I need to translate a sentence into English.

This is my attempt:

Thank's to my parents' help, Andrew has been able to buy a house.

My question is: should i use "has been" as i did or "had been", and why?

I know the use of the two tenses , but i don't understand if the action to buy something like a house is considered to be over in the past when i paid for it (pasts), or if it last untill i own it (present perfect).

Or should i say:

Andrew was able to buy a house?

Thank you in advance.

  • I know were it is generally used, but i don't understand which One use with buy and own sentences. Aug 13, 2016 at 10:11
  • Time to wheel out FumbleFingers' Perfect Truism: "don't use past perfect unless you really have to". "Andrew was able to buy a house" is fine. ell.stackexchange.com/questions/5662/…
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 13, 2016 at 10:57
  • In the USA when you pay for something you own it. When you sign the contract to buy a house and pay the down payment, you own the house. Aug 13, 2016 at 12:25
  • In English the word 'I' is capitalized. You can use any tense you mention with the sentence. It depends on what you want to say. You say you know the use of the tenses, but this question indicates to me that you do not. Aug 13, 2016 at 12:34

2 Answers 2


Your sentence is not actually actually about buying, but about being able to buy. At some time in the past, Andrew had the required financial resources, he put his money on the table and got the keys to the house. He now owns the house, so he can't buy it again- he is no longer able to buy it.

was able - simple past - situation in the past that is finished. This one is appropriate for your sentence.

has been able - present perfect simple - situation that started in the past and is still happening. This is not appropriate because it's not still happening. You could however use it in a sentence like this:

Thanks to my parents' help, Andrew has been able to live in his own house. - he is still living there

had been able - past perfect simple - a situation that existed before another event. This is not appropriate because there is no other event. You could however use it in a sentence like this:

Andrew had been able to buy the house, but somebody else put in an offer that he could not match. - the offer is the other event


Well, first of all, the active verb in your sentence is "to be," which, among others, comes in the forms "was" (past tense), "had been" (past perfect tense) and "has/have been" (present perfect tense). The verb "to buy" is an infinitive.

To answer a specific vocabulary issue you had: The terms "buy" and "purchase" do not describe any ongoing ownership or use of an object. They refer only to a transaction, and a change in ownership of an object. Note that even when the purchase really is a sort of ongoing activity (like when a person has a mortgage), a reference to "buying the house" would still be commonly understood as the time that the mortgage was first arranged and the owners attained physical possession of the property.

Now... Without any other context, the conventional way to form this sentence would be was able, meaning that it simply happened on a specific and particular occasion, sometime in the past.

The past-perfect tense would only be used if the sentence was part of a larger passage where you were talking about something else that happened in the past, and then you needed to connote that the time that Andrew was able to make the purchase was before even that. So, if you were telling a story about how Andrew invited your parents over to see his new house, you might say he had been able to buy a house while you were giving the context for the story.

The present-perfect could also be correct under the right circumstance. It describes an ongoing activity or condition. So if Andrew hasn't actually made his purchase, but, sometime in the past, did attain the capacity to do so, then he has been able to buy a house. If you're presenting Andrew's purchase as part of a list day includes many present-perfect activities as part of one unified indication of his status, you might find it acceptable to match the tense and refer to the purchase in the present-perfect along with actual ongoing conditions. Finally, if the singular act of making a purchase is habitual, it might then also be present-perfect, such as with: Thanks to my parents' help, Andrew has been able purchase food.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .