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I need some help with grammar. This is going to be kinda long so I apologize for that 😅. I would appreciate it if you could explain to me the differences between these sentences:

"I know how he felt when she was with him" and "I know how he had felt when she was with him".

"I've been to the cinema this weekend" and "I had been to the cinema this weekend".

"I have heard that this is false", "I had heard that this is false" and "I had heard that this is false".

"There has been a war" and "there had been a war." Assuming that the war is still ongoing, which one should be used? Also, if I were to say "there is a war" would that be the same as "there has been a war"? If not, what are the differences?

"I had taken the class" vs. "I took the class." I understand that the first example should be used if another past event occurred after taking the class but if no further events occurred and I just want to say that I took a class that I'm not doing anymore, is it still correct to say "I had taken it" or should I say "I've taken it" or "I took it"?

"They've said how we should be careful" or "they had said how we should be careful"? I'm simply talking about what someone has said, so would "they've said" be more appropriate?

Also, if I'm talking about being somewhere, is it correct to say "I've been there"? When should I say "I had been there"? Is it applicable only if a past event was followed by another past event or can it also be used to talk about an event that happened a long time ago?

If I want to say that I haven't been somewhere, would "I haven't been there" be more appropriate then "I had not been there"?

Can someone explain the difference between present perfect and simple past and which one should be used when? I often use the past perfect instead of the simple past but I don't know if that's right or not.

From what I understood, "had" is used to talk about an action in the past that happened before another past action. However, what if I'm only talking about one single past action that happened a long time ago and has no effect now? Would I still use "I/you/she/etc had"?

Again, I'm so sorry for making this so long but I get frustrated when I make mistakes so I would really appreciate it if someone answered this. Thanks for reading! 😊

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As a student, you might find it difficult to choose between the past simple and the present perfect, or between the past simple and the past perfect. In fact, at times they may be interchangeable, and if they are not, at least they are close to each other. However, the present perfect and the past perfect are completely different from each other and, when one of them is correct, the other has to be wrong. Always keep this in mind.

You are right when you say that the past perfect ("had" + past participle) is used to talk about an action in the past that happened before another past action. On princicple, the past perfect is heavier than the past simple and should only be used if strictly necessary, that is, when there is another action or event in the past and the past perfect needs to be used to make clear that reference is being made to a previous action or event.

The present perfect ("have/has" + past participle) can be used to describe:

(A) Life experiences: I've seen him only twice (in my life).

(B) Recent past actions: I've just finished (though in AmE they prefer: I just finished)

(C) Past actions for which no time adverbial is provided: I've finished my homework (BUT: I finished my homework an hour ago)

Let's now deal with the pairs of sentences you are finding difficulty with:

(1) "I know how he felt when she was with him" and (2) "I know how he had felt when she was with him"

With "know" in the present, I find only (1) to be possible. For (2) to work, you need "I knew" and, perhaps, "had been" rather than "was": 2'. I knew how he had felt when she had been with him. (Your past knowledge was about a previous event.)

(1) "I've been to the cinema this weekend" and (2) "I had been to the cinema this weekend"

Only (1) is correct because of "this weekend." Today is Sunday, and this weekend is not yet over, so the present perfect is the perfect choice. (2) would only be possible with "that weekend", for example: When my girlfriend asked me what I had done that weekend, I told her I had been to the cinema.

(1) "I have heard that this is false", (2) "I had heard that this is false" and (3) "I had heard that this is false".

(2) and (3) are identical. Perhaps you meant to use the past simple for (2): I heard this is false. Supposing this is the case, (1) is the best choice, because you heard about that some time ago, but you don't specify when (see (C) above). (2) would then be possible if a time adverbial were provided: Yesterday I heard that this is false. (3) could only work in a past context where "had heard" describes a previous action, but then we should have "was" instead of "is": I had heard (some time ago) that this was false, but only now do I realize that it is really so.

(1) "There has been a war" and (2) "There had been a war"

(1) refers to a recent war, with present results, for example: There has been a war here. There are ruins all around. (2) would only be possible if there were another verb in the past: Everything was in ruins because there had been a war.

(1) "I had taken the class" vs. (2) "I took the class" vs. (3) "I've taken the class"

(1) I knew about the subject because I had taken the class (before). (2) I took the class last week. (3) I've taken the class and now I can say I understand the topic. (Notice that the action in the present perfect has a result in the present)

(1) "They've said how we should be careful" or (2) "They had said how we should be careful"

(1) refers to some past advice about some present course of action. (2) could be used if "we" were not careful and had to deal with the consequences of not following "their" advice, for example: We have been robbed. They had said we should be careful in this neighbourhood (but we were not careful and now we have to face the consequences).

(1) "I've been there" vs. (2) "I had been there"

(1) refers to a life experience (see (A) above). (2) could be used, again, if there were some later past event in the context, for example: I was familiar with the place because I had been there before.

I hope this has been of help! (Notice the use of the present perfect here. :))

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I want to give you two simple examples to distinguish a perfect tense from an ordinary one.

  • "I left home at 8am. I had eaten my breakfast."
  • "I left home at 8am. I ate my breakfast."

In the first sentence, he left his home at 8am, but he ate his breakfast earlier, perhaps at 7:30am.

In the second, he left his home at 8am -- and was eating as he walked out the door, or immediately thereafter.

That is the confusing thing about a sentence in the perfect tense: it is talking about about two times, "now" and also some earlier time. In the now of the sentence, some earlier action is complete.

Does that help?

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