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You know how I say I told my friend what had happened before she came to class.

enter image description here

Above is a time line in red. Time goes to the right. Its arrow is the present. "came" is in the past, a little back in time. I told my friend what had happned. "what had happned" is whatever happned up to the point my friend "came".

NOW. I want to say what's similar but in the present tense.

In this book, Jeremy tells his friend what has happned before she came to class

enter image description here

Is this grammatical?

2 Answers 2

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Your analysis is correct, but there's one thing you overlooked: the present perfect cannot be used with a time adverbial which does not include the present. This is because the present perfect is a present tense: it designates a present state which has arisen out of some past eventuality.

But before you got here designates a time which lies entirely in the past, entirely before the present. Consequently you cannot say "X has happened before you got here" any more than you can say "I am here before you got here". You have to use the simple past: "X happened before you got here"

And the same applies speech reported in the present tense:

In this book, Jeremy tells his friend what happened before she came to class


The past perfect would also be acceptable, but there's no reason to drag in that extra layer here unless Jeremy's focusing on the (prior) time when his friend arrived.

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  • Or Jeremy tells his friend what happened before she comes to class (it's primarily the telling that precedes her arrival at class, which pragmatically implies that the events being recounted must be even earlier). Apr 14, 2017 at 16:08
  • @FumbleFingers Hmm ... Yes, OP's descriptions and diagrams are ambiguous. I assumed that in both cases Jeremy is in the class before his friend arrives there and tells his friend after her arrival about events which occurred in the class before her arrival. Apr 14, 2017 at 16:23
  • I'm still trying to figure out whether there's any possible semantic distinction between my first alternative there and Jeremy tells his friend what has happened before she comes to class. Truth be told, I'm not even sure Jeremy tells his friend what had happened before she comes to class is ungrammatical and/or might convey something different. Apr 14, 2017 at 16:28
  • @FumbleFingers Past perfect isn't subject to the same constraint as present perfect, because past perfect doesn't contrast with a perfective 'simple' tense as present perfect does. Apr 14, 2017 at 18:08
  • So I can say "I told my friend what had happened before she came to class." But in present tense, I have to say " In the book, Jeremy tells her friend what happended before she came"? I cannot say "...what HAD happened before she came". If this sentence is a bit confusing, what it is saying is that Jeremy came to class earlier than his friend did, and now he tells her what had happened up to the point she arrived. Apr 18, 2017 at 2:18
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Present Perfect also shows action completed in the past BUT NOT AT A DEFINITE TIME. And Past Perfect is used to tell something which had happened before something specific happened , therefore, Past Perfect should be used here. And Simple Past can only be used (with before / after clauses) if the action in past perfect was completed at a specific time.... e.g......"visited the Taj Mahal once in 1993 before something happened." ..

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