Present/past perfect when the object is a dead person


I remember (vaguely) reading somewhere that it is wrong to use the present perfect when the subject of a sentence is someone who is long dead:

*Einstein has visited the Philippines.

My question is, What if the dead person is not the subject but an object:

Leo is the best president our country has/had ever had. (The ones who succeeded him were inferior, even our current president.)

Which tense is proper here


Posted 2013-07-23T17:55:21.840

Reputation: 689



The perfect construction HAVE + past participle imputes a state to the subject.

Consequently you cannot say "Einstein has visited the Phillipines" because (being dead) Einstein is incapable of sustaining the state of having visited the Philippines.

But you can say "Leo is the best president our country has ever had", because your country still exists (I assume) and can sustain the state of having had Leo as president.

However, you are not required to use the present perfect; you may also use the simple past, "Leo is the best president our country ever had".

Furthermore, you may also say "Leo was the best president our country (has) ever had." That really depends on how "present" Leo is to your memory.

What you may not say is "Leo is the best president our country had ever had". The past perfect must be related to a point in the past, but your main clause here is in the present. If you use the past perfect in the relative clause, your main clause must be in the past: "Leo was the best president our country had ever had", meaning he was better than any of his predecessors". But this does not compare Leo to his successors. He may or may not have been better than them.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-07-23T17:55:21.840

Reputation: 176 469

In the question about the president, you'd use "has ever had" because the dead person is a "possession" of "our country" – Jacobm001 – 2013-07-23T18:47:40.347