After-perfects


If you said to me last year, I'd be after having the year I'm after having, I would have laughed at you basically.

(Brian Kelly, Gaelic footballer)


The after-perfect construction construction consists of a form of be, the preposition after, and then a verb (V) ending in -ing. For example, in (1), be is seen in the contracted form, followed by the preposition after and the verb having:

1) I'm after having my dinner. (Dolan 2012: 3)

In the varieties discussed on this page, this construction would mean 'I have (just) had my dinner,' though some varieites of English may have another reading, which is disussed at the end of this page.

Who says this?

Outside of North America, it is a characteristic of Hiberno English found in Ireland (see e.g. Clarke 1997; Filppula 1999; Dolan 2012; Hickey 2007). It is also found in Scots (Gary Thoms, personal communication, October 6th, 2017) and Hebridean English (Sabban 1982; 155ff), according to Bismark (2008: 96). In North America, this construction is used "...in transplanted varieties of Irish English like Newfoundland [and Labrador] English (see for example Clarke 1997: 216; Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi 2004: 1151, 1053), Prince Edward Island English (Pratt 1988 [...]) and the dialect spoken in the Ottawa Valley (Trudgill 1986: 150)" (Bismark 2008: 96). In Newfoundland and Labrador, this construction is used by more than just speakers of Irish origin. Its use has spread over "virtually all communities, crosscutting a number of social levels" (Clarke 1997: 216). On this page, we will focus on the variety spoken in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we will sometimes make reference to Hiberno-English.

after perfect shirt

Semantic properties

Semantically, this construction has had and still has some variation, depending on where it is spoken. This construction expresses what is called the perfect aspect. The perfect aspect can be used for various expressions. In Hiberno-English, as Bismark (2008: 97) states, “Early literature as well as some recent accounts state that the construction [...] conveys the notion of recency [...] (see e.g. Hume 1878: 25; van Hamel 1912: 276; Curme 1931: 361; Henry 1957: 177; Greene 1966: 49; Bliss 1984: 144; Harris 1993: 160; Ó hÚrdail 1997: 193; Hickey 2001: 15).” However, others, such as Filppula (1999), Ronan (2005), McCafferty (2006), Clarke (2010), Kallen (1989), and Bismark (2008) have claimed that its use can express more than just recency. To analyze the uses of after-perfects, following Kallen (1989) and Bismark (2008), we will use the framework of different uses of perfects from McCawley (1973), which consists of four categories of uses: existential, stative, hot news, and universal.

For Newfoundland and Labrador English, many claim that the after-perfect has the same uses as the Standard English have-perfect (Story 1967: 560; Trudgill 1986: 151; Kirwin 1993: 73; Clarke 2004: 306; see Bismark 2008 for discussion). While a study by Bismark (2008) confirmed this to some extent, Bismark also found that the use of the after-perfect in Newfoundland and Labrador English mainly functions to express an existential meaning, and is much less frequent with other uses. We now discuss this in more detail.

Existential

The existential perfect indicates “the existence of past events” (McCawley 1973: 263). This describes events that have occurred at some point in the past, for example:

2) I have visited France.

This use of the after-perfect has been found to be the most common in Newfoundland and Labrador English in a study by Bismark (2008). The author analyzed a database (MUNFLA) of sample sentences recorded in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland for each of the meanings of the perfect, and approximately half of the examples found fell under this category. Some examples of the existential use in Newfoundland and Labrador English are in (3):

3) a. one of em out on Jude now, he got a couple a months out of it now the winter he's after bein' out there before (Bismark 2008: 104)

b. Charlie said I'm after learnin' a French song while I was in there (Bismark 2008: 104)

Stative

This category indicates “that the direct effect of a past event still continues” (McCawley 1973: 263). It is used for an event that influences the present, for example:

4) I have eaten dinner [so I am not currently hungry].

Unlike the existential use above, the most natural use of (4) is not that I ate dinner at some point in the past (such as a year ago). Rather, it is used to indicate a present state: that I do not need to eat now or soon, because I am not currently hungry.

In Newfoundland and Labrador English, Bismark (2008) found this use of the perfect to be the second most common use of the be after V-ing construction, with approximately one fifth of the sample sentences. An example provided can be seen in (5):

5) 'but I don't know the names of... you know, I'm after forgettin' you know' (Bismark 2008: 104)

Hot news/recency

The ‘hot news’ category refers to relevant events in the very recent past. This use can be expressed by the perfect in Standard English. In Standard English, the word ‘just’ is often used in this expression. For example:

6) I have [just] brushed my teeth.

Bismark (2008) found some examples of this use in Newfoundland and Labrador English, but far fewer than uses of the existential and universal categories. This differs from Hiberno-English, where it has been claimed (by the researchers listed at the beginning of this section) that ‘hot news’ is the most common use in Hiberno-English (Kallen 1989, 1991; see Bismark 2008: 97).

Universal

This category indicates “that a state of affairs prevailed throughout some interval stretching from the past into the present” (McCawley 1973: 263). In other words, this describes an event that began in the past and persists into the present. In Standard English, this use can be accompanied by words like ‘since’ and ‘for’. For example:

5) I have lived here since 1996.

In Newfoundland and Labrador English, this use, like the ‘hot news’ use, was not found to be very common, but there were some examples (Bismark 2008).

Syntactic properties

Syntactically, this construction is used quite interchangeably with the Standard English have-perfects.

Transitivity

The verb ending in -ing can be intransitive, transitive, or ditransitive as in (8a-c):

8) a. I am after cooking in the kitchen. (intransitive)

b. I am after cooking my dinner. (transitive)

c. I am after cooking the kids dinner. (ditransitive)

Questions

The construction can also occur in a question, as in (9):

9) I said, ... what's funny? I said, are you after hearin' something? (Bismark 2008: 116)

Animacy

The subject can also be animate or inanimate, as in (10a-b):

10) a. But now the water was after rising (Bismark 2008: 118)

b. There was after raining you know there was puddles of water all over the ice (Bismark 2008: 116)

Is negation possible?

As pointed out in Kallen (2013), the study conducted by O’Keeffe and Amador Moreno (2009) did not find any instances with negation in the 95 examples of the after-perfect from the Limerick Corpus of Irish English (LCIE). Some instances with negation have been found in other studies, such as the sentence in (11) (from Hickey 2007: 288), but they are rare.

11) Don't worry, I'm not after crashing it [the car].

History

The origin of this construction can be traced to Celtic. For example, in the Irish language, the preposition meaning ‘after’ (tar éis or tréis) is used before a verbal noun to indicate that the event denoted by the verbal noun has just been completed; but it translates into English literally as after plus a verb ending in –ing (Bismark 2008). An example from Irish can be seen in (12):

12) tréis imeacht
is he after going
'He has just gone.' (adapted from Filppula 1990: 101; Greene 1979: 122)

Bilingual speakers of Irish and Hiberno-English may have adopted this form as a loan translation from Irish to express the same meaning in English.

This construction was brought to Newfoundland and Labrador by Irish fishermen, beginning in the seventeenth century. Since Newfoundland and Labrador’s isolation from other parts of Canada prevented much contact with other varieties of Canadian English, Newfoundland and Labrador English remained unique to that province (Clarke 2010).

Other interpretations

Speakers who do not use a variety of English that uses after-perfects may interpret the after-perfect as meaning that the subject is in pursuit of something, or going after something. Dolan (2012: 3) states that in Standard English, the sentence in (1) (I’m after having my dinner) could be interpreted with a pursuit reading, as in, “I am in pursuit of having my dinner.”

Contributed by Randi Martinez on April 20, 2018

Please cite this page as: Martinez, Randi. 2018. After-perfects. Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America. (Available online at http://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/after-perfects. Accessed on YYYY-MM-DD)

References

Phenomenon Category: 
Tense, Aspect, Mood
Phenomenon Dialect: 
Canadian English (including Newfoundland English)