Had you ever...more than X ago?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by meijin, Dec 7, 2018 at 9:38 AM.

  1. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Hi, please see the following questions I made up, imagining either appears in a questionnaire.

    1.
    Had you ever visited Japan before 2018?
    2. Had you ever visited Japan more than a year ago?

    I believe #1 is correct. Is #2 wrong and/or unidiomatic?
     
  2. peptidoglycan Senior Member

    Turkey
    Turkish
    1. Had you ever visited Japan before 2018? :tick:
    2. Had you ever visited Japan until more than a year ago? :tick:
     
  3. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    It's interesting that you used "until" there. What's the difference between the two?

    2a. Had you ever visited Japan until more than a year ago?
    2b. Had you ever visited Japan until a year ago?
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018 at 2:20 PM
  4. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
    Why are you using the past perfect instead of the past simple? (If it's a questionnaire)

    Did you ever visit Japan before 2018? :tick:
    Did you ever visit Japan more than a year ago? :tick:
     
  5. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    I don't know how to explain this, but if I'm not mistaken "Have you ever visited Japan?" and "Did you ever visit Japan?" are slightly different in meaning (or nuance). Since questionnaires usually ask "Have you ever ...?" when wanting to know if the respondents have ever done it in the past (until now), I thought "Had you ever ...?" would be more appropriate if the question wanted to know if the respondents had ever done it before a certain point in the past.

    Are the two sentences in the original post using the past perfect odd?
     
  6. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
    Yes, exactly that, a little odd, since the present perfect, as you explained, is what one would expect on a questionnaire, I mean a questionnaire with one simple (yes-no) question after another.

    And maybe worse than odd, since your second question,

    2. Had you ever visited Japan more than a year ago?

    doesn't make sense as an isolated question. Which is why Pepti corrected it above.
     
  7. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    I don't understand why "more than" is needed if "until" is the right preposition (hence my question in post #3).

    If I translate #1 into Japanese, it sounds very natural (even in a questionnaire). So it's interesting that it sounds a little odd in English.
    If I translate #2 into Japanese, maybe it's odd. The natural version would be
    "Had you ever visited Japan before a year ago?". Does this sound odd in English?
     
  8. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Is this perhaps a follow-up to a previous question, possibly about previous visits to Japan? (Such as "Have you visited Japan (with)in the past year?"
     
  9. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    If I were to participate in a survey, I wouldn't wonder why the questionnaire asked the question and would instead just answer it. But since it would probably make more sense if it were a follow-up question, I created the following example.

    Q1. Have you (ever) visited Japan in the past year?

    1. Yes
    2. No

    [Show Q2 to those who answered "No" in Q1]

    Q2. Had you (ever) visited Japan before a year ago?


    Q2 would be a perfectly natural question, I think, if written in Japanese. How about in English?

    (I still don't understand why "more than" is needed if "until" is the right preposition.)



     
  10. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    But if it were worded in a confusing way, you might simply avoid answering it. That's what I do when I don't understand or it's poorly/ambiguously worded :)
    KISS :D

    Q1: Have you visited Japan in the last 12 months (or specific calendar year of interest to the survey sponsor)?
    if ...Q1 = No ... then
    Q2: Have you ever visited Japan?
     
  11. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    So, does that mean there's no natural expression for Q2 in English? If I were asked to translate the questionnaire in my last post into English, should I tell my client that there's no way to express Q2 in English?

    It's interesting you used "the last 12 months" instead of just "the past year".
     
  12. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I never said that :) A natural form of Q2 (after Q1 has been asked) is the simplest one, as I suggested. Logically if the answer to Q1 is no, then Q2 covers all time periods before the last 12 months, right? Simpler is better and more "natural". If Q1 has not been asked, we are back to the original question. but it seems odd (logically) to make Q2 the first question.



    That's for clarity. Someone in 2018 might interpret "the past year" as "2017" - they would be wrong, of course, but I presume in survey work you want unambiguous questions to obtain the most useful answers :) We are assuming from Q1 in the OP that the person being surveyed is currently n Japan, are we not? Q2 might be "Did you visit Japan in 2017 or earlier? :D
     
  13. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Yes, but the simplest one you suggested ("Have you ever visited Japan?") doesn't mean the same as Q2 in post #9 (Had you visited Japan before a year ago?). What I'd like to know is if "Had you ever visited Japan before a year ago?" is correct English. None of the dictionaries I have in my electronic dictionary have the phrase "before a year ago" in their example sentences, so I worry it might be an unidiomatic expression...

    I used to think so, then I thought I was mistaken after reading several threads on this forum, but now I'm back to my original thinking and agree with you. :)
     
  14. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Yes it does - think logically, now - in the context of the “No” answer to Q 1. What other time periods exist besides “within the last year” and “ever”?:)
     
  15. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    If I'm not mistaken, the "other time period" only includes the period before a year ago. If I were the respondent and were asked "Have you ever visited Japan?" in Q2 (which you wrote in post #10), I would think "Why does this question include the past year? I already answered about it in Q1."

    Anyway, I hope
    "Had you (ever) visited Japan before a year ago?" is correct English and would be a valid question even if it were the first question in the survey. If I were one of the respondents and the questionnaire asked it in Japanese, I wouldn't refuse to answer it. I would just choose "Yes" or "No", instead of choosing "Don't remember" (or "I refuse to answer because it's a strange question" :D).
     
  16. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Wow! Really - they can't tell the difference between "in the last year" and "ever"??? Tough crowd! I really don't think English speakers would react this way - they understand "ever" correctly.
    Your concept is analogous to:

    Have you had lunch yet?
    No.
    Have you eaten anything today?
    Why are you asking if I've had lunch or breakfast - I already told you I haven't had lunch.
    :eek: :D:D:D
     
  17. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    I think this example is different from mine. It's possible that you eat lunch from now or later, in which case "Have you eaten anything today?" is a perfectly natural question. Unlike the lunch, the "past year" cannot come in the future.
     
  18. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    The structure and logic are the same - in my example the person feels they have already answered about lunch and feels you are asking them again when you say "have you eaten anything today" - this is identical logically to your " If I were the respondent and were asked "Have you ever visited Japan?" in Q2 (which you wrote in post #10), I would think "Why does this question include the past year "? I already answered about it in Q1."

    "Have you visited Japan in the last year?"
    "No"
    "OK, Have you ever visited Japan?" It is blindingly (to me) obvious this asks about the "rest of the time you have been on the earth and whether you visited Japan in that period.

    "Have you seen a moonrise this year?
    "No
    "Have you ever seen a moonrise?"

    These are unambiguous, cleat and logical - and a normal and natural course of questioning in English. The "ever" question" obviously covers "all time" but no-one will think "I already answered a little part of this question" :( You don;t need to exclude "this year" when asking about "ever", especially given the answer to Q1.

    Come to think of it, the best questions would be
    "Have you visited Japan before?"
    If yes
    "Have you visited in the last 12 months?" or (now we know they have) "Did you visit within the last 12 months?"

    Your employer may want you to keep as close to the words/structure/tense etc of the Japanese in the questionnaire as possible - if that's the case, you have our sympathy and we understand why you are trying to create sentences that would not be present in an English questionnaire asking for the same information :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2018 at 3:18 AM
  19. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Then there really must be a perceptional difference between people who speak Japanese and those who speak English. So, please don't think I'm an idiot or something. :D
    Well, to me at least, the second question
    "Have you ever visited Japan?" after the response "No" to the first question "Have you visited Japan in the last year?" seems strange (if said in Japanese). On the other hand, it would sound natural if the follow-up question were "OK, have you never visited Japan?"

    I wonder if the following version is natural in English, but this cannot be an online questionnaire, so please imaging an interviewer saying it.

    "Have you visited Japan in the last year?"
    "No"
    "OK, had you ever visited there before then?"


    The follow-up question would sound very natural if said in Japanese. And it's basically the same as
    "Had you (ever) visited Japan before a year ago?" which I wrote in post #9.

    So, does that mean "Had you ever visited Japan before a year ago?" is not correct English (while "Had you ever visited Japan before 2018?" is correct)?
    Or do you mean it's strange ONLY if it were the first question in the questionnaire?
     
  20. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Does the exchange

    A:"Have you seen a moonrise this year?
    B:"No"
    A:"Have you ever seen a moonrise?"

    seem OK to you?
     
  21. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
    The only way I would find the past perfect reasonable and natural in a questionnaire is if the past event (the perspective for the past perfect) were also mentioned in a verb structure, like this:

    Had you ever visited Japan before you met Mr. Tanaka?

    To just use the past perfect and a point in time ("before 2018") doesn't fly, for me, in a questionnaire, unless it's a perfectly obvious culmination of a series of questions that provide the proper context -- as so many others have been explaining above.
     
  22. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    I also came to that conclusion - in this context the "had" needs an event rather than a simple timepoint. It might work if the answer to Q1 was yes :eek: "Had you (ever) visited before your visit this year?" However, it still seems clumsy and unnatural, given the simpler alternatives :D
     
  23. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
  24. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    The Japanese language doesn't have the difference between the simple past and the past perfect (this is one of the main reasons why I think speaking Japanese is easier than speaking English), so you can understand why I've been struggling. :D

    I don't know what other Japanese people think, but to me A's second question is odd. In Japanese, it would be "What about before then?"

    This is very interesting, and something I should remember.

    Just to summarize what I've learned in this thread, I've created the following questions which are similar to the previous ones. Please read each question imagining it is the first question in the survey. It's December 2018 now.

    3a. Did you ever visit Japan before 2017?
    3b. Did you ever visit Japan before last year?
    3c. Did you ever visit Japan before two years ago?
    3d. Did you ever visit Japan more than two years ago?


    I think they are all grammatically correct and mean the same (or almost the same) thing, and I'd say
    the only one that is appropriate as the first question in the survey is 3a, although some respondents will probably wonder why it excludes this year and last year (but that doesn't mean they should refuse to answer).
    And the only reason to use one of the remaining three versions would be that the questionnaire needs to be used every year without updating at all.





     
  25. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    No one in 2018 might interpret "the last year" as "2017"?
     
  26. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    Fascinating thread.

    Julian is giving excellent advice.
    In #24 your comment on “ever” (in English) and “before then” (in Japanese) suggests that this is a meaning of “ever” that you need to learn.

    Julian’s moonrise dialogue is absolutely “right”. Putting “before THEN” in a dialogue about the past year would not work. Maybe you could get away with “before THAT”.
     
  27. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    I think I understand the meaning of "ever" correctly. It includes this year too, up until now. Still, it would sound odd in Japanese. The responder already answered that he hasn't seen a moonrise this year. So the asker only needs to ask about the previous years.

    What does "that" exactly mean?
     
  28. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Come to think of it, the first question "Have you seen a moonrise this year?" in Julian's example is strange. It sounds like it's common to see a moonrise every year. It it were in Japan we would first ask the second question "Have you ever seen a moonrise?".
     
  29. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    That would be a different question. “This year” sets a time frame for the activity which is not the same as “ever”. I might not have experienced something this year but I used to experience it in the past.

    You are clearly not seeing the same nuances that we are seeing in how we use these words.
     
  30. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    I'm afraid you're mistaken, Suzi. I know "Have you seen a moonrise this year?" and "Have you ever seen a moonrise?" are different questions, and that's why I said asking "Have you ever seen a moonrise?" first would be more natural. If the responder answered "Yes", then I would ask "Have you seen it this year?"
     
  31. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    OK.
    I see what you mean.
    You’re asserting a view based on always getting to sequence your questions in a set way. I am not assuming that. I suppose that’s the difference between a person who lives surrounded by questionnaires and one who finds nothing unremarkable about the idea of asking about this year’s experience before taking it wider. To me, that’s equally “natural” in some contexts.
     
  32. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Hence my suggestion, which has obviously inspired you :)
    The text I highlighted in red is no more true than your question about visiting Japan ! It's not common for people to seek out a moonrise in the same way it is not common for people to visit Japan*. In any case it was an ILLUSTRATION OF A LOGICAL CONCEPT.
    *As indicated by the motivation of the people doing the survey!

    This is a logic question: The "qestion about previous years" is contained in (and is more inclusive than) the term "ever". We can therefore just as easily rebut with 'There is no need to restrict the question to all previous years "except this one". If Q2 came first (as we are suggesting would be better) then you would agree there is no problem.

    That would be fine as a question :)
     
  33. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    Now we’re hitting dangerous ground when JS and I seem to disagree!
    :eek:

    I don’t think “what about before then?” works well as a follow up to
    “Did you see X last year”.
    Mainly because last year seems too big a span of time to fix with the word “then”. I suggested “that” as an alternative. I know you asked me why, meijin, and I have no easy answer. It’s just my feel for what’s used. I’m not starting a war over it, especially because JS is taking a different view. Maybe I’m mistaken there. ;)
     
  34. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    The "then" in "What about before then" is a place marker for whatever wording was used in Q1 to define the recent time period. I'd be OK with "that" too - I must have missed your distinction as I was bypassing the "tenses war" where the use of "had" seemed weird:)
    Does this illustration seem problematice, suzi?

    "Did you visit (or Have you visited) Japan in the last 12 months?"
    "No"
    "What about before then?"

    (I'm still not sure if we know whether the person answering the question is currently in Japan or on a plane headed for Japan :eek: )
     
  35. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    I’m going to stop.
    I think we’ve got so many variables running along now it’s hard to focus on the different aspects clearly.

    Good luck with it meijin.
     
  36. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Thank you both very much. I only wanted to know how to ask if you had done something (visiting Japan was only an example I decided to use in this thread) before a certain point in time in English, but as you can see it resulted in making the thread very long...

    And I wrote the following four versions in post #24, wanting to make sure I understood the replies in this thread correctly.

    3a. Did you ever visit Japan before 2017?
    3b. Did you ever visit Japan before last year?
    3c. Did you ever visit Japan before two years ago?
    3d. Did you ever visit Japan more than two years ago?


    I know at least 3a and 3d are correct, because coiffe wrote the following in post #4.



    And I think 3b and 3c are also correct. If not, you can tell me they aren't.
     
  37. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
    Sure, 3b and 3c are okay. :)
     
  38. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    I'm relieved. Thank you very much coiffe!
     
  39. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
  40. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Sorry to persist ( :D ) but I'm still not sure what the purpose of the word "ever" is in #36. It is typically used either to cover "in your whole life" (Like "Have you ever visited Japan?":tick:) or within a specific period ("When you lived in Japan did you ever go to see the cranes in Hokkaido?":tick:). However, :"Did you ever visit an onsen before 2016?":confused: To me, this would make sense only if it had been established that you had visited an onsen after 2016. Otherwise, the use of "ever" sounds weird to my ears. (Perhaps I'm in a minority but I'm a likely candidate for this queston:))

    Askng this question can only happen in two contexts: 1) You already know the person has Xed before 2) You don't know whether they have Xed before. And we don't know which context applies here. Even if we ignore "ever" in 3a-d, I would have to answer yes to all of them - I've visited Japan 8 times, from 1985 to 2018. Perhaps it's the informaton you are seeking (by asking this question) that is confusing me, and causing my problem with the wording of the question! I would understand questions like "Was your most recent visit before 2017? 2016? 2015? etc" or "Was your first visit before 2015, 2010, 2005, 2000? etc"

    As a first question, "Did you ever visit Japan before 2017?" seems to be a combination of two separate questions "Have you ever visited Japan?" and "Did that visit happen before 2017?

    If it is a follow-up (to a Yes answer to "Have you ever visited Japan?") then you no longer need the word "ever" so it sounds weird (again, at least to me).t
     
  41. coiffe

    coiffe Senior Member

    Cambodia
    English (USA)
    Julian, I understand your concern on this, but imagine a detective interrogating someone. The detective knows that a crime occurred in 2016 in Japan but doesn't want to specify these details during the first part of his investigation. So he asks:

    "Did you ever travel to Japan before 2018?"
     
  42. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Phew :D

    Interesting potential context but probably not what would appear in a questionnaire:) (But it supports my notion that we can usually dream up a context where even the strangest sentence might work:D)

    Does the detective already know the suspect has ever been to Japan? A casual "You ever been to Japan?" That would be the first question I would ask (If they deny that, you're done.!) Once that's been answered affirmatively, then the "ever" is out of place in your question.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2018 at 6:14 PM
  43. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    This is the trouble with time references. Things might be “possible” in certain situations but not feasible in others. The way things unfold is critical to the options.
     
  44. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Sorry about the poor example in the OP. It's all my fault.
     
  45. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    No problem - it's how we learn the "finer" points of another language! (I'd love to have a command of Japanese that was even 10% of yours of English:thumbsup: :))
     
  46. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    (Thanks for the compliment. :))
     
  47. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Cheshire
    English / England
    Absolutely.
    No apologies needed, meijin.
    Teasing out these nuances with you is interesting and educational for me as much as for you. I have a huge admiration for your ability to discuss a 2nd language in these terms. It’s very impressive.
    :)
     
  48. weglang

    weglang Member

    Northeast China
    Native Mandarin Chinese
    To Meijin:
    After following this whole thread, I managed to locate where your problem was:D. Your question was once only "why was 'until' added to the #2 sentence in your first content?".


    It seems we haven't solve this problem yet. Instead, people tend to persuade you to use either simple past tense or 'a simpler question'. Just like you, from my point of view, adding 'until' does not make any difference to the original sentence. The later with 'until' may sound better somehow, but it's unnecessary to say the other is wrong.
    Throughout the whole thread, Meijin repeated his concern many a time. That is:
    Is it okay to ask: Had you visited Japan more than a year ago?
    For the same question, I'd just ask: Had you visited Japan by the end of 2017.

    To Meijin and Coiffe:
    In addition, it does sound a little weird when we use 'ever' in a simple past tense, because we normally apply the simple past tense when we ask for the details of a past action rather than if it is done.
    For example:
    1. Have you (ever) been in Japan? (perfect tense to ask for the state of a person)
    2. Did you travel by air or by sea? (past simple to ask for details of an action)


    Did I make myself clear to you allo_O? I know English isn't my native tongue, but I really want to be of help:D
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018 at 3:09 AM
  49. meijin

    meijin Senior Member

    Tokyo
    Japanese
    Thanks Suzi!

    The reason I was surprised by the use of "until" in post #2 is that "until" made "visiting Japan" seem like a continuous activity. In other words, "Had you visited Japan until the end of 2017?" sounds to me like "Had you been in Japan until the end of 2017?"
     
  50. weglang

    weglang Member

    Northeast China
    Native Mandarin Chinese
    Dear Meijin. You are right partially.
    'Had you been in Japan until...' does carry the meaning that the person stayed in Japan until...
    But 'Had you visited Japan until...' can't be a continuous activity as the former one. For continuous activity we would ask 'Had you been visiting Japan until...'.
    That's because of the different natures of 'be' and 'visit'. 'Had you been in Japan until...' actually means 'Had you been being in Japan until...' It's just that we don't have such a structure.
    Thus we'd better use 'had visited' rather than 'had been in'.
    By the way, I've updated my comment in #48, I hope it will help this time. I'm really pleased to meet you!
     

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