Last week Tim went camping with his friends. They seemed (to have a good time).

  1. To having a good time.
    1. To have had a good time.
    2. To be having a good time.
    3. No improvement.

Here I think option 4 is correct but my book suggests option 2. Please explain the correct option with its meaning.

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    I would have said that #3 was the correct answer! They seemed is in the simple past tense, so to me the most natural thing would be how they were feeling at that time in the past. #2 implies that last week when they were camping, they had already had a good time, which doesn't really make sense. – stangdon Sep 6 '18 at 15:27

"They seemed to have a good time" implies Tim and his friends are still camping, as in, "I went to see Tim and his friends during their camping trip and they seemed to have a good time."

If you were to say, "They seemed to have had a good time," then the action is most certainly passed already. Tim is no longer camping.

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I would agree with you on 4. To me it reads naturally.

While 2. might be technically correct, it is overly wordy for no real reason. The example is already in the past, and "a good time" is understood to be a period of time, so saying that with perfect tenses isn't necessary.

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Excellent question with a subtle answer. As others have commented, "They seemed to have a good time," sounds correct. It sounds correct because in some instances it is. In your example it is not the best answer.

Seemed is merely the past tense of seem and 'seem' involves YOU having interacted with it in the present moment, even though that present moment may have occurred in the past. "They seemed to have a good time," implies that something happened in the past that you witnessed. "They seemed," means you saw it when it happened, in the past, and now you are reporting back what you saw.

In your sentence you did not witness Tim on his trip. You are instead, at this future point, making a judgement on what happened in the past. You have no experience of Tim's camping trip that occurred in the present, therefore the simple past doesn't work as well. You express your lack of presence during the event by using "seemed to have had" meaning the information you are using to make this determination was all provided after the event occurred.

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