In a book I found a sentence like this:

The 2010 FIFA World Cup culminated in an epic final with two teams that have never won the World Cup.

I'm wondering why have never won is used instead of had never won.

  • It might help if you let us know where you found the sentence and when it was published, so we can know whether the sentence was written before, during, or after the 2010 final.
    – Matthew W
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 16:10
  • This sentence is in a book for English learners in Japan to get English words, so there is no context in that sentence. Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 1:14
  • 1
    I think you are correct to question the present perfect there. The 2010 FIFA World Cup is an event from the past as of the time of that utterance. The sentence itself establishes that fact with culminated (rather than has culminated) and therefore the past perfect had never won is called for.
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 17, 2019 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


"Have never won" should not be used here. Obviously, one of the teams has now won. The correct form would indeed be "had never won," indicating that neither of the teams had won until that game.


I think the present perfect negative used in this sentence is in error; the writer should have used had instead of have. If I remember correctly, world cup finals cannot end in ties, so definitionally once the game was over one of those teams had indeed won a world cup. Technically, I suppose the sentence could have been written just before or during the 2010 final, but then using the past tense of culminate would be problematic, and describing the final as "epic" before it's over wouldn't make a lot of sense.

The sentence could have been worded:

The 2010 FIFA World Cup culminated in an epic final with two teams that have never otherwise won the World Cup.

Which may be true if neither team has won a world cup since 2010.

In many cases, the choice of whether to use the present perfect or past perfect is stylistic and subtle. In most positive cases both statements are true; it is simply a question of what the speaker wants to emphasize. (e.g., "I had eaten" v/s "I have eaten".) In negative statements, as this one, it is indeed possible for the past perfect to be true and the present perfect to be false.

  • This wouldn't be in error if the sentence was published during that 'epic final' match, before it was resolved. At that point of time neither team had won the cup yet.
    – SF.
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 8:20
  • True, but as I said, I personally wouldn't use the simple past of culminate if writing the sentence during the match. Possibly "is culminating", "will culminate", or even "has culminated". And the fact that this is a book and not an article makes it more likely that it was written after the match.
    – Matthew W
    Commented Jan 16, 2019 at 16:09

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