What tense to use for an event that was no longer valid?


You know how I say I told my friend what had happened before she came to class.

enter image description here

Above is a time line in red. Time goes to the right. Its arrow is the present. "came" is in the past, a little back in time. I told my friend what had happned. "what had happned" is whatever happned up to the point my friend "came".

NOW. I want to say what's similar but in the present tense.

In this book, Jeremy tells his friend what has happned before she came to class

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Is this grammatical?

most venerable sir

Posted 2017-04-14T15:10:23.307

Reputation: 429



Your analysis is correct, but there's one thing you overlooked: the present perfect cannot be used with a time adverbial which does not include the present. This is because the present perfect is a present tense: it designates a present state which has arisen out of some past eventuality.

But before you got here designates a time which lies entirely in the past, entirely before the present. Consequently you cannot say "X has happened before you got here" any more than you can say "I am here before you got here". You have to use the simple past: "X happened before you got here"

And the same applies speech reported in the present tense:

In this book, Jeremy tells his friend what happened before she came to class

The past perfect would also be acceptable, but there's no reason to drag in that extra layer here unless Jeremy's focusing on the (prior) time when his friend arrived.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2017-04-14T15:10:23.307

Reputation: 176 469

Or *Jeremy tells his friend what happened before she comes to class* (it's primarily the *telling* that precedes her arrival at class, which pragmatically implies that the events being recounted must be even earlier). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-04-14T16:08:27.560

@FumbleFingers Hmm ... Yes, OP's descriptions and diagrams are ambiguous. I assumed that in both cases Jeremy is in the class before his friend arrives there and tells his friend after her arrival about events which occurred in the class before her arrival. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-04-14T16:23:54.257

I'm still trying to figure out whether there's any possible semantic distinction between my first alternative there and *Jeremy tells his friend what has happened before she comes to class*. Truth be told, I'm not even sure *Jeremy tells his friend what had happened before she comes to class* is ungrammatical and/or might convey something different. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-04-14T16:28:31.750

@FumbleFingers Past perfect isn't subject to the same constraint as present perfect, because past perfect doesn't contrast with a perfective 'simple' tense as present perfect does. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-04-14T18:08:52.177

So I can say "I told my friend what had happened before she came to class." But in present tense, I have to say " In the book, Jeremy tells her friend what happended before she came"? I cannot say "...what HAD happened before she came". If this sentence is a bit confusing, what it is saying is that Jeremy came to class earlier than his friend did, and now he tells her what had happened up to the point she arrived. – most venerable sir – 2017-04-18T02:18:30.943

Okay that is a bad example. I am trying to use HAS/HAVE. Like saying "a lot of things have happened before his mom dies". So his mom dies in the present moment, and there happened a lot of things up to the point that she dies. – most venerable sir – 2017-04-18T02:23:42.920


Present Perfect also shows action completed in the past BUT NOT AT A DEFINITE TIME. And Past Perfect is used to tell something which had happened before something specific happened , therefore, Past Perfect should be used here. And Simple Past can only be used (with before / after clauses) if the action in past perfect was completed at a specific time.... e.g......"visited the Taj Mahal once in 1993 before something happened." ..

Prerna Krishna

Posted 2017-04-14T15:10:23.307

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