I am trying to construct such a sentence, and I am stuck whether it's possible to use Present Perfect here or not. I have two options:

There were times when people thought that physics had been already done.

Is it correct to use past perfect here?

Also, is it possible to use the following construction?

There have been times when people have thought that physics had been already done

I know that Perfect is used when something has been done in unspecified time before now. But construction

There have been times

seems to be a little bit familiar to me. It is correct to use this here? And if yes, should I write then

people have thought


people thought

Thank you in advance.

  • The difference between There were times and There have been times is nothing to do with "familiarity" (informality?). It's just that the Present Perfect form emphasises relevance to time of utterance. It's rarely a good idea to use Perfect forms if you don't need to, so once you've established that relevance in the initial clause, it's pointlessly "awkward" to repeat it with when people have thought. But there's some justification for Past Perfect in had been done (rather than simply was done) because you're referencing an earlier timeframe. Oct 4, 2017 at 15:49

1 Answer 1


people thought

is correct. "There were times" and "There have been times" are both correct but have different connotations.

There were times

implies that these times were in the past and will not occur again.

There have been times

implies that these times have occurred in the past and might occur again.

The phrase at the end of your sentence is ambiguous. When you say

physics had been done

I think what you mean is that physicists had learned everything there is to know about physics. If so, it would be better to state that explicitly, even if it's wordier. For example:

There have been times when people believed that physics had nothing left to discover.

  • 1
    Why do you say that the present perfect there have been times implies that they might occur again? To this US English speaker it doesn't necessarily mean that, it simply implies that the past events affect the present.
    – stangdon
    Oct 4, 2017 at 15:42
  • @stangdon: I initially agreed with you, and consequently downvoted the answer. But on reflection I think there's some justification for saying that one common reason for using PrP is exactly that - the thing described as having happened in the past is relevant to time of utterance precisely because it might be going to happen again. Oct 4, 2017 at 15:59
  • I said "implies." There's considerable overlap between the two constructions, and it's not absolute. But I disagree about "relevance to time of discussion." e.g. A: "I don't think we'll ever put a person on Mars." B: "There have been times when we thought we'd never get to the moon." That thought pattern is highly relevant to the time of discussion, but the sentence is wrong, because "there have been times" implies that those times could reoccur, which is impossible in this case.
    – mamster
    Oct 4, 2017 at 17:12

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