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Can you please help me explain the rule behind the verb tense error in the sentence below?

"So when she left, I felt depressed every day, and my life was changed and never had been the same."

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4 Answers 4

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The past perfect "had been" is only used when talking about events in the past relative to an explicit or implied point of time in the past

In your example, it would just about be possible to set up a context where the past perfect made sense, for example:

Last year I was walking in the park, brooding about what happened when Susan left six months earlier. We'd been arguing almost every day, and eventually she walked out. So when she left, I felt depressed every day, and my life was changed and had never been the same.

Here, because the sentence starts by establishing "story time" as six months afer she left, the past perfect is just about possible - but it is odd then, that "I felt" and "my life was changed" are not past perfect. [I've change "never had been" to "had never been", as that is a more natural order for me].

But without this explicit time setting, the natural focus time is when she left, so the change is after that, and you can't use the past perfect.

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If we trim your sentence down to the error:

"So when she left, I felt depressed every day, and my life was changed and never had been the same."

"When she left, my life never had been the same."

It doesn't work. You want to say "my life was never the same again", or "has never been the same again, ie my life was permanently changed. But your use of past perfect means "before the time mentioned" and doesn't make sense.

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  • I took the sentence as meaning the following: You are saying that when she left (in the past) your life at that time (in the past) was changed, and SINCE then (meaning now - the present perfect), it HAS never been the same. Did I miss something?
    – commonone
    Feb 19, 2018 at 22:18
  • But you didn't use the present perfect, you used the past perfect.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 19, 2018 at 22:33
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It's the Past Perfect tense of "never had been the same" that doesn't fit the context of this sentence.

Past Perfect refers to events taking place before the contextual time - so your sentence would imply that your life had never been the same even further in the past, before she left. This is probably not what you want to say.

Instead, use either Present Perfect:

...was changed and has never been the same

if the change continues to the present day, or Simple Past:

...was changed and was never the same

if it's entirely confined to the past (unlikely in your case, but could be said if the person whose life was changed was someone who passed away, for example).

PS. "Never has been", while correct, is a much less preferable construct to "has never been".

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  • This student example was about her mother passing, so the context fits. Thanks!
    – commonone
    Feb 19, 2018 at 22:25
  • @commonone sorry, no, if your student is still alive, Present Perfect is probably better :) I clarified it. Feb 19, 2018 at 22:28
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"was changed" could be better expressed as "changed", but the real problem here is that you shift from simple past (left, felt, was changed/changed) to the past perfect (had been). I'll leave to a grammar book to explain in more detail, but the past perfect is generally used to reflect something prior to our past reference point. e.g. "She left me since she said I had been controlling": left is in the past, and controlling is something I did BEFORE that PAST point of leaving. In your example, however, the never being the same is not something that was from before the leaving, but was rather after the leaving. So a simple past for the final verb would make this correct: "So when she left, I felt depressed every day, and my life changed and was never the same again." (present perfect also works here: "... and HAS never been the same..." So again, the key with past perfect is that you have to be referring to something that occurred prior to your past reference point. The present perfect works because that is referring to a result from something before the present reference point.

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