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I have been married for 10 years and someone tells me that I married the wrong man. Because I resent that remark I want to answer saying something like this:

  1. I didn't know that I have been married to the wrong man for 10 years.
  2. I didn't know that I had been married to the wrong man for 10 years.

Can I use the present perfect tense or do I have to use the past perfect? Which tense is appropriate? I can't use the past simple because I am still married.

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    I'm not a native speaker but I would say: "...I had been married...". – user2824371 Jul 13 '18 at 18:24
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Because this is a somewhat sarcastic remark (you don't truly believe you have been married to the wrong man all this time), you can use either one.

I didn't know that I had been married to the wrong man for 10 years.

Because you are talking about the past 10 years, using the past perfect works.

I didn't know that I have been married to the wrong man for 10 years.

Because you don't intend on breaking off your marriage, the present perfect is acceptable, too.

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  • To further generalize the first explanation: English-speaking people are more likely to backshift the original speaker's tense if they don't agree with what the original speaker said, if they're not certain of its truth, or if they wish to make it clear that the information comes from the original speaker, not them (Swan, Practical English Usage). – user3395 Jul 14 '18 at 12:20
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In the subordinate clause, we tend to use the perfect aspect, as you did correctly.

The present perfect indicates an ongoing action, meaning that at the time of the sentence, you still are married to the wrong man.

The past sentence "I had been" seems to indicate that you are no longer married, and you are describing a marriage that is firmly in the past and no longer there at the time of speech.

You would want to use the first, I have, since the marriage is still ongoing. See this for more!!

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  • Perfection is an aspect, not a tense. – Acccumulation Jul 13 '18 at 19:23
  • Thank you for pointing this out, I have learned something new :) – Confused Soul Jul 13 '18 at 19:24
  • I was under the impression the past perfect in this example indicates that at a moment in the past I had been married for 10 years and not that I am no longer married in the present. To me "I was married for 10 years" indicates I am no longer married. – anouk Jul 13 '18 at 19:38
  • "I was married for 10 years" means you are no longer married, but "I didn't know that I was married" just means that at the time of the action (being married) you were unaware of it, and now the action has ceased. Without the perfect aspect, both verbs can be interpreted in the same time-frame, whereas the use of the perfect distinguishes them. – Confused Soul Jul 13 '18 at 19:43
  • I agree, but "had been married for 10 years" means at that point in the past I was still married, the marriage continued. Do you see what I mean? The addition of "for 10 years" makes a difference. – anouk Jul 14 '18 at 8:42
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As stated by Confused Soul, "The present perfect indicates an ongoing action." However, this is not a continuing state: the author is surprised by something that occurred in the past and just realized it. This presumes something will change, so I would prefer

I didn't know that I had been married to the wrong man for 10 years.

As opposed to:

I have been married for 10 years.

There is no implication in this statement that I have reason for a divorce.

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