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Here is a situation. There was something bad you need to tell your parents. But, your parents get upset very easily. So, you and your brother decided to take several days to come up with some ideas to tell your parents without causing trouble. So several days have passed, and you ask your brother whether he has some ideas. Even though he had thought of some good ideas, he forgot them totally because he was too busy with another matter. In this case, can he say both the answers below?

A: I thought of some good ideas but I don't remember. I am sorry.

B: I have thought of some good ideas but I don't remember. I am sorry.

  • Either is fine. A uses simple past tense, B uses past perfect. – jchook Apr 5 '18 at 20:55
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    I think B is present perfect, it uses have not had. Implies more immediacy, and therefore I think less appropriate. – djna Apr 5 '18 at 21:23
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I would add them, to emphasise what it is that is not remembered; we forgot the specific thoughts, not the fact that we had some thoughts.

Although in isolation both

I thought of some good ideas but I don't remember them.

and

I have thought of some good ideas but I don't remember them.

seem grammatically correct, the second does not work for me, a native English speaker. When we say

I have thought of some good ideas

we are using present perfect tense, which implies a sense of completion or continuation to the present. It therefore clashes with forgetting the ideas.

I had thought of some good ideas, but I don't remember them

uses past perfect and suggests completion some time ago, before something else happened, in this case before forgetting happened.

See this reference.

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    Thank you so much for the kind, neat answer. Your answer really sorts out my problem and is very helpful. Also appreciate the link. – Smart Humanism Apr 7 '18 at 19:04
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Given your scenario, here are answers a native speaker might give to the question:

I did think of some things to say but forget what they were.

I did think of some things to say but have forgotten them.

I had thought of some things to say but forgot what they were.

As djna remarks, the present perfect is incompatible here because it implies the ideas are still fresh in the mind:

I have thought of some things to say but have forgotten them. NO

However, there are contexts where the present perfect would be fine, if its meaning is "experienced in my lifetime":

I have been to that theater, but it was so long ago that I've forgotten what movie I saw there.

The incompatibility or compatibility is semantic.

  • As always, thank you for the brilliant answer very much. You explained things in a way I couldn't imagine, so your answer has broaden my sight and understanding to this matter. But, in the first sentence you took as an example, doesn't forget have to be forgot or either is okay? – Smart Humanism Apr 7 '18 at 19:12

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