OE verb phrases.

The main source of the Perf. form was the OE “possessive" construc­tion, consisting of the verb habban (NE have), a direct object and Part. II of a transitive verb, which served as an attribute to the object, e.g.:

Hæfde sē ʒoda cempan ʒecorene (Beowulf)

(lit. ‘had that brave (man) warriors chosen’.) The meaning of the construction was: a person (the subject) possessed a thing (the object), which was characterised by a certain state resulting from a previous action (the participle). The participle, like other attributes, agreed with the noun-object in Number, Gender and Case.

Originally the verb habban was used only with participles of transi­tive verbs; then it came to be used with verbs taking genitival, datival and prepositional objects and even with intransitive verbs, which shows that it was developing into a kind of auxiliary, e.g.:

for sefenn winnterr haffde he ben in Egypte (Ormulum)

(‘For seven winters he had been in Egypt’)

The other source of the Perf. forms was the OE phrase consisting of the link-verb bēon and Part. II of intransitive verbs: nū is sē dæʒ cumen (Beowulf)

(‘Now the day has (lit. “is”) come’)

hwænne mine daʒas āʒāne bēop (Ælfric)...

(‘When my days are gone (when I die)’.)

In these phrases the participle usually agreed with the subject.

§ 514. Towards ME the two verb phrases turned into analytical forms and made up a single set of forms termed “perfect”. The Participles had lost their forms of agreement with the noun (the subject - in the construction with ben, the object - in the construction with haven); the places of the object and the participle in the construction with haven changed: the Participle usually stood close to the verb have and was followed by the object which referred now to the analytical form as a whole - instead of being governed by have. Cf. the OE possessive con­struction quoted above with ME examples:

The holy blisful martyr for to seke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. (Chaucer)

(‘To seek the holy blissful martyr who has helped them when they were ill.’)

In the Perfect form the auxiliary have had lost the meaning of pos­session and was used with all kinds of verbs, without restriction. Have was becoming a universal auxiliary, whereas the use of be grew more restricted. Shakespeare employs be mainly with verbs of movement, but even with these verbs be alternates with have:

He is not yet arriv’d ...

On a modern pace I have since arrived but hither.

One of the late instances of perfect with both auxiliaries is foundin Samuel Pepy’s DIARY (late 17th c.):

and My Lord Chesterfield had killed another gentlemen and was fled.[61]

§ 515. By the age of the Literary Renaissance the perfect forms had spread to all the parts of the verb system, so that ultimately the cate­gory of time correlation became the most universal of verbal categories. An isolated instance of Perfect Continuous is found in Chaucer:

We han ben waityng al this fortnight.

(‘We have been waiting all this fortnight.’)

Instances of Perfect Passive are more frequent:

O fyl for shame! they that han been brent

Allas! can thei nat flee the fyres hete?

(‘For shame, they who have been burnt, alas, can they not escape the fire's heat?’)

Perfect forms in the Pass. Voice, Perf. forms of the Subj. Mood, Future Perf. forms are common in Shakespeare:

if she had been blessed....

§ 516. The stabilisation of the formal pattern of the perf. and its wide appli­cation throughout the verb paradigm were important stages in the formation of a new verbal category, termed nowadays the category of “Time-Correlation” or “Phase”. Yet its final establishment presupposes also the growth of semantic opposition between the members of the category: the Perf. and the non-Perf. forms.

In the beginning the main function of the Perf. forms was to indicate a complet­ed action, to express “perfectivity”, rather than priority of one action to another and relevance for the subsequent situation (the meanings ascribed to the Perf. forms today). For a long time the Perf. forms were used as synonyms of the Simple Past: the perfective meaning, as well as that of priority, could be expressed both by the simple form of the Past tense (Past Indef.) and by the Perf. form. The Pres. and Past Perf. commonly alternated with Past Indef. in narration:

This sowdan for his privee conseil sente,

And, shortly of this matir for to pace,

He hath to hem declared his entente,

And seyde hem certein... (Chaucer)

(‘This Sultan sent for his Privy Council and, to tell the matter briefly, he has declared his intention to them, and said to them resolutely...’)

At the same time we find many instances of Perf. forms used in their modern meanings, e. g.

“Now, goode syre,” quod I thoo,

“Ye han wel told me herebefore,

Hyt ys no nede to reherse it more.” (Chaucer)

(‘Now, good sir, said I though, you have told me all well before there is no need to repeat it again.’)

For he was late y-come from his viage,

And wente for to doon his pilgrymage. (Chaucer)

(‘For he had come from his voyage late (not long before) and went to do his pilgrimage.’)

Towards the age of Shakespeare the contrast between the Perf. and non-Perf. forms became more obvious. In the main Shakespeare and his contemporaries employ the Perf. forms in the same way as they are employed in present-day English:

Oh. speak no more! for I have heard too much.

I have fled myself, and have instructed cowards To run and show their shoulders.

I thought the King had more affected the Duke of Albany than Cornwall.

Only occasionally usage varies and the spheres of the Past Indef. and the Perf. forms overlap:

And never, since the middle summer's spring Met we on hill, in dale, forest or mead.

Sometimes the Pres. and Past Perf. are used indiscriminately, though far more seldom than in Chaucer’s age:

These three have robbed me; and this demi-devil -

For he's a bastard one - had plotted with them.

Thus the meaning of “priority and relevance for the subsequent situation” became the domain of the Perf. forms and the meaning of the non-Perf. forms, particularly the Past Indef., was accordingly narrowed. It may be concluded that the category of Time-Correlation was established in the 17th c.

§ 517. The following chart summarises the sources of the Perf. and Pass. forms:

OE compound nominal predicate bēon + Parti­ciple II ME and NE forms OE verb phrases
of intransitive verbs → Perf. forms (have gradually replacing be)←   Poss. construction: habban + object + Part. II of transitive verbs
of transitive verbs → Pass. forms (later - of other objective verbs)