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Imagine the following scenario:

I read a novel two years ago. Today I cannot remember the story of the novel any more, I've forgotten the story. Somebody asks me:

Have you read the novel?

What should be my grammatical correct and natural sounding answer?

Yes, I've read it but I've forgotten the story.
Yes, I had read it but I've forgotten the story.
No, I had read it but I've forgotten the story.
No, I read it but I've forgotten the story.

My uncertainty is due to the grammar explanations that Present Perfect indicates a state in the present. According to my Grammar book the following text is correct:

Tom is looking for his key.
He has lost his key.
This means that he doesn't have it now.
Ten minutes later: < picture of Tom holding the key is his hand >
Now Tom has found his key.
He has it in his hand now.
Has he lost his key?
No, he has found it.
Did he lose his key?
Yes, he did.
He lost his key but now he has found it.

The present state of having read a novel is to know its story. But if after having read the novel I have forgotten its story then I am no more in this state although I was in this state before because I read the novel in the past.

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  • 1
    "The present state of having read a novel is to know its story." I don't see why this is so. I have read War and Peace (many years ago), but I remember hardly anything about it. I have read the Bible, but I cannot recite it.
    – Mick
    Nov 24, 2017 at 9:34
  • @Mick Shouldn't then be there another effect in the present of having read "War and Peace" and the Bible by you. What is it? Nov 24, 2017 at 14:36
  • I recall having read it. That's all that "I have read War and Peace" says. How other people interpret the statement is their problem.
    – Mick
    Nov 24, 2017 at 14:43
  • @Mick According to your explanation, the text from the Grammar book would be incorrect as long as Tom can recall having lost his key: "Has he lost his key? - Yes, he has found it, but he can recall having lost it." Nov 24, 2017 at 14:53
  • I'm not a grammarian. If you asked me "Have you read War and Peace?", I would answer "Yes I have." Still, I remember a Physics professor of mine. If you asked him "Do you have the time?", he would always answer "Yes, thank you," and walk away. Maybe some of his attitude has rubbed off on me.
    – Mick
    Nov 24, 2017 at 15:21

1 Answer 1

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The past perfect is not called for there, as you're referring to the present state of your memory, and to the fact of your having read the novel (once read, forever read) not to the state of your memory at some point in the past in relation to another time in the past. You cannot remember the story now.

Either the simple past plus present perfect:

I read the story (fifteen years ago) but have forgotten it.

I did read the story but have forgotten it.

or the present perfect in both:

I have read the story but have forgotten it.

To say that the present state of having read a novel is to know its story is like saying the present state of having met a person is to remember their name.

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  • (a) Ok, the explanation why Past Perfect is not used here is clear, thx! Therefore, in my last sentence I should have written "although I was in this state before", right? (Btw a question about "not called for there". Is that with the phrasal "to call for"? Or is it "to call" with the prepositional object "for there"?) (b) What about "Yes" or "No"? In which case I should answer which? Or is it a special case of something inbetween? (c) What else would be the present state of having read a novel? Nov 24, 2017 at 14:46
  • I'm confused about your questions. The Russian guy above has told you that it should be, "Yes, I have read the story, but have forgotten it."
    – Nick
    Nov 25, 2017 at 1:40
  • I disagree with "I did read the story" unless the person should state "when": "I did read the story 15 years ago." Without knowing "when", it is "I have read the story."
    – Nick
    Nov 25, 2017 at 1:44
  • @Nicholas Castagnola: did is an emphatic that makes perfectly good sense in the context of having forgotten: I did read it, but I can't remember much of it. There's no need for a time phrase. Nov 25, 2017 at 10:25
  • It sounds off to me. I would emphatically say "have": "I have read it, but I've just forgotten what it's about." It probably is wrong with "did", but it's commonly said.
    – Nick
    Nov 25, 2017 at 16:56

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