In the morning, one of my team members had come to my desk to discuss the problem he has with another team member. After he had left I called the other one in the afternoon to discuss it.

Can I say,

a) Mr. XYZ came to my desk and he had some issues with you.

Or, should I use past perfect tense as I am talking about a completed action?

b) Mr. XYZ had come to my desk and he had some issues with you.


3 Answers 3


We use past perfect when we want to talk about something that happened before some other event in the past, and the order of events is not otherwise clearly indicated- for example by conjunctions like before, then, next and later.

I finished the wine when he arrived. -simple past

This means that he arrived and I quickly finished the last of the wine. The two events (him arriving and me finishing the wine) happened at roughly the same time- both in the past.

I had finished the wine when he arrived. - past perfect

This means that I had already finished the wine before he arrived. His arrival is in the past, and my finishing the wine is even further in the past.

Mr. XYZ came to my desk and he had some issues with you.

In your sentence, there is no other event that "Mr XYZ came" can be before, so simple past is the correct tense, and you cannot use past perfect.

Regarding had or has before "some issues": both are grammatically correct and meaningful, but have different meanings.

had is simple past, and indicates that Mr XYZ had some issues at the time you spoke to him: it doesn't indicate whether he still has those issues. Maybe you managed to calm him down, maybe not: the use of had doesn't tell you.

has is simple present, and indicates that Mr XYZ still has issues, and presumably must have also had these issues at the time you spoke to him.

  • Thats what I am trying to convey. Two past, Coming of XYZ after that Discussion.
    – user4084
    Oct 30, 2018 at 9:09
  • 2
    @user4084: "after that Discussion"... what event is this? I see only one event: "Mr XYZ came". ""had some issues" is stative: it is not an event.
    – JavaLatte
    Oct 30, 2018 at 9:51

Actually, it should be:

Mr. XYZ came to my desk and he has some issues with you.

The "came to my desk" action was a specific occurrence, so simple past is fine. I wouldn't use a perfect tense without a reason to do so.

And use "has some issues", because he still has the issues, so you can't use past tense.

  • user3169 Thanks for the answer.... what could be the reason where we could use past perfect sentence which I am referring.
    – user4084
    Oct 21, 2018 at 5:41

@JavaLatte gives very useful info: both that answer and the follow-on comment are "spot on" regarding the key considerations, especially regarding verb tenses that convey state vs occurrence. I'd be happy to merge the following info to JavaLatte's answer, and for JavaLatte to get the credit (if that's how credit works - uncertain).

In brief: in nearly every situation I would say something like the OP's version A. If I were to use version B, I would be conscious that what I was saying was a bit awkward (especially with the verb "to have", the past perfect of which is "had had"). I'd use it if I had a sense that the ungainliness of it clarifies something important. Here are some invented details that may suggest a scenario that could bear the awkwardness:

Mr. XYZ had come to my desk to discuss some issues he had with you. (That was before he saw your op-ed in the Sunday New York Times. I saw him again a moment ago. He let me know how much he admires your piece, and said he now understands he had misjudged you. He wants to make amends.)

The scenario shows state has changed. Perhaps OP can confirm whether something similar is meant to be part of the question?

Here's a generalized breakout of timeline considerations packed into the past perfect version:

  1. XYZ came to the speaker this morning.
  2. XYZ shared some issues.
  3. XYZ & the speaker spoke about the issues.
  4. The speaker communicated with XYZ again.
  5. XYZ conveys different information, probably due to something that happened after XYZ arrived at the speaker's desk.
  6. The speaker is now reporting the occurrence(s) and the changed state of XYZ's opinion.

Here's a breakout of a few usage principles that are not explained explicitly in many places (and could bear further exploration):

  • Because the past perfect is inherently awkward, one would typically use it when the precise sequence of events needs to be unmistakeable. If the precise sequence is inessential, a speaker would typically just use the simple past and spare everyone the awkward conjugations and extra words.
  • In the OP's example, my impression is that the sequence would only really need absolute clarity if the speaker has some role as intermediary, like a boss or a mutual confidante.

So all that explanation above (whew - kinda long and heavy) boils down to speakers typically having considerations beyond just grammar rules when they use the past perfect.

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