Television and the Present Perfect Tense

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Autumn writes:

I’ve been wrestling with the title of a new Food Channel show called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”.  I can’t put my finger on it, but this sounds incorrect to me  . . . what is it that’s throwing me off?

Autumn’s grammatical instincts are correct. There is something not quite right with the name of this cooking show. “The best thing I ever ate” is idiomatic, but it’s not a formal English construction.

The simple past, ate, is used to describe an action that took place at a specific time. For example: The best thing I ate while I was in Greece . . .

Actions that occur at some unspecified time before the present are described with the present perfect: The best thing that I have ever eaten . . .

The present perfect may be used with unspecific modifiers:
ever, never, once, many times, several times, before, so far, already, yet, etc.

It may not be used with modifiers that indicate specific times:
yesterday, last week, when I was young, etc.

The formal version of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” would be “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten.”

But would it sell?

Fuller descriptions of the uses of the simple past and present perfect can be found here:

Simple Past
Present Perfect

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7 thoughts on “Television and the Present Perfect Tense”

  1. As far as TV and marketing go, I think proper grammer is readily dropped more and more these days in favour of snappy, memorable titles that appeal to the masses.

  2. I, too, have noticed a general confusion about the difference between the simple past tense and the present perfect.

    I have seen many sentences along the lines of “I took this trip many times.”

    Other sentences simply boggle me, such as “She has ate the pizza.”

  3. On CourtTV Guests are introduced as, “The Once former,” this or that. For example, “The once former police chief of orange County,”
    When they mean the, “Former,” not, “Former and now again.”

  4. Oh, this is just slightly off the topic, but, “Beg the Question,” is used incorrectly, by one specific host on CourtTV, so often, I cannot have the channel on when she is around.

  5. It sickens me to hear or read the word “got.” Our language is changing so rapidly and not in a nice way. For example, to hear someone say, “I’ve got a good deal for you,” when it should be, “I have a good deal for you,” pierces my ears for it sounds extremely off the wall and typical of the grunts and chest-pounding of the cavemen. It takes us back to “Me Tarzan, you Jane” mentality. Yes, I am a grammerian having taught journalism and English to hundreds of students before GOT invaded the scene. It may be too late to eradicate this word from our speech, just as the rest of our language is going down the drain along with handwriting and old-fashioned courtesies.

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