1. spklvr
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    spklvr New Member Contributor

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    Progressive help, please

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by spklvr, Feb 26, 2012.

    This is an assignment for the grammar course I'm taking, and sadly our teacher is impossible to understand. I have tried to google a bit, but I'd love it if someone explained the actual task.

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    (a) She has been writing most of our Christmas cards, but she still has a few more to do.

    The progressive here in not acceptable apparently, but I don't understand why, and neither does anyone else in my class that I have spoken to.
  2. AntisocialMoose
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    AntisocialMoose New Member

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    I haven't studied English Grammars in about a year so my memory is iffy. Did your teacher present you with acceptable examples or rules as to its use?

    Since I was in a Linguistics class there wasn't too much focus on what was right (by grammarians) and rather how it is used. So I MAY be able to help or I may be completely useless. I'm going to have read up on it a bit to remember, I'll come back and post if I think of something.
  3. AntisocialMoose
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    AntisocialMoose New Member

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    Okay, after reading your sentence and brushing up I think I know the problem.

    The first part of the sentence "She has been writing" is in the progressive - it's a continual on going action. So, she is sitting down and at this moment writing those Christmas cards. It should be "She has written most of our christmas cards" - she is done with those cards, but still has a few more to write, rather than she is in the middle of writing them. Errr. I think that makes sense.

    I know what the sentence should be I'm just not sure how to explain it.

    If the sentence was "She has been writing most of our christmas cards, but is busy practicing tennis" that would be acceptable because the writing is ongoing and something interrupted the process.. However, in context of her having finished some and still having more to do, she is not actively writing (in the first clause).

    I really hope that makes sense.
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm seeing a possible ambiguity here, related to the word "most". I think that the teacher has provided an ambiguous, and therefore poor, example.

    I offer two sentences, one for each of the possible uses of "most":

    1) She has been writing most of our Christmas chards, and her sister has been writing the rest.

    2) She has written most of our Christmas cards, but she still has a few more to do.

    The meaning in (2) does seem incorrect in your example sentence. But my immediate, unconscious reaction is not to say that the sentence is wrong, but to assume that the meaning in (1) is meant. I interpret your example as having a fairly complicated meaning: That many Christmas cards have been written, that she has written most of the ones that have been written so far, that someone else has written the rest of the ones that have been written so far, and that some of her share of the cards still remain to be written.

    If I change the original sentence to one where the assumption is that no other people are involved:

    She has been eating most of her dessert, but she has a few bites left to eat.

    then I see the teacher's objection. If no one else does, then I'll have to figure out how to explain the problem I see. :)

    Edited to add: The corrected version of my last example is:

    She has eaten most of her dessert, but she still has a few bites left to eat.

    And the corrected version of your original sentence is the second one above:

    She has written most of our Christmas cards, but she still has a few more to do.

    ChickenFreak
  5. munkyphile
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    munkyphile New Member

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    I'm positive the issue here is past perfect vs. Present perfect.

    The example given by your teacher is Past Perfect. ChickenFreak's is Present perfect.

    Present Perfect, as in ChickenFreak's example is correct. This refers to either that: an action was finished at some point in the past, or that the action extends to the present-- in this case, both:
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree... 'has written' is correct...
  7. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    I don't see it as ambiguous -- the point is that the two parts of the sentence don't match up, and there's really only one way (without a substantial rewrite) of fixing it. Your first way of fixing it changes the meaning.

    Maybe this will help understand a bit better. The present perfect progressive puts a stress on the duration, but the sentence is about the result (most of the cards being written).

    I agree that the corrected sentence should be "She has written most of our Christmas cards, but she still has a few more to do."
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    But what I'm saying is that my first rewrite _is_ the meaning that I got from first part of the sentence. Not, of course, that there's specifically a sister, as opposed to a brother or cousin or coworker or automated system, that wrote the Christmas cards that she didn't write. But the meaning I took was indeed that she's been writing most of the cards and someone else has been writing the rest of the cards that have been written so far. So to you I changed the meaning, but to me the sentence has two possible meanings and that's part of its problem.
  9. digitig
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    digitig Senior Member Contributor

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    I see what you mean, but that reading didn't have an easy fix of just changing a tense (and an aspect) in the sentence, whereas your other reading did. The exercise was to fix the tense, so only one of the readings could be the intended one.
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I don't disgree; my argument was that the example had an ambiguity that made it a poor choice for an example, especially if(?) the students are not using English as their first language. English _is_ my first language, and I had to read it repeatedly before I translated it as having the intended meaning. My mind was seeing the grammatical issues and "correcting" the _meaning_ to make them (partially) go away, at a level that I wasn't even perceiving.

    ChickenFreak
  11. madhoca
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    madhoca Senior Member Contributor

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    You are all missing a very important word here!

    As an English teacher, I can see where your teacher is coming from completely. I can say that the sentence would be taught
    EITHER:
    She has been writing our Christmas cards, AND she still has a few more to do. (No 'MOST', and use 'and' for continuing information)
    OR:
    She has written most of our Christmas cards, BUT she still has a few more to do. (You can use 'MOST' and 'but' for contrasting idea)

    As you see, the problem is with the word 'most'. Here, the progressive implies an action that is unfinished, the present perfect indicates an action that has just finished. Now, she cannot have been continuously writing 'most' of the cards--at the start, it was a few, then some, now most. If you want to use 'most', you need to show that that action of finishing most of them is just over, not still in progress, so it's not possible to use progressive, as your teacher says.
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