Why don't Americans use the Perfect tenses more?

1

I just read these sentences in a quite interesting article about gun idioms and expressions in American political discourse (the article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/us/gun-imagery-fills-language-of-debate.html?smid=tw-nytimes, and the boldface is, of course, mine):

 

The use of gun symbolism has at times provoked controversy. After Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head by a gunman in 2011, many criticized Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee, for using cross hairs on her Web site to identify Democrats like Ms. Giffords who she said should be defeated for re-election.

 

This is an excellent example of the ambiguity that Canadian and British speakers of English often find with American English: the time sequence between the various events in the underlined sentence is unclear.

 

As an avid follower of American news, especially anything related to pitbull-Palin or gun control, I know full well that the criticism of Palin in the wake of Giffords' shooting related to what Palin had said/done before the Arizona mass shooting, but, grammatically, that sequence of events is not at all clear in the above text, because the sentence begins with after and the boldfaced 'verb' is in the simple gerund form, not the gerund perfect form. 

 

To me, it is equally grammatically possible that Palin's use of cross hairs occurred after the shooting, which of course is not true.   If for using cross hairs were to be changed to for having used cross hairs, the sequence of events, and thus the meaning, would be perfectly (excuse the pun) clear. 

 

So, my lovely Americans, please teach me how on earth you make sense of texts like this in the absence of extratextual context or the perfect tense.  Thanks!

 

Shawn

 

P.S.: The more I ponder the final relative clause in that last sentence, who she said should be defeated for re-election, the more I have to conclude that it is non-defining, and thus should be separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma.  If you agree with me on the last point, grammatically, does it still read clearly that she refers to Palin, not Giffords? Of course the pronoun factually refers to Palin, but is it grammatically clear?  What's more, shouldn't the Past Perfect be used to accurately align the sequence of events in that relative clause with the events in the entire sentence?

 

Isn't the following revision much, much clearer?

 

The use of gun symbolism has at times provoked controversy. After Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head by a gunman in 2011, many criticized Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee, for having used cross hairs on her Web site to identify Democrats like Ms. Giffords, who Palin had said should be defeated for re-election.

 

If you give me some America-centric feedback, I will be grateful.  I might even overlook any who/whom prudery in your replies, but of course I can't promise anything. :)

edited Jan 16 '13 at 17:13 Shawn Mooney Expert

2 answers


2

My guess is that the progessive tense was used because the crosshairs were placed on the website prior to and continued through the time of the Giffords shooting. 'Having used' would indicated a single use. That opens the question of whether something is installed one time, but continues its existence for a period of time is a single use item or not.

I would put a comma after Giffords, as well. In fact, I would have put one around 'she said' in the original version, but not in yours. Hm, after looking at it, maybe not. 'She said' is necessary to make the meaning clear that it's Palin's opinion, not fact. What do you think?

...Giffords, who, she said, should be defeated for re-election.

 

Both the original and your rewrite are understandable to me. The difference doesn't rise to the level of taxation without representation or that annoying habit of calling a bathroom a loo. ;)

link answered Jan 16 '13 at 17:52 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow

But Lewis, does it rise to the level of a bathroom without laxation?

Shawn MooneyJan 17 '13 at 04:12

The level would only rise if the pipes are clogged.

Lewis NeidhardtJan 17 '13 at 14:57

No shit? But if I wore my clogs, wouldn't the level be able to be raised even higher? This is not a partisan comment on the imminent debt ceiling debate, by the way.

Shawn MooneyJan 17 '13 at 15:13

add comment
2

To second Lewis's response:

 

If I remember correctly, it was the Giffords shooting that caused Palin to remove the cross hairs. So her use began before the shooting and continued until shortly afterward. So I don't have a problem with "for using."

 

I agree that Shawn's rewording of the relative clause is an improvement. I would not add the commas around "she said" in the original.

link answered Jan 16 '13 at 20:41 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Thanks guys. I had not remembered that the crosshairs posting was still up at the time of the shooting; a quick Google search just now confirms your recollection. So yes indeed, "for using" is grammatically correct to reflect that sequence of events.

Shawn MooneyJan 17 '13 at 03:45

add comment

Your answer


Write at least 20 characters

Have a question about English grammar, style or vocabulary use? Ask now to get help from Grammarly experts for FREE.