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Congressman Rebukes McCain … and Times journalist gets lost in time …

… or rather: in tense. At least I find this sentence in today’s New York Times intensely annoying. Both. The incident described in the following half-sentence *and* the grammar used in this description, where Elizabeth Bumiller writes:

In a blistering statement reacting to the angry crowds at McCain-Palin rallies in the past week that have shouted “off with his head” and other insults about Senator Barack Obama, Mr. Lewis said: …

Now what? “in the past week” – a clear indicator of a point in the past, combined with the present perfect tense in “crowds … have shouted”? Is this new usage, US usage, New York Times usage – or just a mistake?

For all I know, it is plainly wrong. But I don’t know everything. May I have your opinion (or expert knowledge), please, on the New York Tenses?

4 comments to Congressman Rebukes McCain … and Times journalist gets lost in time …

  • I don’t know, but it doesn’t grate on my inner ears as it seems to do on yours. The implication seems to be that the crowds haven’t quite finished shouting. Do you want me to send the experts over?

  • rip

    Send all the experts you have, please.
    My inner ears have suffered severe damage from the shouting that happened last week, but still hasn’t finished … time is out of joint (see also here and there).

  • I agree that the sentence is awkward, but I would blame that on the large number of prepositional phrases and the lengthy restrictive clause.

    I don’t think it’s incorrect to use the present perfect tense in reference to a time period beginning some time ago and continuing to the present. The fact that the time period continues to the present is key – “crowds have shouted last week” would be clearly wrong. It might be more common to use the present perfect continuous tense, though (“crowds have been shouting in the past week”).

    As a bit of a digression, I’m trying to come up with simpler sentences that use the same grammar, and it’s a bit of a challenge. I would certainly say “I have shouted frequently in the past week,” but it’s hard to come up with a sentence without the reference to quantity. “I have [done X] in the past week” sounds like a true/false question from a personality test and not something I would spontaneously say. It still sounds grammatically correct, though.

    (For what it’s worth, I’m a native speaker of English and interested in linguistics, but although I do some freelance editing it’s not my career.)

  • rip

    Thanks for your comment, Amanda.
    In your interpretation, “past week” is “a time period beginning some time ago and continuing to the present”.
    I didn’t understand it that way, I thought “past week” was Monday till Sunday, and I’m referring to it on, say, Wednesday. Then it doesn’t reach up to the present, of course. I took the original wording to be (grammatically) equivalent to “crowds have shouted sth. in 2002″.
    But if the standard interpretation of “past week” is what you say, then it’s all my fault and I shouldn’t have written about this at all … And it is, as I’ve just found out, e.g. here. And if I hadn’t blogged about it, I wouldn’t have found out about my instinctive confusion of “past” and “last”.
    Thanks for being patient with me :-)