I watch a very popular video game streamer, he is American and I have just heard him say "It had to have been". After that I immediately rushed to https://www.englishpage.com/modals/haveto.html, but didn't find this construction. I have seen this What is the difference between: "He had to arrive..." "He had to have arrived...", but I don't think that the streamer was deducing, it was certainty. You can hear the speech by following https://www.twitch.tv/videos/167278867?t=02h29m45s

Can somebody explain the difference between:

has to have been


had to have been

  • 1
    He didn't accept the election result. He said it had to have been rigged. Using past perfect is quite natural in such contexts (it's equivalent to It must have been rigged), because he's talking about something (the "rigging") that happened before his reaction to the result. Aug 26 '17 at 13:47

I didn't visit the website, but that construction (had to have been) is used when someone is thinking back, placing himself at a time in the past, wondering about a particular thing or event, and answering the implicit question, What circumstance would explain that particular past situation? What was happening before it happened, which would explain it?

Yesterday, our dog was barking. Why?
--It had to have been because the neighbor's cat was in our garden.

"has|had to BE" is a periphrasis for "must".

-- It must have been because the neighbor's cat was in our garden.

The dog was barking a moment ago. I wonder why?
--It has to have been the neighbor's cat. He was barking yesterday for that reason.

Why is the dog barking now?
--It has to be that damn cat again.

  • In practice I'm not sure it really makes any semantic difference to say It must be because the neighbor's cat was in our garden in your example. But in, say, What time did you get home last night? It must have been after midnight! you have no choice but to "backshift". Aug 26 '17 at 13:51
  • I thought that "must" was less strong in certainty than "has to". I was wrong. Aug 26 '17 at 13:59
  • @FumbleFingers: there's a term in mechanical engineering which can be applied to language: slop. It might be paraphrased as "wiggle room". We often content ourselves with the mere gist of an idea, and so we can get by with quite a lot of 'slop' without the communication apparatus falling apart. But that isn't to say there isn't a nuanced difference between "it has to be the neighbor's cat" and "it has to have been the neighbor's cat" and "it had to have been the neighbor's cat" when offered as explanation for barking that took place last week. Aug 26 '17 at 13:59
  • Personally, I suspect any "nuanced difference" is more an "artefact" of language rather than a genuine semantic distinction in most contexts. But it would be interesting to see if there's an example where backshifting or not makes a clear-cut (and significant) difference. Aug 26 '17 at 14:09
  • If I offer as explanation for last week's barking the statement "It has to be the neighbor's cat" or "It has to have been the neighbor's cat", one might infer that I believe that cat to be a nuisance and to have been a nuisance for some time now. I'm coloring the explanation for the past event with a tinge of my present outlook. Further, if I know the cat got run over by a car yesterday, I wouldn't say "it has to be the neighbor's cat" though I might say "It has to have been the neighbor's cat". Aug 26 '17 at 14:17

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