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They didn't seem to have had much trouble getting work.

They don't seem to have had much trouble getting work.

They seem both mean 'they seem have no trouble getting work in the past'. What's the difference between these two sentences?

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The phrase "to have had much trouble" is an example of the present perfect tense, which the Purdue OWL defines as "designating action which began in the past but which continues into the present or the effect of which still continues."

The difference between don't and didn't in this sentence is thus:

They didn't seem to have had much trouble getting work.

This means that it was easy for them to get work before and leading up to the specified point in time, which was also in the past.

They don't seem to have had much trouble getting work.

This means that it was easy for them to get work from some time in the past through the present day.

Look here for more info on tenses: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/601/01/

  • thanks. if i say 'They didn't seem to have much trouble getting work', what's the difference with 'They didn't seem to have had much trouble getting work'? – user239460 Jul 26 '17 at 16:43
  • @user239460 In that case have can either be used directly as a verb or for the present perfect tense. While to have _ something means to possess, _To have done something means that something was completed in the past when the current state is more important than the time of completion, according to this Wikipedia article. For the most part, the sentences mean the same thing. The only difference is that the given timeline is defined a tiny bit differently. Also don't forget to accept an answer if it answers your question. – A. Galloway Jul 26 '17 at 17:35
  • Thanks, sure thing. Does 'They didn't seem to have much trouble getting work' means that 'they didn't seem to have trouble getting work in any time of the past'? Whereas 'They didn't seem to have had much trouble getting work' means that 'they didn't seem to have trouble getting work recently in the past'? – user239460 Jul 26 '17 at 17:53
  • Present perfect tense can be a little tricky. 'They didn't seem to have much trouble getting work' (simple past tense) means that it both started and ended in the past. 'They didn't seem to have had much trouble getting work' (present perfect tense) means that action started in the past (usually recently, or close to your specified timeframe), and more importantly, is now complete. I found a better article that can probably explain present perfect tense better than I can. – A. Galloway Jul 26 '17 at 18:02

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