To be or to have been


The parcel appears to have been opened before it was delivered.

Could you let me know if it is possible to use 'to be opened' instead of 'to have been opened', and if not, why?

ანო ანო

Posted 2018-12-18T13:43:11.487

Reputation: 377

2This is one of those contexts where you pretty much have to use Past Perfect - because the act of opening must precede the act of delivery, *and* it's within a sentence that also includes Present Tense *appears*. Given there are *three* different times referenced in the same sentence, you really do need to form each verb correctly to indicate the temporal relationships between appearing, opening, and delivering. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2018-12-18T14:40:07.123

I can get what you say, but I've learned that if we have 'before/after', as it clarifies by itself the order of actions, the past perfect is optional, you can use past simple too.. so: the parcel had been opened before it was delivered (passive)--->someone had opened the parcel before someone delivered it.(active). Isn't it also right to say:'someone opened the parcel before someone delivered it.'?? And if it's right, then 'was opened'(passive form) would be right too... This is my way of thinking :( Where do I make a mistake? – ანო ანო – 2018-12-18T21:22:31.470

1I do understand your problem, believe me! My problem though is that although as a native speaker I know without a shadow of doubt that Simple Past isn't idiomatically acceptable in your exact context, I don't really know how to explain this in terms of some syntactic rule or principle. It's certainly true that *The parcel was opened before it was delivered* is a perfectly good alternative to *The parcel had been opened before it was delivered* - but "somehow", that Present Tense *appears* prevents us using Simple Past in your example. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2018-12-19T15:00:30.503

1(I was "floundering" a bit in my first comment, which I know doesn't really explain what's going on here. But that's why it was only a comment rather than an actual Answer - with luck someone else here can enlighten us both! :) – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2018-12-19T15:02:42.567

Although there's a warning, not to write comments containing 'thanks', I must say, I really appreciate your help.. And although there's not exact answer I can feel inner understanding (like you :d) based on examples, I've gone through, I feel grateful to you – ანო ანო – 2018-12-20T17:34:37.893



Past perfect

A past event that happens before another past event.

  1. the parcel was opened
  2. the parcel was delivered
  3. the present

Jonathan Race

Posted 2018-12-18T13:43:11.487

Reputation: 422


"The parcel appears to be opened" can only be understood as the present tense, and adding "... before it was revealed" cannot override this, it can only create confusion. The main verb "appears" is in the present, therefore "be opened" is also in the present, and nothing can shift it into the past.

Therefore you must say "The parcel appears to have been opened before it was revealed" - here the main verb "appears" is still in the present tense, and "have been opened" is also in the present tense, but because it's Present Progressive, the opening itself can be thought of as happening in the past, and "before it was revealed" works well.

You contrast this with "the parcel was opened/had been opened before it was revealed". Here the situation is different because "was opened" is already in the past tense; "had been opened" places it in the correct time with respect to "was revealed", but in common usage it's fine to say with the simple past "was opened" and let "before" provide the context.


Posted 2018-12-18T13:43:11.487

Reputation: 185