Although many previous studies have tried to explain the English perfect’s various readings, none of them have been entirely successful. In this article, we argue that the perfect is pragmatically, rather than semantically, ambiguous. The meaning of the perfect introduces a base eventuality and a perfect state whose category is underspecified semantically. Neo-Gricean reasoning leads hearers to appropriately fill in the value of that variable. We present the results of a corpus study of over 600 present perfect examples. The results of this study suggest that (i) most English present perfects receive entailed resultative or continuative readings, (ii) the English perfect need not elaborate on a preexisting topic, and (iii) the English perfect plays a role in establishing discourse coherence by helping hearers establish discourse relations between discourse segments.


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pp. 611-646
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