Grammar and story telling

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Can we use present perfect in a story told in the past?

For example: Adam, who has lost track of the conversation, said he didn't understand what they were talking about.

grammar story Style past asked Jul 24 '13 at 13:03 user22 New member

3 answers


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While writing past, present perfect can be used if the action mentioned in present perfect has any relations with present.

 

In the case mentioned above, past perfect will be correct use.

link comment answered Jul 24 '13 at 13:51 Rahul Gupta Expert
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Rahul is correct about the past perfect being fine in this context, but you have used the present perfect (has lost). I would use the past perfect, had lost.

 

Adam, who had lost track of the conversation, said he didn't understand what they were talking about.

link comment answered Jul 24 '13 at 14:26 Lewis Neidhardt Grammarly Fellow
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I don't agree.  

 

Adam, who has lost track of the conversation, said he didn't understand what they were talking about.

 

It all depends, really.  You could even use the 'historical present':  Adam, who loses track of the conversation, says he doesn't understand what they are talking about.  This is often used in narrative texts, if that is what you want to do.  The Cambridge Grammar of English puts it this way:  "For stylistic reasons, the present simple is often used for true and fictional past events in narratives to create a sense of immediacy, and to suggest that past events are unfolding at the moment of speaking or writing" [360a].

 

In your example sentence, using the present perfect is perfectly correct.  This tense can be used for past events that are important in the present.  For example, you could say:  'Oh dear, I have lost my keys!'  In this case, the past action of losing your keys is relevant and important to the present.  You can also use the present perfect tense to emphasise the action and not the subject or the entire predicate.  In other words, in your example sentence you could use the present perfect tense for both these reasons, depending on what you wanted to say.  If you simply want to show a sequence of events, then use the past perfect for the 'more distant past', and use the past simple for the 'more recent past', as suggested.  

link comment edited Jul 25 '13 at 14:03 Ahmad Barnard Expert

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