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Sentence A: Where's the ring you had earlier?

Sentence B: Where's the ring you had a while ago?

I want to know what corrections would be made to these two sentences, and which one is better to use (as a native English speaker would say).

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    Both sound okay to me. (The second one sounds somewhat better.) I think it's more likely to hear "Where's that ring?" or "Where's the ring you just got?" (sb. gave it to you), or "Where's the ring you just bought?" (you bought it yourself), or "Where's the ring I gave you?" or they might specify the time, e.g. "Where's the ring you bought two months ago?" I'm looking forward to hearing from native speakers too. ;) – Damkerng T. Dec 2 '13 at 16:42
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    For either of these constructions, the simple past “had” would be used. Also note that in written English, punctuation is not preceded by a space. – Tyler James Young Dec 2 '13 at 16:53
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    @DamkerngT They do not sound okay because you cannot "have" (present tense) something "earlier" (time before now). – Kaz Dec 2 '13 at 17:19
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    The only punctuation I can think of that is preceded by a space is a hyphen or dash. Colons, commas, periods, question marks, etc all immediately follow the preceding character with no space. Well, an opening quote mark would have a preceding space and no following space, to "tie" it to the thing being quoted. Dashes have a space before and after. Everything else I can think of has no space before and one space after. There's an old rule that the punctuation that ends a sentence -- ending period, question mark, or exclamation -- is followed by two spaces, but I think this is largely obsolete. – Jay Dec 2 '13 at 18:31
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    @DamkerngT. It's not obvious because it's a semantic restriction, not syntactic. "earlier" is essentially in the same syntactic category as "now" or "at the moment", which can be used with a present tense verb. – Kaz Dec 2 '13 at 18:34
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Either “earlier” or “a while ago” would be fine in this instance, but would communicate slightly different things.

“Earlier” could be any time in the past, but would most likely be used to refer to the recent past.

“A while ago” could also refer to just about any time span in the past, but would most likely be used to indicate the more distant past.

Here are two scenarios to demonstrate what I mean:

Halfway through the wedding reception, the groom switched from the showy ring they'd used in the ceremony to the more comfortable, understated ring he’d wear from then on.

“Where's the ring you had on earlier?” asked his cousin.

“I took it off and replaced it with this one about an hour ago.” answered the groom.

Unbeknownst to her friend Samantha, whom she hadn’t seen for five years, Angela had misplaced a topaz ring on a camping trip three years ago.

“Where's that ring you had a while ago?” asked Samantha.

“I lost it while trying to fish by hand in the Ozarks.” answered Angela.

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  • Could you kindly tell me why you used the past perfect not the past simple in the sentence: "Angela had misplaced a topaz ring on a camping trip three years ago."? – learner Dec 3 '13 at 21:23
  • @learner The entire story—including the set-up—takes place in the past (it’s easier to see in the first example, where I use “switched”, but notice “asked” and “answered” in the dialog). My use of the past perfect is consistent with the first use listed here. I’m referring to a completed action (losing the ring) that happened before something in the past (this conversation I’m reporting on). – Tyler James Young Dec 3 '13 at 22:22

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