this was taken from game manual:

After all players have taken an action, we can start round 2

and I wonder, does this sentence mean the same:

After all players took an action, we can start round 2

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for finding a counterexample to the (false but often authoritatively stated) principle that the past perfect can always be replaced by the simple past! – Ben Kovitz May 27 '17 at 5:34

The first version ("have taken") sounds natural to this US English speaker and the second version ("took") sounds wrong. Let's break this sentence down to examine it. There are two main parts:

  1. After all players (have taken/took) an action,
  2. we can start round two.

have taken is the present perfect tense. took is the simple past tense. we can start is the simple present tense.

Because we're talking about something that is currently true, or is true in general, we use the present tense. The present perfect have taken matches this, because it is actually a present tense, describing the effects of a past action on the present.

The simple past took doesn't match, because the simple past means something that happened entirely in the past, but we want to talk about conditions in the present. If you were to begin the sentence "After all players took an action", it would only make sense to put the second part of the sentence in the past, like "we could start round two."


Quite often the difference between the simple past and the present perfect is simply an opinion. There are very few hard reasons why the simple past is preferred and the present perfect is not. The grammarians say that if a verb is in the simple past then it was true in the past but is not true now. And if a verb is in the present perfect then it was true in the past and still is true now. This rule is violated quite a lot.

The only difference between:

  1. After all players have taken an action


  1. After all players took an action

Is that in 2 it might also be true that the players will take no more actions. In 1 it might also be true that the player will take more actions. But notice I said 'might'. It is not a rule that is always observed.

  • Can you cite a grammarian who says that if a verb is in the simple past, then it was true in the past but is not true now? There is a lot of bizarrely wrong grammar stuff out there, but I haven't come across that one. That one seems so obviously false: "Yesterday, two plus two equaled four, and it still does today." – Ben Kovitz May 26 '17 at 16:22
  • As I said in my post, there are numerous exceptions to these rules and the rules are not hard and fast. If I say 'I saw Bob yesterday', it doesn't follow that I see Bob now. And because 'I see Bob now' is equivalent to 'It is true that I see Bob now', it follows that it is correct to describe the simple past as 'was true in the past, but is not true in the present'. Further, as for your example 'yesterday, 2 + 2 equaled 4', this is a very marginal expression. Much more correct is to state mathematical truths in the present tense. – bobsmith76 May 26 '17 at 19:23
  • I'm not disagreeing about there being no hard-and-fast rules. I'm largely a rule-skeptic myself. I'm curious to read one of the grammarians who said that a verb in the past tense is not true now. It's such a bizarre idea. A more ordinary counterexample: "IBM was in business yesterday, it's in business today, and it will be in business tomorrow." (Say, does the present tense, by the same logic, mean that the statement must be false in the future?) I'm wondering if the work you read might be another classic like English As She Is Spoke. – Ben Kovitz May 26 '17 at 23:38
  • If you cherrypick you can find exceptions to the rule, it does not mean that the rule does not hold more than 95% of the time. Read over a newspaper article and for each sentence in the simple past transform it into the present and ask yourself if it is true now. More than 95% of the time it is not true now. – bobsmith76 May 27 '17 at 5:25
  • There seems to be some misunderstanding. I'm asking where you read that grammarians say that if a verb is in the simple past then it was true in the past but is not true now. Can you point me to a book? (Whether a 95% correlation makes something a grammatical rule with exceptions is a separate topic, probably too complex for comments limited to 600 characters.) – Ben Kovitz May 27 '17 at 5:33

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