weird uses of past and present perfect

Ariel Knightly

Senior Member
Brazilian Portuguese
Hello! I was reading this textbook for advanced EFL learners, which I think was not written by native speakers, when I found the following sentences:

(a) I have studied since Mr. Wang called.
(b) I had studied until Mr. Wang called.
(c) Buddhism had existed when Jesus Christ was born.
(d) In Brazil, the currency had been URV, before Itamar Franco changed it.

The thing is, they all sound rather awkward to my ears, but as I'm not a native speaker, I was wondering if you could give me some help here. To me, (a) and (b) should be in the progressive form: been studying instead of studied. And as for (c) and (d), I believe there should be something about how long those situations had been in existence. For example, what do you think of Buddhism had been in existence for centuries when Jesus Christ was born? Are those sentences I found in the book really wrong? If so, why?
 
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  • DocPenfro

    Senior Member
    English - British
    (a) I have studied since Mr. Wang called. You are right. This, by itself doesn't constitute a colloquial English sentence and "I have been studying since Mr Wang called" is far better.
    (b) I had studied until Mr. Wang called. The same. "I had been studying until Mr Wang called" works fine.
    (c) Buddhism had existed when Jesus Christ was born. Two possibilities: either change the verb to "Buddhism existed when Jesus Christ was born" or add an adverbial phrase of time: "Buddhism had existed for hundreds of years when Jesus Christ was born"
    (d) In Brazil, the currency had been URV, before Itamar Franco changed it. This one is OK as it stands.
     

    Thelb4

    Senior Member
    UK English
    In (c), the two events: "Buddhism existed" and "Jesus Christ was born" are concurrent - as is shown by "when".
    In (d), "the currency had been URV" occurred before "Itamar Franco changed it", hence the pluperfect is needed.
     

    Ariel Knightly

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    But you could still use the simple past in (d), couldn't you?

    (1) The currency was URV before Itamar Franco changed it.
    (2) The currency had been URV before Itamar Franco changed it.

    Which of these sounds better, (1) or (2)?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The past perfect places one state or event before another which is already in the past.
    When the past perfect has no time limitation, it applies absolutely.

    Thus in (d)„ the existence of the URV is placed absolutely before the change.
    In other words, it only existed before that.

    In (c), with no time limitation, the existence of Buddhism would be placed totally before Christ.
    However, in fact, it has continued to exist after Christ.
    If we put the time limitation 'for hundreds of years', it is only the limited existence for that period which is placed before Christ.
     
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    Ariel Knightly

    Senior Member
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Thank you, Wandle. Excellent explanation!

    One last question, could one still susbtitute a simple past for that past perfect in (d)? I mean, I'm not saying that (d) is wrong as it stands, but could you also say was instead of had been? Which would sound better?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Both are correct. Both express the same facts.
    However, 'had' highlights the time change more.
    In some contexts, especially in complex sentences, 'had' is necessary to convey the true sense.
     
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