The Simple Past Puzzle. A Study of Some Aspects of the Syntax and Semantics of Tense

Nino Gulli


In this paper, I claim that the so-called present perfect puzzle is, in reality, a puzzle about the simple past. It is the latter, I argue, that shows a puzzling behavior, given that it can be used not only in definite contexts but also in seemingly indefinite ones. I employ the notions of time frame and specifiability to show how the obvious distinction between the two tenses in terms of temporal logic can be accounted for. I also propose that the past morpheme -ed be considered a kind of verb determiner which selects a temporal XP as a complement. Such complement can be (and usually is) expressed either in the sentence or in the larger discourse; however, it can also remain implicit, or covert.