I don't know whether "are" or "were" should be used in this sentence as I can't recognise this sentence to be in present tense or past tense

There are / were said to have been lots of plants and animals in this area in the past.

  • @SteveES Yes, you're right. Deleting my comment.
    – Andrew
    May 30, 2017 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


You can use either, it depends on when the "saying" occurred.

The first verb "are / were" corresponds to when the statement was said. The second verb "to have been" corresponds to when the statement applies, so the tense of these two do not need to match (and shouldn't if they refer to different periods of time).

If the hearsay is current, still thought to be true and repeated as a true rumour now, then it should be "are". If it was said in the past, but is no longer said now, then it should be "were".

He is said to have been ill before he died.

People currently think that he was ill before he died.

He was said to have been a vampire.

People in the past thought that he was a vampire (probably people don't think that any more)

In your case, if the statement comes from past knowledge that was said in the past then use "were". If it comes from new knowledge that is said now then use "are".

If it comes from past knowledge that was said in the past and is still said now then you can use either (as they're both valid). Often people will use past tense to emphasise that it is old knowledge, and perhaps because it "sounds nicer" to have the past tense "were" match up with the past aspect of the perfect infinitive "to have been".


This sentence is in the past tense since 'to have been' is in the past tense. Since you have two verbs, in this sentence they both need to be in the past tense. For this reasons you should use 'were' instead of 'are'.

  • "To have been" is a perfect infinitive; it's a verb form, but it serves as a noun: as the object of "said". The tense of what is, was, or will be said doesn't have any necessary connection with when people say, said, or will say it.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jun 15, 2017 at 11:00

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