Many non-native speakers of English experience anguish over the proper use of the present perfect verb tense (have done, have seen, etc.), which is often confused with the simple past (did, saw, etc.). The present perfect connects an action that started at some point in the past and relates to now; the simple past, on the other hand, focuses on a completed action that only refers only to the past — not the present.

Well, even native speakers of English make mistakes in their own language (though this is not usually one we make). A recent example shows President Donald Trump at a press conference for Black History Month, celebrated every February. His mistake concerned a man named Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave but became an influential abolitionist and statesman. He lived from 1825-1895.

At the press conference, President Trump said, “Frederick Douglass has done an amazing job, and people have been recognizing that more and more these days …”  By using “has done,” President Trump suggested that Douglass was still alive; but for anyone who died 125 years ago, it would be impossible to do anything that relates to now. Trump should have used the simple past tense, as in “Douglass did an amazing job …” Trump’s next phrase, “people have been recognizing that more and more these days” is an example of the present perfect continuous. In this case, the usage is technically correct, because the subject of the sentence is people living now.

Still, between the wrong verb tense and the subsequent lack of any detail about just what Frederick Douglass actually did (“an amazing job” is vague and sloppy for such an important figure), Trump’s overall language suggests that he had no idea who the man was, when he lived, or what he achieved.