1. Jack said,"Ella, have you thought that I had been dead?"
  2. Jack said,"Ella, have you thought that I was dead?"

Jack met Ella again for the first time in 20 years and asked this question to find out if Ella had thought him already dead.

Which is the proper one, 1) or 2)?

  • 3
    Neither of those is idiomatic. – Davo Aug 10 '18 at 14:47
  • 2
    A shorter question with the same meaning would be: Ella, did you think I died? – jmrpink Aug 10 '18 at 14:51
  • Native speakers would virtually never use Present Perfect to ask Have you thought [something the speaker thinks you might have thought]? with that exact phrasing. Interestingly though, there are hundreds of thousands of perfectly natural written instances of Have you ever / never thought (about that)? But I can't really say that it's "ungrammatical" unless you include an adverb like that. It's just an idiomatic quirk of the language. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 10 '18 at 16:21
  • (Note that no such quirky restriction applies if to do is included as a "helper" verb, as in Did you [ever / never / nothing] think that? – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Aug 10 '18 at 16:24


Phrasing the question in the present perfect means that the indirect question should be in the present or past: “Have you thought that I am dead?” or “Have you thought that I died?” You can eke by a grammar teacher by claiming “was dead” is just a synonym of the second but, here, it can imply that death is temporary... which it usually isn’t.

More importantly, the present perfect doesn’t work here anyway, since it implies that her possible belief in his death continues to the present moment, while he’s standing in front of her asking questions. That, again, isn’t usually going to be the case. You’re better off asking something much more straight-forward:

Jack smiled, "Ella, you look like you’re seeing a ghost. Did you think I had died?"

Her possible thought is already disproved by his presence (=past action) and his imagined death would have been thought to have occurred even earlier (=past perfect). Jmr Pink isn’t wrong though: there are several other fine ways to say this, including just using the past tense for both parts of the question.

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