I have been confused with these sentences for a long time.

1) I have done as you had told me. (Is it correct to use past perfect after present perfect?)

2) I have done as you told me.

I know that I can use past simple and then past perfect ( I did as you had told me ), but if I want to use present perfect in the first part of sentence, can I use past perfect or I have to use past simple in the second part to indicate that one action had happened before another action happened.

And if these sentences are correct, can they be used in formal context, or only in informal colloquial speech?

Thanks in advance.


The first sentence is not idiomatic in its combination of tenses:

I have done as you had told me. NO

The past perfect, had told me places the past action, the telling, in relation to some other point-in-time in the past, whereas the present perfect, have done, places the past action, the doing, in relation to the present.

It is as if the parts of your sentence are standing back-to-back, preparing to duel.

I did as you had told me.

I have done as you told me.

Another very viable option is:

I did as you told me.

Another way to express the issue: a time phrase that relegates the action to the past is incompatible with the present perfect.

as you had told me interposes an implied reference point in the past, a point which the telling predated; as such, the telling is being confined to the past; it does not impinge upon or include the present, and this confinement-to-past makes that phrase temporally incompatible with the present perfect.

P.S. Compare the following:

As the specifications require, we use|have used stainless steel fasteners.

As the specifications required, we used|have used stainless steel fasteners.

As the specifications had required before they were revised, we used stainless steel fasteners.

we have used is not idiomatic with the sentence involving the revision to the specifications, because the past perfect confines that revision to the past. We would expect we used there, for obviously our use of stainless steel fasteners is pre-revision.

As you had instructed us before changing your order to vanilla, we have baked you a chocolate birthday cake.

That sentence makes no sense. If we knew that the order had been changed from chocolate to vanilla, why would we have baked a chocolate cake? The only way to have it make sense is to say we baked, putting the baking before the change to vanilla.

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  • I don't think the combination (present perfect) + (past perfect) is necessarily nonidiomatic. Attested examples do exist in published literature, e.g. 1. So, Paul, h͟a͟v͟e͟ you t͟a͟k͟e͟n͟ ͟u͟p͟ wood carving, as you h͟a͟d͟ ͟t͟o͟l͟d͟ me you would upon your return from California? (source) – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 16:02
  • 2. I am sorry not to h͟a͟v͟e͟ ͟b͟e͟e͟n͟ ͟a͟b͟l͟e͟ to consider these plans with you and Mr. Atterbury in New York, as you h͟a͟d͟ ͟s͟u͟g͟g͟e͟s͟t͟e͟d͟. (source) 3. I wanted to report that things h͟a͟v͟e͟ not g͟o͟n͟e͟ exactly as you h͟a͟d͟ ͟p͟l͟a͟n͟n͟e͟d͟. (source). – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 16:02
  • I do agree that (simple past) + (past perfect) is much more frequently used, however. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 16:02
  • I have done as you had told me. is much starker, as there are no other mitigating complexities such as "upon your return" or "as you had told me you would".. Do you find it idiomatic in its starkest form? I have done as you had told me I would do is not the same as the stark version, I have done as you had told me. In one, told means "instructed", in the other, "predicted". A prediction is facing in the proper direction, so to speak, for compatibility with the present perfect. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 8 '18 at 16:21
  • 1. I have always understood the 'you (had) told me' here to mean 'instructed' rather than 'predicted'. Without further adjuncts (like those you mentioned) that will be the most likely reading by far. If it helps, we can replace (or imagine we replaced) told me by demanded or something equally unambiguous. – linguisticturn Apr 8 '18 at 16:54

Both 1 and 2 are grammatically correct but they have slightly different meanings.

Like you point out, 2 is the simple form and you seem to understand that well; Sentence 1 has the added implication that what "you had told me" is different from what "you are now telling me" or what "you then told me."

E.g. "You had told me to wash the car, then you told me not to bother after I did it."

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