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American English – use of tenses

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  • Keypusher
    Participant
    28 February, 2012 at 13:43
    • Total posts: 3

    When I looked at a popular American webcomic (link below) I noticed the use of tense in the dialogue. In the comic, one character approaches another and states that they have run out of cat food, but in fact says "We ran out of cat food."

    I’m still a little unsure of all my tenses so can someone confirm the following:

    We ran out of cat food.
    = simple present

    We have run out of cat food.
    = present perfect simple

    Link: http://www.explainxkcd.com/2012/02/27/so-it-has-come-to-this/#comments

    dan
    Moderator
    28 February, 2012 at 17:05
    • Total posts: 770

    Reply To: American English – use of tenses

    We ran out of cat food.
    = simple present

    We have run out of cat food.
    = present perfect simple

    We ran out of cat food = simple past

    We have run out of cat food = present perfect simple

    Keypusher
    Participant
    28 February, 2012 at 18:42
    • Total posts: 3

    Reply To: American English – use of tenses

    Thanks, Dan.

    What I’m really trying to get my head around is the particular use of the simple past in the context of the scenario presented. That tense is perfectly valid if the female character in the cartoon were relating an instance in which she alone, or perhaps she and her family, ran out of cat food, and was describing that incident to a friend who was not present.

    However, the context of the scenario is clearly intended to be that of one member of the household speaking to another member, with the purpose of informing that person that "we" have run out of this commodity and I’m informing you so that "we" can do something about it.

    Thus, in British English, she should say "We have run out of cat food." But in the American English in which the cartoon is typically written (with reference to previous instalments), she uses what appears to be the wrong tense.

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