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Hello friends.

I'm trying to understand why someone would use had...been when have ...been seems to carry the same meaning.

How long had the animals been been without food and water?

There is no context given where I lifted the sentence from. But the topic is on the Past Perfect Tense.

Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Cheers,
Gilbert
Original Post
Sorry for the intrusion, Gilbert and Tony.

As Tony said, Past Perfect refers to an action or a state previous to another past action or state:
- How long had the animals been without food and water before/until you FOUND them?

Present Perfect refers to an action or a state starting in the past but continuing to or having some effect on the present. Suppose a vet finds these animals starving and asks the people around:
- How long have they been without food and water? They NEED urgent assistance.
Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor
quote:
As Tony said, Past Perfect refers to an action or a state previous to another past action or state:

Hi Gtranslator,
'Intrusion' welcomed.

I don't really have a problem understanding or using the perfect tenses. However, this question keeps swirling around in my head.

That sentence I posted has only one past action, right?

Let's say you are the person who discovered those animals that were neglected and left for dead. And I am the vet or the investigating officer who was first on the scene. Would I not have asked you, "Gustavo, How long have the animals been without food and water?".

Of course had "...before you found them" been a part of the question (thus creating a second past action), then I would agree to the use of the past perfect (had...been).

If I'm being silly, do forgive me.

Thank you.
Gilbert
Hi, Gilbert,

Present Perfect would be fine in the context you have now provided.

The point is that in your first posting you seemed to assume that Past Perfect and Present Perfect were the same:

quote:
I'm trying to understand why someone would use had...been when have ...been seems to carry the same meaning.


And we tried to explain to you that Past Perfect was possible provided that it was previous to another past action ("until/before the animals were found or they were given food and water"), whether explicit or implicit (as was the case with the sentence you mentioned in the first place).
Last edited by Gustavo, Contributor
Hi Gustavo,

I'm so sorry. I guess I didn't frame the question properly.

(ha, ha, ha... and I'm still wondering how to put it in words...!)

I didn't mean to say that Present Perfect & Past Perfect were the same. Hmmm... I meant that the person who created that sentence could have used the present perfect instead, and achieved the same intent when saying it.

I hope this makes sense and I am so sorry for the blunder.

Thanks.
Gilbert
Last edited by gilbert
Hi Gtranslator,

Not at all...

It's good, actually, as it is a humbling experience. Why? Well, sometimes we think that what we say - how we string our thoughts in words - and what we actually want to say are one and the same. But that's not always true.

So, to me it's an opportunity to learn how to better explain and better express what I want the listener/reader to understand.

Okay Gustavo, thank you for your patience.
Gilbert
quote:
I'm trying to understand why someone would use had...been when have ...been seems to carry the same meaning.

How long had the animals been without food and water?
Hi, Gilbert,

What if we changed the sentence slightly to illustrate the difference? Consider the following pairs:
    (1a) How long had the animals been without food and water?
    (1b) How long had it been since the animals had last eaten food and drunk water?


    (2a) How long have the animals been without food and water?
    (2b) How long has it been since the animals last ate food and drank water?
It is only in (2a) and (2b) that the animals' present state of (potential) hunger and thirst is in question, right?
quote:
(2a) How long have the animals been without food and water?(2b) How long has it been since the animals last ate food and drank water?It is only in (2a) and (2b) that the animals' present state of (potential) hunger and thirst is in question, right?

Hi, David the Young!

Yes, that's right, sir.

Are you saying what I think you're saying, that it would have been more correct (if there's such a term!) for the author to have used the present perfect instead of the past perfect tense?

Thank you.
Gilbert
Last edited by gilbert
quote:
Hi, David the Young!
It's funny that you should be saying that to me today (July 2nd), as I round out another trip around the sun. Smile
quote:
Are you saying what I think you're saying, that it would have been more correct (if there's such a term!) for the author to have used the present perfect instead of the past perfect tense?
Actually, no. Correctness here doesn't hinge upon grammar alone. Either choice can be correct. It depends upon meaning. If the animals currently have food and water, it would be better to use the past perfect.

I say "it would be better" because I do think you could use the present perfect even in that case. Your question actually reminds me of something I've thought about lately . . .

Sometimes people say something to me, and it's the first time I've heard whatever it is they're saying. In such cases, native speakers (including me) sometimes say, "I've never heard that (before)."

The thing is, by the time one says that, one has heard it! So, lately I've taken to saying, "I'd never heard that (before)": i.e., I had not heard that before you said it -- just now.

I consider the latter formulation to be, as you say, "more correct."

Cheers.
I guess I have powers that defy human understanding!

Happy Birthday, David Evans! (Er...you're like 23 or something, right? Hee, hee...)

Phew... this is a tough one to crack. We'll just leave it at that as, like you said, either choice can be correct and it all depends on the situation and the intended meaning.

It's your birthday, so go out and paint the town red!

Thanks and have a good one!
Gilbert

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