The changing verb phrase in present-day British English

FTFs and matching corpus examples for the perfect

If you have arrived at this page and are not sure what an FTF is and what it can be used for, you might find it useful to read more about them on our FTFs page before reading this page.

The Perfect

The English perfect construction involves the perfect auxiliary HAVE followed by a verb in the past participle form. The present perfect is the most frequently occurring form of the construction, but the perfect also occurs in past and non-finite (infinitival and ing-participial) forms. Perfect auxiliaries in DCPSE are marked with the feature 'perf'. One of the tense features 'pres', 'past', 'infin' or 'ingp' can be added to make the search more specific.

The sections below give FTFs and matching corpus examples for the present perfect, past perfect and non-finite perfect. Simpler, single-node FTFs are shown first as ways to carry out more general searches. The final section then shows how more complex FTFs can be used to find examples which occur within specific structural contexts.

The Present Perfect

The single-node FTF shown in Figure 1 can be used to retrieve examples of the present perfect. Matching tree structures retrieved from the corpus are shown in Figures 2 and 3. The trees are displayed with branching from left to right, rather than from top to bottom. Further examples from the corpus are given in text form below the figures.

Figure 1: FTF present perfect auxiliary verb
Figure 1. FTF for present perfect.

Figure 2. Example from DCPSE retrieved using the FTF in Figure 1: I haven't lost it.

Figure 3. Example from DCPSE retrieved using the FTF in Figure 1: Have they gone now.


<DCPSE:DI-B60/ICE-GB:S1A-077 #0065:1:B> It 's changed to my address

<DCPSE:DI-E04/ICE-GB:S1B-044 #0067:2:B> I 've never written any fiction before

<DCPSE:DI-F13/ICE-GB:S2A-015 #0217:1:A> We 've seen some good tackling by them

<DCPSE:DI-G03/ICE-GB:S1B-055 #0070:1:B> Mr Speaker since June nineteen eighty-seven unemployment in the United Kingdom seasonally adjusted has fallen by about forty-four per cent and by just under one and a quarter million

<DCPSE:DI-J09/ICE-GB:S2B-023 #0037:1:A> Undoubtedly dance music has taken sampling on board far faster than any other musical genre

<DCPSE:DL-A01/LLC:S-03-01 #0168:1:A> I haven't written them <,> for so long now <,>

<DCPSE:DL-B09/LLC:S-01-09 #0125:1:D> what 's happened to your finger

<DCPSE:DL-B20/LLC:S-02-08 #0114:1:A> to put it <,> to put you in the pIcture there 's never been any conscription in Ireland <,> uh for the British Army <,>

<DCPSE:DL-F01/LLC:S-10-01 #0121:1:A> in <,> just under half an hour England have scored fIfteen runs <,> and lost one wIcket <,,> <unclear-syllables> <,,>

<DCPSE:DL-I01/LLC:S-11-02 #0011:1:A> it 's been a curious academic year up to date <,,>

The Past Perfect

Examples of the past perfect can be found by using the FTF shown in Figure 4. A matching tree structure retrieved from the corpus is shown in Figure 5, and further examples are given below in text form.

Figure 4. FTF for past perfect.

Figure 5. Tree for example from DCPSE retrieved using the FTF in Figure 4: And he'd been there.


<DCPSE:DI-B48/ICE-GB:S1A-058 #0091:2:B> Well <,> I mean I think uh <,> if <,> I mean I think if there 'd been any problems they would they would have come up with that pretty quickly <,,>

<DCPSE:DI-C03/ICE-GB:S1A-093 #0084:1:A> And uh she hadn't seen him for nine months or something

<DCPSE:DL-B19/LLC:S-02-07 #0655:1:C> and <,> <,,> I was staying in this sort of bedsitter place that she 'd booked up for me <,>

<DCPSE:DL-D02/LLC:S-05-02 #0110:1:F> when <,> if we had been offered the choice of being killed or not that moment we would have got down as low as we could into the nearest shell hole

<DCPSE:DL-I02/LLC:S-11-03 #0208:4:A> <,,> and I realized the whole <,> lounge had fallen silent <,> and <,> I had to go on

The Non-Finite Perfect

In the non-finite perfect, HAVE occurs in infinitival or ing-participial form. These forms can be found by using an FTF like those in Figure 1 and Figure 4, but with the tense features 'infin' or 'ingp'. Some examples from DCPSE retrieved by these searches are given below.

Examples of the infinitival perfect

<DCPSE:DI-A11/ICE-GB:S1A-059 #0279:1:B> You should have been a medic

<DCPSE:DI-J07/ICE-GB:S2B-021 #0027:1:A> Mr Sinunu was discovered to have been ordering up government aircraft to fly him to the dentist <,> or on skiing holidays or to political fund raising events for the Republican party <,>

<DCPSE:DL-A07/LLC:S-06-02 #0464:1:B> she seems to have been far less tired

<DCPSE:DL-B26/LLC:S-04-01 #0312:1:B> I thought it might have been in the car but I checked and it wasn't

Examples of the ing-participial perfect

<DCPSE:DI-B90/ICE-GB:S1B-020 #0009:1:A> So having established that part of the <,> design then what are you going to do

<DCPSE:DI-D09/ICE-GB:S1B-029 #0140:1:B> They will be defined as having been the pointers

<DCPSE:DL-C01/LLC:S-07-01 #0545:2:A> and not having heard from anybody I thought I 'd better check up <,,>

<DCPSE:DL-J02/LLC:S-12-02 #0124:1:A> I have myself <,> lectured on the Black Death <,,> without ever having had the disease <,>

The Infinitival Perfect in Particular Structural Contexts

Using a parsed corpus like DCPSE makes it easier to search for examples which occur in particular grammatical contexts. For instance, the simple FTF search described above for the infinitival perfect found some examples which occurred after a modal auxiliary and some which occurred in other kinds of structure following the marker to. Several different FTFs can be constructed to find examples which occur within the different structures, and to compare frequency of occurrence in these structures.

Figure 6 shows an FTF used to retrieve examples of the infinitival perfect auxiliary occurring after a modal auxiliary within a VP, and Figure 7 shows a matching tree structure retrieved from the corpus.

Figure 6. FTF for infinitival perfect auxiliary which follows a modal auxiliary within a VP.

Figure 7. Example from DCPSE retrieved using the FTF in Figure 6: And the referee could surely have played advantage.

Note that a VP, in the parsing system used in DCPSE (as in ICE-GB), consists of the main verb and any preceding auxiliaries, with intervening material such as adverb phrases included (it does not include complements or adjuncts that follow the main verb). Intervening material (such as surely in the Figure 7 example) is allowed for in the FTF by choosing the setting 'next child: after' (shown by the white arrow) rather than 'next child: immediately after'.

The context shown in Figure 6 is by far the most frequent one for the infinitival perfect in DCPSE. However, further FTFs can be constructed for other contexts. An example of another FTF is given in Figure 8, and a matching tree structure in Figure 9.

Figure 8. FTF for infinitival perfect auxiliary in VP following 'particle' to within a clause.

Figure 9. Example from DCPSE retrieved using the FTF in Figure 8: Nice to have met you.

A summary of findings for the study of the perfect is available here.

This page last modified 12 June, 2013 by Jill Bowie.