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I'm studying TOEIC through a book published by ETS. As always, I was reading scripts and got stuck in one script.

The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but had been put on hold because of a lack of financial support.

In this statement, I think instead of 'had been put on hold', 'have been put on hold' should be there.

If the book is right, the status "being put on hold" happened before "repair" and that's so awkward to me. Am I missing or misunderstanding something?.

I've always been having some difficulty regarding tense issues... too difficult to me.

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First, it can't be “have been put on hold”. It would have to be “has been put on hold”, because the subject is “the repair …”, which is singular.

It is also possible to say “the repairs … have been put on hold”. The meaning is the same. Repair can either be a countable noun meaning a specific piece of work, or an uncountable noun, meaning the whole set of repairs. But the verb and the subject need to be consistent.

The sentences with “has been” and “had been” are both grammatical. They have different meanings. With “has been”, a present perfect, the sentence means that the repair was put on hold in the past, and is still on hold now. This implies that the repair hasn't (re)started. With “had been”, a past perfect, the sentence means that the repair was put on hold in the past, and stopped being put on hold in the past. This requires some past event in the context: had been is relative to a past event, and the sentence you quote does not have any suitable past event. This doesn't necessarily imply that the repairs have started, but it implies that a decision has been taken to start the repairs: the repairs had been put on hold, then something happened so that they are no longer on hold. Another possible tense would be a simple past, “was put on hold”. This would designate a specific date in the past when the decision was taken. Here are some example contexts (which I made up) for each tense.

The repair began in 2009, but was put on hold in 2011 because of a lack of financial support. Thanks to new funding, it restarted in 2017.

The repair began in 2009, but it has been put on hold because of a lack of financial support. The council has voted to include funding for the repair in next year's budget.

The building had to be evacuated last week due to a risk that the roof would collapse. Repairs began in 2009, but they had been put on hold because of a lack of financial support. The council has decided that the repair will restart in 2018.

Looking around, here's the original context.

Old City Museum in Ostrava, Czech Republic, will undergo a major refurbishment beginning 1 April. The site houses the area’s largest collection of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century paintings. The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but had been put on hold because of a lack of financial support. Thanks to funds from the Czech Architectural Preservation Society and significant private donations to the museum, the project can now be completed.

The paragraph is indeed awkward because there is no point of reference for “had been put on hold”. However, “has been put on hold” wouldn't work either, because it implies that the repair is still on hold. This would be ok if there had merely been a decision to allocate some budget, but here there is an actual decision to start work, so it's awkward to say that the repair is still on hold. That's why the text uses “had been put on hold”. The past perfect is relative to the implicit past event which is the grant of funds from the Czech Architectural Preservation Society. I think (but I'm not completely sure, and I'm not a native English speaker) that the most natural phrasing would be

The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but then was put on hold because of a lack of financial support.

The simple past works here because it refers to a specific event in the past, which happened at the time given by “then”. The specific event is when the museum administration decided to suspend the repair due to a lack of funding.

  • FWIW, (American) English is my first language, and your phrasing looks fine to me. – David K Jan 8 '18 at 4:17
  • Good answer; just one nitpick: in paragraph 3, "has been" implies that the repair hasn't finished, but not necessarily that it hasn't started. It's possible that the repair had started, was partially completed, but then was put on hold and is currently not complete. – David Z Jan 8 '18 at 5:58
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    @CowperKettle “was put on hold” requires a time indicator, but it can be implicit. The simple past refers to an event at a specific time in the past, but that event can be in another sentence or even just implied. Here I think that “but was put on hold” doesn't work, because the context doesn't provide any past time, but “then was put on hold” works, because “then” gives a past time for the event. It's a very ambiguous past time, just some unspecified point between “a decade ago” and now, but it's enough to make the simple past work. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jan 8 '18 at 8:00
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    I think this is a good answer for this specific example, but I'd argue that "had been put on hold" doesn't in general imply anything about later change(s) in state (resuming repairs or whatever), just about the original timeframe. Example: "June joined the company in 2014, after the project had already been put on hold, and it remains mired in uncertainty today." – BradC Jan 8 '18 at 16:58
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    The past perfect implies that the action finished in the past. However, the action of putting something on hold being finished doesn't necessarily mean that the thing in question is on hold no longer. It just means it's no longer in the process of being put on hold. So "The window had been opened to let in air, and I forgot to close it", "By the time he came back, it had already been decided that I would go to the store". – Please stop being evil Jan 8 '18 at 18:59
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One would generally expect the sentence to read:

*The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but HAS been put on hold because of a lack of financial support."

That would indicate the the repair is still on hold.

If however after it had been put on hold, someone stepped in to save it, the sentence might read:

The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but HAD been put on hold because of a lack of financial support until the city council decided to go ahead.

So here you begin by using the past tense began; then you use the past perfect had been put which indicates that it is something in the past that has now been overtaken by a new development.

That development is that the city council decided (past tense) to go ahead with the project.

There are other options too. Many people might say simply:

The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but was put on hold because of a lack of financial support (until the city council decided to go ahead).

This is also correct and possibly the easiest for a learner. The difference is just that it doesn't emphasise the sequence in the same way as the first example.

You cannot say:

The repair … have been put on hold

because the repair of the building is singular and have is plural. It requires the singular form has.

  • You're mixing tenses in your first sentence. "began" is past-tense, but "has" is present-tense. – Yay295 Jan 7 '18 at 22:20
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    @Yay295, they are two separate clauses with two separate tenses. The construction began in the past, but the hold is ongoing and therefore the present perfect progressive tense "had been" is most appropriate. This answer is spot on, except that I would mention it could also be "had" if the repairs had since been cancelled. – TBridges42 Jan 7 '18 at 22:26
  • Or as Michael Kay points out in a comment on another answer, if the construction had been on hold at the time the writer became aware of it, and is unaware of or does not wish to indicate the status of the hold at the time of writing. – TBridges42 Jan 7 '18 at 22:28
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  • has been put on hold: the work is still on hold
  • had been put on hold: the work was on hold for a while, but resumed later
  • have been put on hold: invalid, as "the repair" is singular
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    "had been put on hold" does not necessarily mean it was resumed later. It just means that at the time in the past that we are talking about, it was on hold. For example: "I visited the old barn in Sodbury last Easter. The repair of the 300-year-old building began nearly a decade ago but had been put on hold because of a lack of financial support." That's saying that at the time I visited, repair was on hold, but is says nothing about what happened subsequently. – Michael Kay Jan 7 '18 at 20:05
  • @MichaelKay Correct, but to be even more precise: "had been put on hold" means the process of transitioning from active to "on hold" status had (at that time) been completed. – BradC Jan 8 '18 at 20:03
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You haven't provided enough context to say.

If the prior or immediately following discussion set the time frame in the past, then using had been put on hold indicates this putting on hold happened before that established time frame.

If the time frame of discussion is set in the present, then using had does seem slightly odd, and has would be more usual.

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