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  1. I saw a guy who has purple eyes
  2. I saw a guy who had purple eyes

The color of eyes would not change, but . . Which sounds natural?

  • This question has already been widely addressed on this site. See english.stackexchange.com/questions/249667/… – Ronald Sole Mar 21 '19 at 0:20
  • Did the color of his eyes change? Simple question with a simple answer.... – Lambie Mar 21 '19 at 0:27
  • Wow your answers saved me from disasterous confusion! – yoonjin kim Mar 21 '19 at 0:33
  • has/had could also depend on if the guy is still alive. – MaxW Mar 21 '19 at 1:33
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Basically, there isn't a huge difference when there's no context. If you "saw the guy", then you could say "had", as you're narrating the story of how you noticed that his eyes were purple. "Has" would usually only be used when it's clear that the person in question still has those eyes, for example "I saw my mother today. She has purple eyes". Note that in this case, one leaves the narrative voice and is saying that the person has the purple eyes now.

As others have noticed, there are specific situations where only "had" would be acceptable.

  • If the color of the eyes has changed since the event being narrated, then "has" is incorrect, since the eyes are not currently purple and the present tense cannot be used.
  • If the person is presently deceased, then we always use the past tense to describe them. This also applies sometimes if the person is absent (not trivially, like leaving the house, more like going off to war or college or join the circus). One could say, "My father left me when I was just three years old. He had purple eyes as well", even though it's likely that the father still has those eyes.
  • Of course, if the person in question no longer possesses the eyes in question, à la freak accident, for example, then "had" is the only way to go. "My blind sister had purple eyes, but she had surgery on them to remove cataracts, and the doctors ended up having to remove them".

And of course, very informally, the two can be used interchangeably without objection.

  • 1
    So clear to me, Thanks! – yoonjin kim Mar 21 '19 at 2:12

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