Can Present Perfect with a time period tell about an action that stopped in the past


I spent 20 years in the software industry where...

As I was taught, it implies that the talker doesn't work in this software industry now. Otherwise he would have said "I have spent 20 years..."

My question is why you can't use Present Perfect with a time period to bring a fact to the present existence, the fact about some action that stopped in the past?

I can say "I have worked in this industry"—it may mean that it is a fact that I spent some time in that industry before. But with a specified time period I just add the time prolongation to that fact. It is like the government issues a law that anybody who spent in some industry 20 years, receives a compensation. And you say—"I have spent 20 years there. Give me my money."


Posted 2013-07-15T14:06:50.687

Reputation: 7 310

I would say that your example sentence would imply that there is at least a possibility that the person would return to the industry. If there is no such possibility, it would make more sense to say "I spent 20 years there." – Daniel – 2013-07-15T15:36:06.733

@Daniel: I don't see how any verb form can have implications for the likelihood of *returning* to, or *resuming* the activity, except insofar as you can't "return" if you never left it (and some forms do imply you're still doing whatever it is). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-07-15T16:53:30.060



As OP has correctly understood, I worked 20 years in the software industry strongly implies that you no longer work in that industry.

But that doesn't mean I have worked 20 years in the software industry strongly implies that you still work in that industry. Perhaps you do, perhaps you don't. Without further context, it's meaningless to discuss whether there's any "weak implication").

If you want to strongly imply you're still doing it, use I have been working in the industry for 20 years.

FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica

Posted 2013-07-15T14:06:50.687

Reputation: 52 587

I hear for the first time that Perfect Continuous gives a stronger implication of the fact that the talker is still doing the action. Look at this example: "They fired me this morning. My god, I have been working in the company for 20 years. What am I going to do now?" – Graduate – 2013-07-15T22:46:33.540

@Graduate: haha - in that particular case obviously the speaker no longer works for the company (having just been fired). So it's a bad example to give people who are trying to learn how tenses work in English, because most native speakers probably wouldn't have a strong opinion about whether to use Simple Past (worked), Present Perfect (have worked), or Present Perfect Continuous (have been working). I think probably the most important thing to take on board is that no native speaker would ever say *"?I have been spending 20 years there. Give me my money."* – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-07-15T23:58:24.707

Is the sentence "I have spent 20 years in this industry" grammatically correct if I stopped working in the industry 10 years ago? Is it ambigous? – Graduate – 2013-07-16T00:19:49.940

@Graduate: Your exact example is not helpful here, because the specific verb spend isn't used in quite the same way as work. It's extremely unlikely anyone would say "I have spent 20 years here" unless they were still there (or very recently left). But "I have spent several summers working abroad" is a perfectly credible utterance, which says nothing about whether you're still doing this, or likely to do it again in the future. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-07-16T00:41:09.700

If I change the verb to worked, will it change your opinion? ("I have worked 20 years in this industry.") I want to catch an instance of this usage for any verb, that is legitimate given that you stopped doing it many years ago. – Graduate – 2013-07-16T00:46:21.447

@Graduate: The first two paragraphs in my answer give my opinion regarding the verb to work in the context of your original question. In general, Simple Past implies something you did, but are no longer doing. Present Perfect Continuous almost always implies *you did it in the past, and you're still doing it now*. Present Perfect implies what you did in the past is still relevant - possibly because you're still doing it, possibly because the fact that you once did it is important to the current circumstances. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-07-16T01:05:10.243

@FumbleFingers If I remember correctly, my English textbooks taught me that you often use Present Perfect Continuous for actions that have finished recently but are still relevant. "Why are you breathing so hard?" - "I've been running" (=just stopped running). "Why are your hands so dirty?" - "I've been working in the garden." (=just finished working) – stillenat – 2013-07-17T11:30:19.733

@stillenat: My mistake - you're quite right that Present Perfect Continuous is also used in contexts where you've *only just stopped* doing something. The "ordinary" Present Perfect can refer to events long ago, but the "continuous" version has to be recent. *"I feel a bit queasy because I have been getting full vaccination jabs this week ready for our holiday. But my wife is fine - because she has had the jabs before, she's only been having 'boosters' that don't make you feel sick"*. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-07-17T15:00:57.940