From a Russian text I'm translating into English:

The material is considered to have passed the test if no antibodies to the mentioned viruses are detected.

Can I use were here:

The material is considered to have passed the test if no antibodies to the mentioned viruses were detected.

or would this transform the sentence into the "second conditional", making the situation "unreal and unlikely"?

For some reason, are feels not very suitable to me. Maybe it's better to use have been?

The material passes the test if no antibodies to the mentioned viruses have been detected.

Or maybe are and have been are both suitable in this case?

2 Answers 2


The prinicipal difference between these tenses is as follows:

are (present simple) is appropriate if you wish to state a general truth.

If you heat ice, it melts

were (past simple) is appropriate if you wish to describe the result of the test after it was fully completed, and the result is still valid today.

have been (present perfect) is appropriate if the tests are ongoing: no antiodies have been detected to date, and so the material passes the test at the moment, but it is possible that antibodies may be detected tomorrow.

are and were are therefore appropriate if you consider the results of the test to be final, whereas have been is only necessary if the tests are ongoing, and either it is possible for the test to fail to detect antibodies even though the virus is present, or if the material could be infected with the virus at some time in the future.

You might, for example, use present perfect when talking about tests on a water supply that is subject to constant monitoring:

The water is considered safe for drinking if the pathogen oocyte count has not exceeded x per litre in the past 24 hours.


English language rules tend to be bent a bit for different literature styles. For scientific literature, such as in a publication, when you are describing the method of an experiment (which seems to be the case here) the past tense is infinitely preferable. This always seems to be unnatural to my colleagues who feel they were meant to be instructing readers how to carry out a future repeat of the experiment, but that's the way it is (the abstract, however, can be different).

As to "were" or "have been", I know there isn't the distinction in Russian so it makes it difficult. It will depend on how you (or the authors if you can get in touch) view the test and the detection. Do you see the detection as happening at a certain point in time or measured over a period of time? If the former, then use "were", otherwise use "have been".

As an aside, scientific literature is the perfect environment for venting a love of the passive voice. When you consider it, in taking an objective standpoint and reporting observations, it's the objects and the action that is important. To pen a subject (cause) can be presumptuous before conclusive evidence is presented and as such the passive voice, with its shift of emphasis from the subjective subject, is frequently the ideal candidate.


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