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in my many years of experience as an english coach, i’ve heard a multitude of students complain about the present perfect tense. the structure is the auxiliary have/has + past participle e.g. i’ve heard 🤣
contractions (i’ve, you’ve, he’s, she’s, it’s, we’ve, they’ve) are extremely common in this structure.
i’ve heard it all before: it seemed believable to some people in the 80s that paul mccartney and michael jackson might have a crush on the same girl
and though a general understanding of how present perfect works grammatically is useful, examples are a much more effective and enjoyable way to understand how we use it. and who knows why, but it’s ridiculous how many of the most recognizable hits of the 80s have present perfect in the lyrics.
van halen lead singer david lee roth: sheeeit. i seen the toughest around
this post is one of a series of present perfect playlists…
👉🏽 the first song on this playlist is actually an 80s standard and there are 17 other hits that u probably know.
👉🏾 the common theme of the 12 songs on this playlist is that they all contain present perfect continuous examples in the lyrics.
dr dre in the 80s: i ain’t had a chance to tell y’all what time it is
and this list kicks off (starts)with sweet dreams by the eurythmics, a quintessential (typical) 80s favorite. there is some disagreement online about whether there is present perfect in the chorus or not. but i’ve understood it that way all these years and i want to include it on the list anyway 😸 so…
sweet dreams are made of this
who am i to disagree?
i’ve traveled the world and the seven seas
everybody’s lookin’ for something
seven seas is an old school and widely used expression that means the oceans. it includes arctic, north atlantic, south atlantic, north pacific, south pacific, indian and southern (antarctic).
i found i travelled (simple past) and i travel (simple present) online too. in this case, the change in tense doesn’t have much impact on the concept of the song.
africa by toto seems to be inspìred by a trip to africa. it wasn’t, but it was inspired by a tv documentary that was sympathetic to problems africans were facing in the early 80s. the lyrics at 2:05 say…
i seek to cure what’s deep inside, frightened of this thing that i’ve become
frightened means scared.
speaking of cures, the first two lines of the cure‘s beloved 1985 release has present perfect, and the third line uses past perfect with wish, which is typical for describing a wish in the past.
i’ve waited hours for this
i’ve made myself so sick
i wish i’d stayed asleep today
the top selling album of all time, michael jackson‘s thriller, came out (became available to the public) in 1982 and the first single released was the duet the girl is mine with paul mccartney.
at 3:00 the two men stop singing for a few seconds and have a somewhat charming but also totally unbelievable conversation about the girl in the title of the song…
paul: i’ve heard it all before, michael, she told me that I’m her forever loveru know, don’t u remember? michael: well, after loving me, she said she couldn’t love another Is that what she said?
michael’s use of another means the girl told him she coudln’t love any other, non-specific dude. other would be incorrect.
i’ve heard it all before is a common phrase used to dismiss a comment or idea. it’s used several times, over and over in madonna’s hit sorry.
sorry came out in 2005, but madonna had roughly (approximately) a billion hits in the 80s 😹 one of them, true blue, is about a sensitive girl who meets a nice fella and is stacked (full of) with present perfect. in both the first verse…
i’ve had other guysi’ve looked into their eyes but i never knew love before ’til u walked through my door i’ve had other lips i’ve sailed a thousand ships
…and the second verse present perfect is crucial to the structure of the lyrics…
i’ve heard all the linesi’ve cried, oh-so many times those tear drops they won’t fall again i’m so excited ’cause you’re my best friend
tear in tear drops is pronounced like ear or beer.
bruce springsteen‘s song about suspected cheating (infidelity), brilliant disguise, uses present perfect at 1:23
well i’ve tried so hard, baby, but i just can’t see
what a woman like u is doing with me
on the other hand, the outfield‘s huge hit your love is promoting infidelity in the form of a one-night stand while josie is on a vacation far away (first line of the song). and at 2:00 the present perfect example gives the idea that the proposed one-night stand is with an ex-girlfriend…
it’s been a while since we were all alonei can’t hide the way i’m feeling
the outfield had another hit that used present perfect in the title.
what have i done to deserve this by the pet shop boys details a toxic relationship and has present perfect in the title. deserve means merit, justify.
additionally, the part sung by dusty springfield contains examples of present perfect continuous…
since u went away I’ve been hanging around
i’ve been wondering why I’m feeling down
since means starting at that moment. hang around means socializing in an unproductive way. wonder means think. down means sad.
frank sinatra‘s cut that’s life was used in the final scene/credits of the movie the joker (set in the early 80s, btw ). it was covered by david lee roth in 1986. there is a classic line in in the chorus that uses present perfect…
[i’ve] been a puppet, a poet, a pirate, a pauper, a pawn and a king.
the i’ve in i’ve been is reduced (not pronounced). a pauper is a poor person, a pawn is the most common piece on the chess board. note that the ate at the end of pirate is a shwuh sound–it sounds like rut NOT rate.
of course david lee roth was one of the lead singers for van halen and their most iconic song has present perfect in the first verse. listen at :35
u got it tough, i’ve seen the toughest around
u got is a reduced form of the have got structure. tough means difficult. the toughest is the superlative form. around in this context means anywhere.
u can also hear this line twice–at 1:05 and again at 1:50…
i ain’t the worst that you’ve seen
there are a few other hair metal examples of present perfect. listen at 2:45 in poison’s famous every rose has its thorn…
though it’s been a while now, i can still feel so much pain
though means despite.
motley crue‘s ballad home sweet home uses present perfect at the beginning of the second verse. listen at 1:55…
u know that i’ve seen too many romantic dreams
up in lights, falling off the silver screen
silver sceen is a phrase used to refer to movies. too many means an excessive amount.
i’ll be there for u by bon jovi has present perfect in both of the first verse
u say you’ve cried a thousand rivers
and the second verse
i know u know we’ve had some good times
and acdc‘s gigantic metal anthem back in black has two present perfect examples, in the first verse
i’ve been too long
and the final line of the song
i’ve hit the sack
both lines are a little cryptic. the first seems to mean the same as i’ve been gone too long. hit the sack is an idiom that means go to bed. as the song is a tribute to the band’s late vocalist bon scott, it might be a metaphor for his passing (death).
man, u been doing all this dope producingu ain’t had a chance to show ’em what time it is
like express yourself, r.e.m.‘s hit stand uses present perfect in the negative. the chorus starts the song and appears several more times…
stand in the place where u live
now face north
think about direction
wonder why u haven’t before
now stand in the place where u were
now face west
think about the place where u live
wonder why u haven’t before
this is not a simple application of present perfect. the auxiliary haven’t is referring to the simple form of think earlier in the lyric 😵💫 face means with your face towards
u2‘s still haven’t found what i’m looking for has another negative example of present perfect in the title and there are eight more present perfect examples in the first two minutes of the song
i have climbed highest mountains
i have run through the fields
only to be with u
only to be with u
i have run, i have crawled
i have scaled these city walls
these city walls
only to be with u
but i still haven’t found what i’m looking for
i have kissed honey lips
felt the healing in her fingertips
it burned like fire
this burning desire
i have spoke with the tongue of angels
i have held the hand of a devil
it was warm in the night
i was cold as a stone
crawl means move on hands and knees, like a baby before learning to walk. felt is the irregular past tense of feel and also the past participle, so it can be understood here as a reduced form of present perfect OR simple past. healing is the noun equivalent of the verb heal which means get better.
spoke is the irregular past tense of speak, so grammatically, i have spoke can be considered erroneous. but given the success this song has had over nearly forty years, i’m definitely not going to criticize the songwriting over grammar additionally, with irregular verbs that have different past tenses and past participles, it is common for native speakers to substitute past tense for the past participle.
the opening verse of culture club‘s do u really want to hurt me says…
give me time to realise my crime
let me love and steal
i have danced inside your eyes
how can i be real?
realise (british spelling) in english means understand, perceive but in this situation means cause to happen, commit –similar to realizar in spanish. it’s commentary on anti-homosexuality laws that existed into the 1960s in great britain.
did u realize that the joker was set in the 80s?
the third verse has another example of present perfect and a few lines later, present perfect continuous
words are few i have spokeni could waste a thousand years
you’ve been talking but believe meif it’s true u do not know
and last but certainly not least, george michael in contrast to culture club, is walking away from (stopping) criminal activity. this line is from the chorus of the song…
i will be your father figure i have had enough of crime
the tiktok at the top of the post has vocabulary examples of y’all, put together, taste, cure, pain, sailed & yet.
frightened, though, toughest, pauper and too appear in the video and in the post above as well.
tubular (in the title of the post) was a popular word to use during the 80s to say cool, excellent.
finally, there is a BONUS tiktok that includes some hilarious observations about some of the lyrics above as well as examples of else, triggered, fill up (completely fill), fucking, ain’t (also appears in the post above), a past modal (might not’ve been), betcha and rest assured.
which 80s present perfect tracks are your favorites? share your picks under leave a reply