Answers to Questions About Tense #2

By Mark Nichol

Here are several readers’ queries about various aspects of tense, and my responses.

1. Which sentence is correct, “The teacher said to Peter, ‘I am proud to have a wonderful student like you,’” or “The teacher said to Peter, ‘I am proud to have had a wonderful student like you’”?

The first sentence, written in the present tense, is appropriate for a current student. The second one, written in present perfect, applies when the student is a former one or is about to become a former one.

2. How is the following idea properly and most efficiently expressed?

“I would have liked to have gone to the park with you.”

“I would have liked to go to the park with you.”

“I would like to have gone to the park with you.”

Each of these three sentences has a slightly different temporal connotation:

“I would have liked to have gone to the park with you” means that at some point in the past, including right up to the present, you would like to have experienced the action. (You didn’t necessary want to go to the park; you wanted to have had the experience of going to the park.) Because of the two layers of indirect reference, this sentence is awkward and unlikely.

“I would have liked to go to the park with you” refers to a past state of mind about an action occurring at the same time in the past. (Previously, you wished you could have accompanied someone to the park; that inclination may or may not persist.)

“I would like to have gone to the park with you” refers to a present state of mind about a past action. (Right now, you wish you could have accompanied someone to the park; you may not have felt that way until just now.)

3. Where I work, there is an ongoing debate on whether the word have changes a sentence to passive. Here is an example: Should a sentence read, “I provided your comments to our senior management team and they will be used to guide our ongoing improvement efforts,” or “I have provided your comments to our senior management team and they will be used to guide our ongoing improvement efforts”?

Neither of these sentences is passive. Passive voice involves avoiding naming the actor of an action (for example, “The message was sent”) or delaying naming the actor until the end of the sentence (for example, “The message was sent by me”); “I sent the message” is constructed in active voice.

Both of the sentences are correct (though a comma should follow “management team”), but “I have [past tense of verb]” is generally preferable to “I [past tense of verb]” because it’s in the present perfect tense — it’s pertinent to now, the moment of the communication, with the implication that there’s a momentum for action — whereas, for example, “I provided” is in the past tense, looking back.

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5 Responses to “Answers to Questions About Tense #2”

  • Warsaw Will

    #3 – agreed, but there is a passive-like construction with “have”, which is perhaps what the debate was about, rather than present perfect.

    “She had her bag stolen” = “Her bag was stolen”

  • Matt Gaffney

    Example three is a compound sentence. The first clause is clearly active and the second clause (. . . they will be used to guide our ongoing improvement efforts) is clearly passive; i.e. “they” refers to the comments, not to the “senior management team.”

    Once you’ve legitimately passed fifth-grade English, you’re unlikely to think that the mere inclusion of “have” changes an active predicate to a passive. This seems like a farfetched, even contrived, problem.

  • Rachel Casiday

    I really enjoy receiving your emails and wish more of my universi students would heed your advice. I also noticed the passive constructions in the second half of the examples in point 3 today. Perhaps an even better construction might be, ‘I have provided your comments to our senior management team, who will use them to guide…’

  • Dale A. Wood

    This example that was given has a serious problem in it:

    “I have [past tense of verb]” is generally preferable to “I [past tense of verb]” because it’s in the present perfect tense.

    This should have been stated “I have [past participle of verb]” is generally preferable to “I [past tense of verb]” because it’s in the present perfect tense.

    The form “I have [past tense of verb]” would lead to the statement:
    “I have went to Stonehenge,” because “went” is the past tense of “to go”. Egads – that is wretched English.

    The form “I have [past participle of verb]” would lead to the statement:
    “I have gone to Stonehenge,” which is beautiful English.

    Likewise, “I have sang THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER in front of Buckingham Palace” is nasty, but “I have sung THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER in front of Buckingham Palace” is nice.

    D.A.W.

  • Mark Nichol

    Rachel:

    Yes, I noticed that after I read the published post. Thanks for pointing that out!

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