Thinking like a native speaker

Weekend grammar continues with three video clips of Guinness Book of World Record attempts that will help learners start to think like native English speakers in choosing verb forms.

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How many drumstrokes has he made since he began 55 seconds ago? If you can answer, you're thinking from the present to the past, just like a native English speaker.

Note: This continues our look at the concept behind the perfect aspect in English. You should first check out the two previous lessons ( and, plus, of course the chapter on the perfect in my book Understanding English verb forms (

Thinking like a native speaker

Native English speakers, i.e., people who grew up speaking English as first language, always have a good idea of what time they are talking/reading/listening about. I don't mean the exact time, but whether the focus is on the present, past or future.

The time determines the verb choice and here are some easy video examples to help you start thinking like a native speaker.

Each of the examples shows an attempt to break the Guinness World record for doing something in one minute.

Long-range shooting

The first example is from the sport of basketball. It is an attempt to break the world record for the number of half-court baskets (baskets made from half the distance between the two baskets) in one minute.

Once the young man begins to shoot, watch for  20 second seconds, stop the video and answer these questions:

How long has he been shooting baskets (i.e., from now – the time on the clock – back to the beginning)?

How many baskets has he made?

Continue watching for 20 more seconds, stop the video and answer the questions again. The answers will change -- at least the time will change.

As soon as he finishes, answer this question:

How many baskets did he make? (It's finished. It is now a past event.)

Now, answer these questions.

At the 20 second mark, how many baskets had he made? (looking back at the past, from a time (20 seconds) in the past)

At the 40 second mark, how many baskets had he made?

If you can understand these questions and answer them correctly, you are beginning to think like a native English speaker.


Let's stay with basketball for a look at a different record, the number of acrobatic dunks (slamming the ball through the basket from above it) in one minute.

This time you will have to count. Stop the video and 20 and 40 seconds and use the same set of question as above, i.e., How long have they been dunking?," etc.

Speed drumming

By now you should be an expert. Try out what you have learned with this attempt to break the world record for drum strokes in one minute.

Related search: Understanding English verb forms, perfect aspect in Englsih

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Writer: Terry Fredrickson
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