Our enemies will soon discover that we are not as meek as they had believed.

What would be wrong if I switch that into "have believed"?

  • Could you bring out some context?
    – Eugene
    Aug 2, 2019 at 20:39
  • @Eugene It's a flavor text for a card of TCG game, Magic the Gathering. I don't know the context either. gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/…
    – dolco
    Aug 4, 2019 at 14:44
  • I am not well up in TCG games but I'd have a go at presuming that there is some past time context which is implied. The past perfect may denote that something was expected before a certain moment in the past (which might not be true), i.e. that they were not as meek as their enemies had believed. It is a kind of implicit threat in the sentence that their enemies will be concussed into knowing that they are not meek and what the enemies have been unaware of since that moment. It may also be that before or at that very moment in the past they proved being meek somehow or pretended such.
    – Eugene
    Aug 4, 2019 at 21:18
  • Then the connection between them and their enemies broke up and they have no info what the enemies have been doing ever since. They can only be guided by that moment. That is why they say: "... we are not as meek as they had believed" (before that moment and into it).
    – Eugene
    Aug 4, 2019 at 21:22

1 Answer 1


Timeline of sentence

Once the sentence has gotten past "will soon discover", the rest of the sentence takes place from the perspective of the future. In particular, the clause "that we are not as meek as they had believed" takes place at the point in time of the discovery, at which point they no longer believe that the speaker's group is meek. The present perfect tense is only used for states that are still ongoing, but at the point of discovery, which is the perspective that matters for "are not as meek as they had believed".

This would also apply to many other sentences.

For example, if I am holding in my hand a key that I will give to you later I might say "You will open the envelope that has this key in it." Obviously the key is currently in my hand, not yet in the envelope, but the perspective of "has" is the time of opening, not the present time.

Or, as another example, someone might say "If any man hurts my daughter, I will hurt him as much as he has hurt her". The daughter hasn't been hurt, but "has hurt" is from the perspective of the hypothetical future where the speaker's daughter has been hurt.

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