Is a past-tense *when* clause acceptable with a present perfect main clause?

3

2

He has helped me when I was lonely.

Is this past tense ok?

user8153

Posted 2014-08-21T14:11:55.820

Reputation:

That sounds fine to me -- I'm an AmE speaker. But if you are in school, I have no idea how a teacher might grade that. :) – F.E. – 2014-08-21T16:38:57.860

@F.E. "He has helped" sounds incorrect to me, I think "He HAD helped" sounds better. What do you think? – Anonymous – 2014-08-22T03:13:00.720

@Anonymous That "had" version seems to have a slightly different type of meaning, for it has cut off the present time from the situation that was being described. (Assuming that we aren't taking about fiction prose.) The present-perfect version ("has") implies that the described situation has current relevance for the present -- while the past-perfect version ("had") doesn't do that. – F.E. – 2014-08-22T03:39:58.417

Answers

2

This is unremarkable in colloquial speech, but it is only marginally acceptable in formal registers.

Strictly speaking, you should not qualify a present perfect, which is a statement about the present, with temporal adjuncts which do not include the present; and when I was lonely refers exclusively to past occasions. You would do better to cast the when clause, too, in the present perfect. or to cast both in the simple past

He has helped me when I have been lonely.
He helped me when I was lonely.

The past-tense when clause is acceptable, however, if it is positioned as a ‘supplement’ or afterthought:

He has helped me—when I was lonely, and when I needed a friend.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2014-08-21T14:11:55.820

Reputation: 176 469